LEADERS of African Union (AU) member countries will meet with experts in Lomé on October 15 to map out a strategy for the continent to take full advantage of the massive opportunities that its maritime space provides. The ultimate aim is to strengthen maritime security so that Africa’s seas and oceans can become a key driver of sustainable economic development.
The potential for this is huge. For instance, of the 54 AU members, 38 are on the coast while 90 per cent of the continent’s imports and exports are conducted by sea.
The territorial waters controlled by African nations stretch out over 13 million km², with a continental shelf of about 6.5 million km², including exclusive economic zones. So the potential for the blue economy is huge, according to experts who will attend the Lomé meeting.
They point out that blue economies are very important for Africa’s development and prosperity. Maritime resources enable fishing, resource extraction, tourism and shipping that can contribute billions of dollars to African economies, they add.
The global ocean economy is valued at around $1.5 trillion a year, contributing about two to three per cent to the world’s gross domestic product, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development this year. Globally, some 350 million jobs are linked to the oceans through fishing, aquaculture, coastal and marine tourism and research activities.
In 2014, South Africa predicted that the oceans could contribute up to 177bn rand ($14.8bn) to its economy by 2033, as opposed to 54bn rand in 2010, and create over one million jobs in the process.
In Africa the fishing industry employs nearly 12.3 million people and experts say that the blue economy could potentially solve nutritional and food security problems for nearly 200 million Africans. It has the potential to provide vital nutrition through underused resources in fresh and salt water fish.
New research published early October by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London calls for ‘fundamental changes’ to the way the world’s oceans, seas and coastal areas are managed.
The research recommends countries embrace new marine-based sectors such as aquaculture, biotechnology and ocean-based renewable energy, while urging governments to improve the way they operate to ensure the survival of global fishing, maritime transport and coastal tourism.
This is what the Lomé extraordinary meeting will be pushing for. This special session will build on the results of the summits held in Yaoundé in June 2013 and the Seychelles in February 2015 to put in place an African strategy for the protection of its seas and oceans to provide peace, security and stability.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: ‘As the world begins to face up to climate change and the vulnerability of small and developing countries to natural disasters and financial crises, it is critical that we recognise the lifeline offered by the oceans, which are a source of food security and economic prosperity.
‘Challenges such as global warming, over-fishing and environmental mismanagement threaten a resource which, if managed sustainably, could be a source of immense opportunity. With this new research series, we are advancing the fundamental and practical changes in policy that we believe any government with maritime territory should pursue,’ she added.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is a pioneer of the blue economy concept which, derived from the so-called green economy, advocates sustainable exploitation of the natural capital emanating from the world’s oceans, seas and coastal areas.
‘Change can only be realised through strong leadership,’ says Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, Deodat Maharaj. ‘Nowhere is this truer than for the ocean, a resource perceived to be everyone’s right but no one’s responsibility. Creating the political will to implement all elements of a blue economy strategy is a key theme in the assistance and advice the Commonwealth provides to countries.’
For nearly three decades the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided advice to countries to help them exercise their rights under international law. It has provided legal and technical support to more than 30 countries and contributed to the establishment of maritime zones across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Commonwealth member countries have successfully obtained more than 1.8 million square kilometres of seabed with our assistance – with more still to be claimed at the UN.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) activities are being carried out with impunity in African waters by foreign trawlers, thus depriving the continent of billions of dollars of revenue. According to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the continent loses $42 billion per year through illegal fishing and logging activities. In West Africa, the economic loss is estimated at $700 million per year.
If governments in Africa could end illegal fishing by foreign vessels and build up their own national fleets, apart from generating billions of dollars in extra wealth, they will create around 300,000 jobs, according to experts.
‘Africa therefore needs to invest more in the acquisition of efficient surveillance and control equipment in order to fight illicit fishing,’ organisers of the Lomé conference note.
Mozambique is one of only five African countries that have dedicated coast guards, though many navies effectively conduct coast guard operations. The lack of extensive maritime air surveillance and satellite imagery makes it almost impossible for African countries to effectively monitor their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.
At the time of the Our Ocean Conference in Washington in September, The Port State Measures Agreement (to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU fishing) had been signed by 60 countries. But China has still not signed while its fishing fleets and trawlers continue to enter Mozambique illegally. ‘The Mozambican patrol boats are a necessity in order to safeguard the country’s potential national wealth,’ said one Mozambican official.
There was some welcome news for Mozambique when President Barack Obama put IUU and marine protection at the top of the global agenda at the Our Ocean Conference. In total 136 new initiatives were delivered with the US contributing $5.24 billion toward protecting the world’s oceans and economy.
Mozambique has the most to lose if it cannot protect its waters following massive discoveries of gas in the Rovuma Basin, estimated at up to 2.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), one of the world’s largest gas finds in 10 years. During Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi’s trip to the US in September, he took the opportunity to discuss the future of the sector in his country. Despite the oil price crash Mozambique’s gas discoveries still offer enormous opportunities to transform the country’s economy.
ENI of Italy has invested massively in Mozambique’s gas reserves. Mozambican officials are hoping that this will lead to the country’s emergence as a force in global energy production, which will generate many jobs and guarantee a greater coastal security so that the country can continue to attract global investment.
At the Lomé conference, African leaders will decide how best to reduce insecurity at sea and promote the continent’s blue economy. The summit, which is under the ambit of the AU’s African Integrated Maritime Strategy-2050, will produce a charter containing binding mechanisms for states, and organisers hope the event could revitalise the often-hampered process of developing Africa’s maritime domain.
Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé, in a welcome message to participants attending the conference, spoke of Africa’s strategic position globally. ‘For this reason, the numerous factors of destabilisation by both land and sea can leave neither African States nor Africans indifferent. We are aware of the dangers that threaten our countries and our people, and conscious of the urgent need to mobilise resources at our disposal, in particular our seas and oceans.
‘I am convinced that Africa can take control of its own destiny, and my hope is that the Lomé conference will yield concrete and conclusive results to quickly achieve our goals of peace, stability and development for Africa,’ the Togolese leader added.