BY ANDREW MWANGURA
African countries need political will to implement strategies aimed at benefiting the continent from the vast marine resources along their coastlines.
In fact, many maritime practitioners, observers and analysts alike have unanimously agreed that lack of political will remains the biggest barrier to harnessing the Africa’s marine resources a gap that has opened it to exploitation by foreign firms and even terrorist groups.
Indeed, the African states need to wake up and address maritime threats and develop their maritime economies that have the potential to earn several trillion dollars a year and generate millions of jobs.
The inability of the continent to recognize the vast economic opportunities offered by their sea bodies can only be described as “sea/ocean blindness”.
If you feel this judgment is harsh, consider these facts: African countries have a combined coastline of more than 26,000 nautical miles (47,000 km) but African is still struggling to have a foothold of the world’s shipping industry.
With over 60 per cent of Africa’s trade being seaborne, this contributes to food security for more than 200 million Africans apart from vast oil and gas potential lying off the continent’s coastlines.
This is a ‘blue economy’ that is underdeveloped and threatened, as African states lack the ability to monitor and secure their waters.
Whereas the continent has recently developed a feasible strategy to protect and benefit from its oceans, what it badly lacks is political will and committed resources to make it happen.
Africa’s seas should contribute to economic and environmental security.
It is unfortunate that all too often the maritime narrative about Africa is frequently a story of stolen resources, drowning refugees and missed opportunities.
Sea piracy remains a threat, while drug smuggling and illegal fishing are increasing. Additional threats come from boundary disputes, conflict over resources, smuggling and human trafficking.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa approximately US$1 billion (Sh100 billion) a year while thousands of tons of hazardous waste are dumped at sea. Although the continent has more than 100 ports, many of them operate below capacity.
In terms of world shipping stake, African-owned ships account a mere 1.2 per cent of the world`s shipping. Much of Africa lacks a maritime culture and is blind to the ocean`s importance to its development, and consequently, it leaves others to profit from its rich marine resources.
There are two continental strategies that seek to create a paradigm shift: One is Africa Union (AU) strategy known as Agenda 2063 that regards the marine economy as a major contributor to growth and the other one is Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 otherwise dubbed AIMS 2050 that recognizes the vast wealth creation potential of Africa’s oceans, lakes and rivers.
The AIMS 2050 was adopted in 2014, and cover fishing, oil/gas, security, piracy, pollution, biodiversity, transport and harbours.
It also calls for marine education and development of an African ship-building industry. IMS propose a combined African maritime zone, and prevention of pollution and piracy.
It seeks capacity building in marine defense, scientific research, tourism, fisheries, maintenance and building of harbours, and a pan-African fleet.
But all of us need to take cognizance that we, people of Africa, cannot protect our fish, stop pirates or build a maritime economy by waving a strategy.
African Governments must show political will, identify priorities and start delivering on the maritime strategy.
At this point, one may ask himself or herself the following questions: What role can Kenya play towards actualization of the strategy? And has Kenya performed well any better than others in developing its maritime sector? I do not think it is the intention of the Developed World to keep Africans in the dark as far as shipping technology is concern.
After all, Africa has all those minerals and commodities which the colonial power fought for years to gain control of but failed when many African countries became independent.
The Africans must claim their share and benefit from the modern technology in exchange for the minerals and other goodies the western world wants.