Africa needs maritime strategy


Africa is the only major region in the world that does not have its own maritime policy or strategy, despite the acknowledged importance of this component of any national or regional economy, says the Brenthurst Foundation.

In a discusion paper released last week and titled Maritime Development in Africa – An Independent Specialist’s Framework”

the Johannesburg-based think tank notes that of the fifty-four countries of Africa, thirty-nine are either littoral states or islands.
“The importance, for example, of maritime trade to the economies of African states and its potential contribution to economic development through the potential for employment opportunities, can be demonstrated by the simple statistic that almost 91% of continental trade by volume went by sea in 2008,” the paper, co-written by Rear Admiral Steve Stead (Retd) (formerly Deputy Director, The Brenthurst Foundation), Dr Knox Chitiyo (Royal United Services Institute, London), Captain (SAN) Johan Potgieter (Retd) (Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria) and Professor Geoffrey Till (King’s College, London), avers.
“There is no alternative given the nature of the imports and exports and the totally inadequate overland infrastructure. The present rate of degradation of the road systems in Africa, in spite of conscious efforts to improve them, means that coastal trade is going to grow – supplementing the expected growth of international trade in commodities.
“Africa’s fishing grounds are being pillaged; its coastal waters polluted and poisoned; and its marine environment destroyed. If these illegal and irresponsible actions are not stopped, Africa will starve. Why? Because very soon there will be no more fish; the population is increasing; agriculture is no longer able to provide sufficient food; and importation of food is unaffordable because the continent is becoming progressively poorer due to its inability to compete in international maritime
trade.” Indeed, the population of Africa is expected to be more than double its current figure by 2050 growing to some 2.1 billion people.
Not something “off the shelf”
“Given its unique continental needs, priorities and requirements, Africa therefore needs to develop its own maritime strategy to promote economic development for its people through improved maritime security, leading to improved global competitiveness for its goods and services,” the paper says. “Maritime security is a key component of collective security and thus forms part of the foundation for any economic development through the improvement of global competitiveness for its goods and services. However, Africa has yet to decide on the relative importance of its maritime environment against competing priorities – and allocate the requisite resources to ensure that it remains an asset.” The authors warn the “cost of inaction is unaffordable.”

The impact of inaction can be demonstrated by the attack on the French tanker Limburg off the Yemeni coast in 2002 which caused insurance premiums for the area to triple overnight; container traffic dropped almost 90%; and an estimated 3000 jobs were lost resulting in a cost of around US$15 million per month to the Yemeni economy, the Foundation says.

The authors say there is no single, universally applicable definition of maritime security. “From an

African perspective, a proposed definition could be ‘anything that creates, sustains or improves the secure use of Africa’s waterways and the infrastructure that supports these waterways’. This would include inland water resources such as rivers, dams and lakes, as well as the seas off the African coast. Enhancing maritime security will become of vital importance as Africa strives to become a bigger stakeholder in the global economy.”

They caution that there is, as yet, “nothing that is truly African owned or that is designed primarily for the benefit of Africans at the continental level.” The research says there are any number of internationally designed, off-the-shelf “maritime strategies for Africa”, but these are conceptually and practically different from an African maritime strategy. “The former place African maritime security as a secondary consideration to the national security interests of the international partner/
sponsor. The latter, while acknowledging that partnerships will remain vital, grounds the strategy in quintessentially African needs, perspectives and resources.
“The ultimate goal of an African maritime strategy is to contribute to the sustainable economic development of Africa through the promotion of safety of passage, compliance with international obligations, and improvement in levels of competence, resulting in the increased competitiveness of goods and services. Subordinate objectives include the promotion of intra-African partnerships and regional cooperation, the protection of African sovereignty, countering criminality across Africa’s waterways and associated infrastructure, and ensuring environmental governance. The strategy must, in the first instance, be discussed, developed and agreed to by African stakeholders, and the subsequent implementation process would be primarily driven by Africans.”

The authors say their paper is therefore “not an all-encompassing maritime strategy guidebook.” Such a document, they say, although deemed necessary, would be a major undertaking requiring a
considerable investment in time. “This paper is intended as a ‘first steps’ look at what a broad-based Africa maritime strategy might entail. It attempts to show why such a strategy is needed; the extent of the African maritime environment; and which issues should be addressed as a matter of priority.”

By necessity, an actual strategy “must be done nationally, regionally and continentally. “It is accepted that given the relative absence of resources and competing priorities, enhancing maritime capability will take time, but developing the strategy that will guide the establishment of that capability should begin as soon as possible.” The Brenthurst authors say they hope that their document, “along with other key documents such as the 1994 African Union Maritime Transport Charter, will aid this policy process and create the basis for an African maritime strategy.”
A way forward

The Brenthurst writers recommended that an in-depth assessment or audit of Africa’s current needs be conducted as a first step in developing a comprehensive maritime strategy along with a concurrent review of existing resources or maritime assets. “The subsequent step could be a comparison to determine the shortfall and an assessment of the impact of this shortfall. This would need to be a consultative process at the national, regional and continental levels. Through the consultative process, stakeholders will identify what they see as the key African maritime security needs. They will also be able to identify what resources are available, and what is needed in order to achieve the objectives.”

They suggest the overarching goal of an African maritime strategy should be “to incrementally secure Africa’s inland, coastal and oceanic domain in order to promote economic development,
human security, cohesion and sovereignty. The objectives which will support this goal, should include:
• strengthening international and intra-African co-operation;
• enhancing transport and infrastructural capacity;
• strengthening Africa’s collective security architecture to ensure safe passage;
• protecting resources;
• giving Africa increased leverage and competitiveness in the global economy;
• strengthening Africa’s position in negotiating and implementing multinational security and development partnerships;
• ensuring that Africa is well represented in international maritime law; and also ensuring that Africa has its own maritime law framework. African maritime law would not be aimed at countering international maritime law. It would complement international law, while allowing for specific provisions relevant to African needs and capacities; and
• compliance with international commitments, standards and obligations.

The Brenthurst authors add it will take time for the continent “to build up its maritime resources to the point where it can take charge of its own maritime destiny.” But they say the process has already begun; “many of Africa’s littoral and island states are in the process of investigating, or developing, national maritime strategies to safeguard their assets. Generally speaking, there is a desire for ‘good order at sea’; this ‘good order’, which requires the creation of a collaborative maritime security architecture, would allow the conduct of free trade, i.e. in a safe and secure environment. It will require the enforcement of maritime legislation to remove those factors that would negatively affect the free flow of goods.
“Maritime legislation would, in turn, strengthen the maritime institutions which are crucial for a maritime strategy. The combination of strengthened and coherent legislation and institutions would better regulate the fishing industry; it would enhance the policing of, and prosecution for, illegal acts, e.g. piracy, and the dumping of waste materials; pollution will be policed; smuggling and illicit trade could be countered; transnational or cross-border crime would be better monitored and reduced; and the safe navigation of shipping guaranteed.”

The full report can be read here: