As African leaders gather at the 25th African Union (AU) Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, they will also be taking an important step in creating much-needed impetus towards an African blue or ocean economy. The start of the summit coincides with World Oceans Day, 8 June - which this year is themed ‘Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet’.
This presents a dual opportunity to consider how African stakeholders, the AU especially, are improving their relationship with the seas and how healthy oceans and the prosperity and security of people are intertwined.
The AU’s Agenda 2063 aims at ‘a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development’. On prospects for the continent’s blue economy, it outlines that ‘Africa’s … ocean economy, which is three times the size of its landmass, shall be a major contributor to continental transformation and growth.’ Precisely how this translates in practice is still unclear, but it is important that this goal be followed through with mechanisms that protect and promote environmentally friendly policies.
The AU is undertaking important initiatives in this regard. An example is the Continental Conference on the Empowerment of African Women in Maritime that took place in Luanda, Angola in March 2015. The conference theme was ‘African Maritime Women: Towards Africa’s Blue Economy.’
One goal of the AU’s 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 AIMS) is to encourage states to create a blue economy that would foster wealth creation through coordinated and sustainable maritime industries, such as fishing, shipping and resource extraction. The AU has also declared that 2015 to 2025 will be Africa’s Decade of Seas and Oceans, with 25 July declared as Africa’s Day of the Seas and Oceans.
The AU and its member states must dovetail their efforts with the flurry of global ocean-related activity occurring across various levels of governance. Impetus for improved ocean governance has been particularly evident at the intergovernmental negotiations of the United Nations (UN) Post-2015 Agenda, where countries are drafting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be attained after the transition from the Millennium Development Goals. One of the SDGs – goal 14 – is key, as it encourages countries to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.’
From civil society, prominent action has come from the Global Ocean Commission’s (GOC) 2014 report, From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean, as well as The Economist’s Third World Ocean Summit 2015. The summit, which took place in Portugal last week, included a keynote address by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the AU Commission. The message is clear: achieving a balance between ocean health and economically sustainable development is challenging, but necessary. Many parts of the oceans are threatened and need protection, but essential changes are only likely to occur if the oceans are also valued as a source of future African prosperity.
A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), titled ‘Reviving the Ocean Economy: The case for action 2015’,confirms that the oceans are a major contributor to the global economy, but are at present in a perilous state which, if left unaddressed, would have a tremendously detrimental global impact on both people and the planet. The report argues that if the world’s oceans were to be measured as a country, the total amount of revenue or so-called ‘gross marine product’ derived amounts to US$2.5 trillion. This would see the ocean as the seventh largest economy in the world.
The total marine ‘asset base’ is estimated to be US$24 trillion, which does not fully take into account the potential contribution of an African blue economy. The report saliently highlights the harmful practices of many maritime industries, and how these negatively impact upon not only the ocean, but also, by extension, the chances of sustainably developing oceanic resources to the benefit of Africa.
New thinking is needed on the oceans, as well as the safety and security of seafarers. International organisations such as the UN and AU must continue to encourage member states to seriously consider and contribute to improving ocean governance, while non-governmental organisations like the GOC and WWF can lobby or pressure states to implement maritime policies that promote healthy growth and conservation.
Ultimately, it is at the national or member-state level where real action is urgently needed. The island states of Mauritius and the Seychelles are implementing their own blue economic policies, and encouraging lessons can be learnt from them. In South Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs leads Operation Phakisa, which aims to create a local blue economy that would contribute billions of rands to the country’s gross domestic product and create thriving maritime industries. South Africa’s challenge is to now ensure implementing Operation Phakisa does not further harm the oceans, but also rejuvenates and restores environmentally threatened areas to a healthy state.
Elsewhere in the Southern African, the importance of taking a broad approach to governance and sustainable development – rather than one curtailed by state concerns with territoriality and sovereignty – offers crucial lessons for other African states. Significant lessons can also be drawn from the Benguela Current Convention (BCC), signed between South Africa, Namibia and Angola in 2013.
The signatories commit themselves to protecting the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem, which exists along their coasts and which has an enormous global impact upon marine biodiversity. The BCC encourages coordinated policy-making that does not limit countries to only considering their own maritime territories, but also prioritises environmental perspectives on security.
Actions from the AU – and Africa more broadly – towards creating a blue economy are well situated within an expanded, multi-level push to both protect and develop the oceans for greater human welfare and security. Africa has woken up to the importance of the seas, oceans and a blue economy, but momentum must not be lost. The challenge is to ensure that through strategies like Agenda 2063, 2050 AIMS and the UN’s SDGs, and through observing World Ocean’s Day and Africa’s Day of the Seas and Oceans, Africa secures long-term maritime health and wealth.
-Timothy Walker is a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS) Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division. This article first appeared in the ISS Today.