Africa moves to unlock vast potential of its maritime economy

The Chronicle

Admire Ndhlovu
The recent global conference on the “blue economy” was a welcome development that provided an opportunity for Africa to unlock its potential and achieve sustainable development.

Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on 26-28 November for the Blue Economy Conference, the global community engaged on how to achieve the sustainable use and conservation of aquatic resources for improved human wellbeing, social equity and healthy ecosystems.

Blue economy is a term used to refer to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.

The largest sectors of the African aquatic and ocean-based economy are fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, ports, coastal mining, and energy.

The African Union has now termed the blue economy as the “New Frontier of African Renaissance.”

Of the 54 countries in Africa, 38 are coastal, and more than 90 percent of imports and exports in the continent are conducted by sea – underscoring the importance of the blue economy in the development agenda of the continent.

Running under the theme “Blue Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the Blue Economy Conference discussed new technologies and innovative ways of harnessing the full potential of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers in Africa as well as the challenges, potential opportunities, priorities and partnerships.

In her opening remarks, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Monica Juma said that oceans, seas, lakes and rivers hold natural capital that could be used to accelerate economic growth, while creating employment and reducing poverty.

To achieve this, governments, private sector and civil society made commitments to advance a sustainable blue economy in various fields including marine protection, plastics and waste management, fisheries development, financing, infrastructure, and biodiversity and climate change.

The United Republic of Tanzania is committed to mainstreaming the blue economy, including climate change and environmental sustainability, in its development planning, according to President Ali Mohamed Shein of Zanzibar, who spoke at the conference.

For island countries such as Mauritius, coral reefs provide habitat for diverse aquatic species and act as natural barrier protecting coastal cities and communities from floods.

As noted by the Minister of Ocean Economy, Premdut Koonjoo, the island is committed to restoring degraded coral reefs by increasing the number of coral nurseries from 18 to 30, conducting a sea resources survey to identify new species and their stock potentials, and monitoring and restoring sea grass.

Similarly, Mozambique’s 2017 Policy and Strategy of the Sea includes measures to restore 5,000 hectares of mangroves by 2023, as well as establishment of a blue economy observatory to coordinate, harmonize and maximize the use of the sea and actions to combat marine waste.

The Namibian Blue Economy Strategy 2017-2022 addresses marine mining, tourism development, port infrastructure and services, and eradicate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, among other issues.

The country is keen to promote the blue value chain, incorporating fisheries and tourism sectors and is already moving towards desalinating seawater for agriculture, domestic and industrial use.

Namibia is set to allocate US$5 million for marine protection and research.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), one of the building blocks of the proposed African Economic Community, is already taking action to promote the development of its blue economy.

Nine SADC Member States are coastal and possess huge blue economy potential – Angola, Union of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania.

Among the blue economy opportunities in the SADC region are the vast renewable resources such as tidal power, ocean currents and ocean thermal energy conversion, as well as food and nutrition security from fisheries and aquaculture.

Other opportunities for the region include marine and coastal tourism, shipping, mining and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water filtration, atmospheric and temperature regulation, and protection from erosion and extreme weather events.

To fully exploit its blue economy, SADC is moving towards a strategy to develop a thriving maritime economy and harness the full potential of sea-based activities in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Various regional documents, including the SADC Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (2015-2020) and the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap (2015-2063), identify the blue economy as a potential area for sustainable growth in the region.

The industrialization strategy, for example, requires that the blue economy initiative be mainstreamed in the development of infrastructure required to accelerate industrialization.

A number of SADC member states such as Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa have already developed blue economy strategies and institutional mechanisms at national level.

The blue economy initiative is thus timely for the SADC region, which has witnessed significant discoveries of large reserves of oil and natural gas in countries such as Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania in recent years, indicating a huge potential for exploitation of the resource in the region.

In this regard, it is critical for SADC and the rest of the African continent to come up with an integrated blue economy strategy.

The blue economy concept has been debated in various fora. It featured prominently during the Rio+20 Summit held in Brazil in 2012, whose outcomes have proven to be a strong catalyst for driving new efforts towards the implementation of previous and new commitments on oceans and inland waters.

At the African level, the blue economy is encapsulated in the AU’s 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AU 2050 AIMS), and is a core part of the AU’s Agenda 2063 where it is recognized as a catalyst for socioeconomic transformation.

In July 2015, the AU launched the African Day (25 July) and Decade of Seas and Oceans 2015–2025 to rally action on the Blue Economy.

The inaugural Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi gathered almost 19,000 participants from 184 countries, including seven Heads of State and Government and 84 Ministers.

A number of SADC leaders, including Presidents Filipe Jacinto Nyusi of Mozambique and Danny Faure of Seychelles, as well as Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila of Namibia attended. –