Young Africans need a chance to skipper maritime security

Africa’s maritime strategies are blind to the potential benefit that its vast young population offers.

Young people are vital to ending Africa’s seablindness. This ‘seablindness’ refers to African states' lack of political will to tackle maritime safety and development, thus hindering the continent’s economic growth prospects. 

Africa’s maritime strategies are equally blind to the potential benefit that young people bring. For instance, the African Union’s (AU) 2050 Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 AIM Strategy) mentions youth just once in the context of their potential ‘corruptibility’ if crimes worsen in coastal areas.

African youth organisations, such as Youth for Marine Protected Areas (Youth4MPAs), are clamouring to play a much more significant role in championing progressive and sustainable ocean policies.

With over 400 million young people between 15 and 35 years, Africa is home to the largest youth population on the planet. Around 10% of these young people are unemployed, and approximately 80 million young adults on the continent live in extreme poverty. The likely impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will plunge still more into insecurity. 

African youth organisations are clamouring to play a more significant role in sustainable ocean policies

The AU’s Agenda 2063 asserts that the youth’s creativity, energy and innovation will drive Africa’s political, social, cultural and economic transformation. Urbanisation and unemployment push people to migrate to coastal communities, putting these areas under major socio-economic pressure. Compounded by structural economic problems, this makes job creation in Africa even more vital.

The AU’s Africa Blue Economy Strategy, adopted in 2019, makes youth inclusivity a crucial part of blue governance and institutional change. For instance, it highlights the need to address the marginalisation of youth and empower young people in fisheries and aquaculture to derive economic growth. But this needs to be expanded to other sectors, such as shipping, ports and energy. 

The maritime sector is associated with all activities on board vessels at sea and related land-based services. Initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area also depend on well-functioning and secure shipping and ports.

There are many options for maritime careers. These include seafaring and maritime transportation, the naval service, fisheries and aquaculture, maritime law, ship surveyors, maritime environmentalists, tug masters, maritime engineers and pilots, cabin attendants and hospitality staff. 

Young Africans can benefit from the global maritime labour gap, but only if their governments support them

There’s also a reported global shortage of shipping crews, with an expected shortfall of 89 510 officers by 2026. Young Africans can benefit from this labour supply gap, but only if governments help the maritime sector position itself as an attractive and accessible employer. 

Inspiration for charting the best way forward can be drawn from several sources. For instance, one of the winning essays of the 2021 Global Maritime Forum’s Future Maritime Leaders competition was by Stephanie Lolk Larsen, a researcher from the Centre for Maritime Law and Security Africa in Ghana. The essays present new visions for a viable maritime sector and could inform revisions of the 2050 AIMS. 

An initiative such as the World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council is excellent, and young Africans have been prominent in its success. The current 2021 council includes youth representatives from Uganda and Zimbabwe – countries containing large water bodies, which the AU considers part of the maritime domain. So living in a land-locked country doesn’t impede identifying best practices on youth and maritime policy. 

Stronger and legally binding provisions that anchor youth’s central role are reflected in the annexes to the African Charter on Maritime Security and Safety and Development in Africa (the Lomé Charter). But it could be a long time before the charter strengthens youth initiatives because the annexes haven’t been adopted and only two of the required 15 ratifications have been deposited.

It is vital to raise awareness and interest among young people about careers in the maritime sector

The AU and its member states should embrace and empower young African champions in its growing maritime sector. This requires a human and financial investment to boost training and provide maritime industries with young, skilled employees. And existing policies need to be implemented. For instance, the African Youth Charter of 2006 could be enhanced if decision makers acknowledged and acted on its maritime dimension. 

It is also essential to raise awareness and interest among young people about careers in the maritime sector. South Africa hosts several organisations that offer maritime education at a secondary and tertiary level. For example, the Simon’s Town School’s Lawhill Maritime Centre provides high school students with skills to pursue a maritime career. As the maritime sector goes digital, new specialised and technical skills and tertiary education will be needed.

Africa should not miss out on the chance to harness the potential of its youth in the maritime sector. Many young people are flocking to the continent’s coast, hoping for employment. They need the opportunities, skills and support to take the helm and steer Africa towards greater youth inclusivity.

Timothy Walker, Maritime Project Leader and Senior Researcher, Muneinazvo Kujeke, Research Officer, Denys Reva, Researcher and David Willima, Research Officer, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS Pretoria

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Photo: The Maritime Academy of Nigeria

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