SA Navy Chief seeks improved African maritime security through cooperation, exercises

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SA Navy (SAN) Chief, Vice Admiral Monde Lobese, gave delegates to last week’s IMDEC (International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference) in Ghana an insight into his thinking on improving African maritime security.

That 38 of the continent’s 54 countries are either coastal or island ones with fully 90% of its trade done by sea are pointers to the need for more attention, in terms of finance and funding, to be allocated to maritime matters.

Lobese noted that “any delay in the delivery of this cargo has the potential of causing unwanted socio-economic consequences in any affected State. Maritime trade and maritime security are thus essential for the economic growth of the continent as well as for daily livelihoods.”

Lobese would like to see African States cooperating to enhance African maritime security through the principle of Sisonke – directly translated from IsiXhosa as “together”.

“The focus must be on togetherness through action through continental, regional and national initiatives to ensure maritime security,” he said, pointing to the 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy as the over-arching document to establish co-operation. He sees African nations realising the togetherness that is Sisonke to secure the African maritime domain (AMD).

“Africa must effectively combat these threats [armed conflicts and inter-state warfare, piracy, colonialism and IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing] because they hinder economic development, and exacerbate food security issues.

“I believe African maritime security can be enhanced through naval cooperation. Cooperation between navies is inherent in their operating procedures as well as through their diplomatic roles. Cooperation between navies in conducting patrols in the maritime arena of Africa is essential if Africa is to meet the emerging threats and challenges to its maritime security.

“The co-operation of African nations must also be implemented in conjunction with existing and relevant AU (African Union), national and international regulatory frameworks and ongoing maritime initiatives in Africa.”

He sees establishment of a combined exclusive maritime zone of Africa (CEMZA) as important for future continental maritime security.

“CEMZA,” he told delegates, “is anticipated to provide Africa with significant, cross-cutting advantages in terms of geostrategic, economic, political, social, and security benefits as it will foster co-operation and lower risks associated with all international threats and poor environmental management”.

“Aiming to boost intra-African trade,” the CEMZA concept aims to remove or streamline administrative procedures in intra-AU maritime transport to make it more appealing, efficient and competitive as well as to do more to protect the environment.

“Establishing the CEMZA would definitely assist in ensuring the African continent’s maritime security, especially from an enforcement and governing point of view and, by extension, relate to naval activities/operations and navies as a whole,” Lobese said warning establishing such an extensive maritime zone will take time “as it will involve legal and other frameworks and negotiations on the political level”.

Lobese expanded on the importance of inter-agency/transnational cooperation and coordination and how to enhance the African maritime domain awareness. “A naval component capability within the framework of the African Standby Force (ASF) and the establishment of a representative continental working group of Chiefs of African Navies and/or Coast Guards (CHANS) are steps toward promoting inter-agency and transnational cooperation and coordination on maritime safety and security. These groups will examine situational awareness issues and work together to improve maritime safety and security,” he said. However, “since the establishment of the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy, 11 years ago, few or none of the objectives have been achieved.”

“The foundation and building blocks are in place, it is time to build the house, and the builders are the African navies and/or coastguards because of the nature of their roles. The establishment of Regional Maritime Headquarters (MHQ) and Maritime Operational Coordination Centres (MOC) is lagging and must come online and function properly as this will indeed coordinate the patrolling of the African maritime domain and ensure that African maritime security is enhanced. Regional Maritime Headquarters (MHQ) and Maritime Operational Coordination Centres (MOC) are key to realise the 10 objectives that were set out for establishing enhanced maritime security in the African maritime domain.”

Lobese cautioned that out of the 38 coastal States in Africa, none has sufficient assets to ensure maritime security in their maritime domains, including the adjacent maritime areas’ insecurities that could affect their prosperity or economic development. “Furthermore, most of these coastal states if not all, have no financial muscle to acquire the required and appropriate assets. Therefore, African States have no choice but to be together, ‘Sisonke’.”

Lobese said that Sisonke is an African solution to an African challenge of Maritime Insecurity. The concepts of CEMZA, ASF and CHANS can work if “Sisonke”. He added that “cooperation between navies in conducting patrols in the maritime arena of Africa is essential, if Africa is to meet the emerging threats and challenges to its maritime security.”

For navies and coast guards to patrol on each other’s’ behaves, each coastal state should have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Maritime Security Cooperation with its coastal neighbours. “For example, South Africa has a tripartite MOU on Maritime Security Cooperation with the United Republic of Tanzania and Mozambique in the east. In the west, the maritime security cooperation MOU is being drafted and soon it will be signed between South Africa and Namibia.”

This allows for incapable States to benefit from capable States, resulting in the mutual benefit of maritime security that promotes economic development for Africa.

Lobese urged for more naval exercises, with a focus on green-water operations such as Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. As a starting point, odd years (2025/2027/2029 etc.) could be reserved for African Union Maritime Exercises/Regional Maritime Exercises (such as SADC Maritime Exercise), and even years (2024/2026/2028) can be reserved for exercises with non-African countries. “This will allow Africa to remain on par with other international navies and at the same time ensure that cooperation and interoperability exist within Africa.”