Fulfilling the promise of the Lomé maritime summit


A groundbreaking new maritime document, which has been considered and discussed at the highest level, has the potential to truly boost the protection of Africa’s coasts and seas and to create healthy and sustainable blue economies.

On 15 October, African heads of state and government adopted the charter – to be known as the Lomé Charter – at the African Union (AU) Extraordinary Summit on Maritime Security and Safety and Development in Africa in Lomé, Togo.

The question is now whether countries will ensure the quick ratification and implementation of the charter’s provisions.

The Lomé summit has been the most anticipated event on the African maritime security calendar since it was first announced at the 25th Ordinary Session of the AU in June 2015. Originally scheduled for November 2015, it was eventually moved to October 2016. The reasons given for postponement included logistical challenges, but subsequent ISS research suggested that political motives might also have played a part.

The summit was attended by representatives from 52 African countries – including 17 heads of state, six heads of government and a vice-president, with 31 countries signing at the summit. This is significant given the relative indifference displayed by governments in the past towards signing, acceding and ratifying other AU maritime security, development and governance instruments, such as the African Maritime Transport Charter and the Revised African Maritime Transport Charter.

Arriving at the final charter of the summit was no easy process. State delegations expressed reservations with many of the charter articles for either their lack of clarity on maritime development, or how some imply an unwelcome intrusion into purely sovereign matters.

For instance, the gathering and sharing of information and intelligence, and the exclusive governance of delimited maritime zones are two areas addressed – yet a safeguard clause in the charter also gives states the discretion to avoid sharing information if deemed to affect national interest. The possibility of resolving clashes over maritime sovereignty through combining or closely collaborating with neighbouring countries has also been sidestepped for now. Other articles, such as the creation of a ‘Maritime Safety and Security Fund’ await elaboration and further review.

Further elaboration and clarity are crucial, since maritime insecurity has an ultimately disastrous impact on economic development in Africa. The charter promises to provide the continent with some means to achieve a common breakthrough for overcoming its challenges.

The major strength of the charter is its recognition that no state is capable of singlehandedly securing itself against maritime threats, as well as provide the means to sustainably develop its maritime domain. The charter therefore recognises the need for support in developing security objectives, and the need for neighbouring states and partners to cooperate in areas such as training, education, business and industry.

Each state party will therefore take enhanced measures to improve the security of its maritime domain. This will occur through promoting coordination, such as information-sharing, providing enhanced training and capacity building, harmonising national legislation and creating national maritime coordination agencies.

Simultaneously, state parties endeavour to create and implement policies to enhance or establish maritime industries and economic activities, such as fishing, shipbuilding, tourism and trading, which will generate substantial amounts of wealth.

Yet the insecurity brought on by piracy, illegal fishing, migration and trafficking has meant that security continues to trump development both in thinking and action. This was also evident at some of the roundtable side events held from 11 to 14 October.

At some of these events, topics crucial to the development of an African blue economy were ignored completely. These include the participation of African countries in the shipping of the goods for import and export generated by their foreign trade, as well as the management of seaport facilities, which are mostly operated by foreign companies.

Nevertheless, at a meeting of associations of ship owners, women in maritime, maritime administrators, and port operators held alongside the summit, recommendations were made for Africa to strengthen its participation in international maritime transport and in cabotage. The event also emphasised the vital role that women are playing in this process.

In her summit address to heads of state and government, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission, echoed these recommendations. ‘They propose that we promote ways for Africans to own their own vessels by, amongst others, ensuring that African-owned cargo as well as our exports and imports be transported by African-owned ships,’ she said.

The organisers also failed to initiate substantial discussions on illegal migration by sea, which also appears as a sore subject. Yet hundreds of Africans drown every year in the Mediterranean Sea at the gates of Europe. Putting this issue on the experts’ discussions table would also have raised the question of the destabilisation of Libya, which could be troublesome for some European countries.

Several notable countries failed to sign the charter, which is an unfortunate outcome of the summit. It is vital that all coastal and island countries such as South Africa, Mauritius and Egypt, who have not signed the charter, should urgently recognise the benefits of becoming states parties. This will ensure that efforts to fight common maritime threats on the continent are better coordinated, and will therefore create enabling conditions for sustainable maritime development across the continent.

The absence of Cameroon is particularly noteworthy given that since 2013, Cameroon has played a key role in the security policy of the Gulf of Guinea – which is the most active area of maritime insecurity in Africa. Cameroon also strongly supports the mechanisms generated at the 2013 Yaoundé Summit and hosts the inter-regional coordination centre. The centre is supposed to bridge the regional maritime security centre of Pointe Noire for Central African states, and the one being established in Abidjan for West Africa.

The Lomé summit marks a historic event for all things maritime in Africa. It is now up to states to effectively implement the charter for the security and development of African maritime economies.

Written by Timothy Walker, Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria and Barthelemy Blede, Senior Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Division, Abidjan

Republished with permission from ISS Africa. The original article can be found here.