Institute for Security Studies (ISS) conflict management and peacebuilding researcher Timothy Walker maintains the recent and sudden cancellation of the Maritime and Coastal Security conference and exhibition in Cape Town “adds to a worrying trend” of cancelled or deferred African maritime conferences, summits and symposiums.
He points out that since 2013 the fourth iteration of the Sea Power for Africa Symposium has yet to find a new host. South Africa has approached various countries including Kenya and Nigeria “but there have been no takers as yet” he said, adding the most recent country approached was Equatorial Guinea.
Looking at what impacted naval events and exercises on and around the continent, Walker said last year’s Ebola pandemic “scuttled” many.
“That’s not to say important training exercises have not occurred. The work of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has been crucial in this regard, especially in connection with the Djibouti Code of Conduct, but broader interest in a maritime future that isn’t bound up with ideas about fighting piracy are not firmly anchored in the thoughts of many at governmental level. A lot of good work is being carried out at the Regional Economic Community (REC) level, with the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy (EIMS) and the draft IGAD Maritime Security Strategy.
“2016 does seem to promise the commencement or reinforcement of maritime activities such as training, research and exercises that will have a notable impact on maritime security in Africa,” he said.
Looking ahead to next year Walker maintains “a lot will hinge on events in Togo”.
“One of the most unfortunate instances of the deferment of a maritime event occurred in September this year in Lomé. There was a great deal of excitement and interest in the African Union Extraordinary Summit on Maritime Security and Safety and Development in Africa, which was to be held from November 2 to 7. It is now scheduled to take place in March 2016, but given the history of cancellations and deferments we must keep monitoring the planning and progress of the event. If that event were to be deferred again or even cancelled, it will be a big setback for the concerted continental drive towards implementing maritime strategies such as 2050 AIMS and creating an African blue economy,” Walker said.
Coming back to the cancellation of the Cape Town event, he said while it was concerning it should not discourage companies and investors.
Walker said the Maritime and Coastal Security conference would have been an opportunity to engage with many maritime stakeholders in a setting that combined conference and exhibition.
“Although it has previously been weighted in favour of the exhibition, the current context of blue economies and the decline in piracy did seem to herald broader conversations on what maritime security will mean for food security and the livelihoods of African seafarers and maritime communities and business, rather than simply the protection of shipping from attacks.
“There is a real need now, both in South Africa and elsewhere, to avoid losing any more maritime interest and momentum by continuing the discussions on how best to marry the ideas of human security with blue economies.”