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How African countries can harness the huge potential of their oceans

Over the past decade there’s been a steady rise across africa in the attention given to the responsible use


of the oceans to contribute to eco- nomic growth – or what’s known as  the  Blue  Economy. the  opportu- nities around africa’s blue econo- mies are enormous with significant potential to create jobs and improve livelihoods.

But what’s often missing in debates are issues of governance and security. Five themes are particularly important to ensure both: safety and security, rule of law and transpar- ency, respect for human rights, sus- tainable economic opportunity and human development.

Neglecting these issues will ham- per the potential growth promised by africa’s oceans. africa’s vast coastline hosts a maritime industry estimated at $1 trillion per year this is only scratching the surface.
africa has  38  coastal  states and a number of island states like Cape Verde, sao tomé and Principe, Mauritius, seychelles and the Comoros. Collectively african coast- al and island states encompass vast ocean territories of an estimated 13 million km².

the seychelles, for example, has

1.3 million square kms of ocean territory that remains largely under- developed. somalia has the longest coastline in africa (approximately 3 000 km) and claims ocean territory

stretching about 120 km off shore. Most is weakly governed.

Many african countries are fail- ing to ensure safe and secure condi- tions for those working and living off  the  oceans. tracts  of  the  sea  off East, West and North africa are often labelled lawless. Illegal fishing, sea piracy and armed robbery, drug and human smuggling have assumed staggering proportions. Capping this is the rise in illegal migration .

For this to change, diverse actors need to start cooperating across national boundaries to secure and use ocean territories. It has become common knowledge that individual states can do little on their own. the solution of cooperation is simple but difficult to sell to a critical mass of african governments that are often suspicious of collective agendas.


Hot spots

Failure to ensure that ocean territo- ries are secure promotes ungoverned spaces which criminals exploit. at worst, neglected maritime spaces benefit insurgents and terrorists as is obvious in Libya, somalia and Nigeria.

africa has had to contend with three volatile oceanic regions where criminality makes it impossible for countries to realise the potential of  their  oceans. these  are  the  Horn of africa, the gulf of guinea and the waters of the Mediterranean to the north of Libya.

a common denominator in the three hubs is that countries on these coasts have failed to make the areas safe.  this   has   opened   the   door   to criminal actors. a recent greenpeace report found that the west african region loses about $2 billion to illegal fishing.

Most african countries are keenly aware of both the ocean’s potential as well as the threats to this potential. a number of initiatives point to this. these include:

the  african  union’s 2012 Integrated Maritime strategy 2050 which recognises and encourages the importance of african countries paying greater attention to their maritime interests.

the recently agreed    Lomé Charter – a continental effort to encourage and coordinate efforts by african states to attend to mar- itime security, safety and develop- ment.

the Yaoundé  Code  of  Conduct for West africa which maps out an inter-regional set of responsibili- ty zones to oversee and facilitate responses to growing criminality in the gulf of guinea.

an increase in the  presence  of international naval capabilities off the Horn of africa to stem the  piracy  tide  off  somalia.  this was complemented by the Djibouti Code of Conduct that enabled East african intervention to counter piracy  threats. the  code  has  been extended to include other maritime crimes.

at national level, the seychelles’ government has set the tone with its explicit focus on the importance of the blue economy. a National Blue Economy Roadmap aims to advance economic diversification, unlock investments and address food secu- rity.

although the approach taken by the seychelles seems obvious given its dependence on the surround- ing oceans, the connection is just as important for africa’s other 38 coastal states.

south africa runs a host of mar- itime initiatives to tap into the blue economy.

the  country  recently  adopted  a policy – called Operation Phakisa aimed at four priority areas: marine transport and manufacturing, off- shore oil and gas exploration, aqua- culture and marine protection ser- vices.

Despite all these initiatives a great deal still needs to be done. the most important are around gover- nance and security.


Stemming the criminal tide unfortunately,  well  networked actors threatening the security of african waters are growing at an alarming rate.

african countries could address this by, in the first instance, ensuring that their national laws are aligned with the united Nation’s treaty aimed at ocean safety.

secondly, they need to start working together. It’s clear that sin- gle countries can do very little on their  own. they  need  to  sign  up  to multilateral initiatives. a growing network of collective maritime secu- rity is key to harnessing the Blue Economy.

The author, Prof Francois Vreÿ, is Research Coordinator, Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa, Stellenbosch University