As ambiguous the notion of ‘good order at sea’ is, it is even less universally applicable as has been envisioned by global governance regimes. Inconsistencies in conflict resolution narratives across the world’s oceans are none the more apparent than those proposed for the South China Sea opposed to the coasts of East and West Africa. The latter have gained traction much more recently and given that all major international economies have stakes in helping define a secure maritime narrative for Africa, the various dynamics of Africa’s maritime policies beg a review.
Africa’s maritime policy is structured around Africa’s Integrated Maritime strategy (AIMS, 2050); both an account of Africa’s misdirected approach to maritime security as well as a general continent-wide policy brief that sets the tone for states, coastal and inland to frame an integrated policy net, to secure the oceans around them.
What sets AIMS 2050 in a different league to previous attempts at regional cooperation for maritime security is the prescience with which the former spells out immediate concerns that proposedly ought to be catered to holistically under a continent-wide integrated approach opposed to regional efforts at maritime cooperation.
What sets AIMS 2050 in a different league to previous attempts at regional cooperation for maritime security is the prescience with which the former spells out immediate concerns that proposedly ought to be catered to holistically under a continent-wide integrated approach opposed to regional efforts at maritime cooperation. Regional efforts include the likes of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Zone of Peace and Cooperation in the South Atlantic (ZPCSA).
AIMS 2050 moves beyond traditional approaches of maritime security centred on piracy. Piracy has indeed plagued trade routes off the course of Somalia since the start of the century. However what more common found approaches to petro-piracy do not take into account is a more globalized approach to the problem. The Somalian coast has been a relative stranger to pirates for the last couple of years compared to Western Africa which has reported a surge in piracy since 2016. Nigeria, Gabon and Angola; all part of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have borne the brunt of piracy on Africa’s West Coast.
Petroleum theft is even more alarming for the role Africa’s vast untapped energy resources play in integrating it into the international oil and gas markets. Energy relevant products were worth a little more than €60 billion in exports to the European Union (EU) in 2015. Considering the shift in petro-piracy from the East to West Coast, Europe might need to reconsider its military presence off the coast of Somalia. The European Union Naval Force ATLANTA (EU NAVFOR) has operated in the Gulf of Aden through to the Red Sea since 2008. Its accomplishments are profound in assisting the World Food Programme (WFP) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by keeping shipping routes pirate-free, contributing to maritime security off the East Coast. International naval presence, sponsored by all five members of the United Nations Security Council is all the more important for the Suez Canal accounts for 8 to 10% of global sea trade annually. Great power interests converge onto the shoring up of African maritime security, a policy that needs to be replicated on the West Coast with renewed urgency. African maritime security is rendered greater importance hence for its role in facilitating global trading networks; ensuring the smooth sailing of trade flows.
Petroleum theft is even more alarming for the role Africa’s vast untapped energy resources play in integrating it into the international oil and gas markets.
Petro-piracy has evolved from mere kidnapping and siphoning of oil from carriers to illegal oil bunkering which costed Africa about a 100 billion dollars from 2003 to 2008. Till 2015, oil bunkering involving private and corrupt state entities had reigned in a loss of 1.29 trillion Nigerian Nairas. The fact that bunkered oil has lucrative markets in inland Africa does undermine state authorities in West Africa. In addition to piracy, oil spills across the African coast have costed more than $1 billion in addition to taking up more than 30 years to clean up. Environmental degradation, only exacerbated by climate change, threatens coastal states throughout the continent. Given that Africa relies heavily on agriculture, fluctuating temperatures and rising sea levels do not bode well for its sustenance.
Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is another factor contributing to significant losses off African coasts that need to be regulated. A $100 billion worth of losses have been reported as a result of unlawful fishing. Given that it accounts for the livelihood for many in coastal states, regulating fishing is a rather precarious issue that governments will have to tread carefully on when tending to as part of the grander maritime security plan.
The very same state authorities have failed to effectively police waters. Drug trafficking across the South Atlantic, from South America to Europe and the Middle East to America have been left unregulated and unchecked by ZPCSA which increases the urgency for an African wide integrated approach to counter trafficking. Human trafficking from a conflict torn North Africa to Southern Europe across the Mediterranean have seen the rise of outlawed groups that smuggle people and asylum seekers to Europe, leaving many with an uncertain future as anti-immigrant rhetoric runs rampant in Europe.
Unregulated sea routes also bring in arms and ammunition into Africa that has fueled insurgencies and civil conflict across the length of the continent. Herein starts a vicious cycle of events that has undermines both land and offshore security. Additionally, it has kept regions from economic and humanitarian development. Conflicts adversely affect economic and political development which in turn worsens the plethora of crises that people in Africa are confronted with.
The AIMS 2050 indeed presents a consolidated approach to maritime security. Given the current state of internal conflicts, that is exactly what such efforts will be reduced to; approaches giving way to not much material development. There is an increasing consensus among experts and policy makers alike that maritime security is not independent of inland security. The former has contributed to violence and conflict in Africa as much as land based conflict. Territorial conflict in the Northern Maghreb region has not allowed for a coherent regional North African approach to maritime security from being developed. Though diplomatic rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea seem more a possibility than ever before, Somalia continues to remain embroiled in conflict.
Drug trafficking across the South Atlantic, from South America to Europe and the Middle East to America have been left unregulated and unchecked by ZPCSA which increases the urgency for an African wide integrated approach to counter trafficking.
The Horn of Africa has been touted as an emerging economic zone for a decent time now. In fact, investments into Djibouti and Somalia for the development of ports have been flowing in regularly. DP World, owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government landed a $442 million deal with Somaliland, an autonomous territory in Somalia, for a deep sea port in Berbera. The deal is significant in that it reflects growing importance of Africa as an emerging hub for global economic networks but the national conflict that has ensued within Somalia over rights over licensing, undermines aforementioned prospects.
There is hope that the shoring up of maritime security will be a cyclical process. A coherent maritime policy has the prospects to unite Africa under a uniform external and internal security narrative which in turn will help alleviate mentioned conflicts. All in all, AIMS 2050 proposes a Combined Exclusive Maritime Zone of Africa (CEMZA) that will include the beefing up of maritime security while ensuring environmental protection and gearing up Africa to be an important actor in global trade networks. Maritime security is of utmost importance to the political and socio-economic development of Africa.
is an M-Phil graduate of International Relations with minors in political economy from National Defense University. His areas of research include Foreign and Domestic European Affairs. He is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.