Spotlight: ISS guides global community on safeguarding Africa’s marine economy


ISS Research Officer David Willima was the only African in a youth delegation to the global Our Ocean summit on the Pacific island state of Palau in April 2022. He spoke after former US president Barack Obama, and promoted international cooperation to expand and protect African maritime environments and enhance young people’s role in the blue economy.

The ISS is widely recognised as a vital African maritime security adviser to governments, civil society, research organisations and financial institutions. In Palau, Willima’s call for African perspectives prompted many delegates to ask the ISS to partner with them on maritime policy development.

Namibia’s fisheries minister asked to work with the ISS on ocean governance and fisheries plans, building on ISS’ 2021 work with the Namibian Navy. The Seychelles requested a feasibility study of its blue economy strategy. The European Commission’s Directorate for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries sought ISS collaboration on research in Kenya. Other parties seeking ISS support include the African Union (AU), European Commission for Ocean Governance, Law of the Sea, Arctic Policy and the United Nations (UN) Global Compact.

Willima led the maritime security group on the Our Ocean 2022 youth task force, whose recommendations shaped the agenda of the February 2023 conference in Panama.

‘The technical competence of the dedicated ISS maritime security team, combined with policy wisdom and pan-African connections, make them a really good partner to the African Union,’ said Dr Rhuks Ako, Senior AU Commission Analyst and convenor of the Youth for Peace Program.

‘ISS insights into maritime security have been critical as we integrate more young people into the blue economy. The maritime domain is increasingly important as Africa grapples with climate change and opportunities from the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, so this collaboration is fantastic.’

Willima’s success in Palau secured him a slot at the Annual One Young World Summit. Held in Manchester in September 2022, the conference gathered 2 000 high-potential young people from 195 countries to engage with global leaders. Speakers included former UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon and former Irish president Mary Robinson, with representation from the UN, European Union (EU) and AU.

ISS’ call for African perspectives prompted many requests for partnerships on maritime policy development

ISS promoted the African-led Great Blue Wall initiative to develop maritime economies and protect the livelihoods of more than 70 million people around the Western Indian Ocean. The initiative aims to create connected and protected marine areas to counter climate change and drive sustainable development. It is key for implementing the landmark High Seas Treaty, agreed at the UN in March after 10 years of negotiations, and which seeks to place 30% of the seas into protected areas by 2030.  

Willima’s address in Manchester was praised by James Michel, former Seychelles president, who has championed the Great Blue Wall. ISS expertise has been sought to strengthen the initiative, which emerged from the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The Great Blue Wall builds on African maritime governance instruments such as the 2016 Lomé Charter and the 2019 African Blue Economy Strategy, which aims to sustain millions of job opportunities for Africa’s growing youth population.

Willima told delegates that shipping significantly contributed to the global climate crisis. ‘Preventing destructive human activities from choking our oceans and causing climate disasters requires government action and public-private collaboration.’ He called on the UN’s International Maritime Organisation to prepare for zero-carbon vessels and fuels through national action plans and penalties for non-compliance.

Scores of people congratulated Willima on his intervention, which enhanced the ISS' reputation as a trusted expert voice on maritime issues. South Africa’s former public protector, Prof Thuli Madonsela, said: ‘I will never forget how well you have represented us.’

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which is the lead implementer of the Great Blue Wall, invited Willima to talks on funding for coastal communities at the February 2023 Ocean Innovation Africa summit in Cape Town, South Africa.  

For more information, contact:

David Willima, ISS: [email protected]

Image: © One Young World

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