In the last decade, the strategic importance of the oceans has been quite fundamentally re-evaluated. Discussions on the blue economy have shown the substantial promises of ocean resources for economic development and growth, the importance of which was also emphasized in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. But the oceans are also the source of significant insecurities. The thriving maritime security discourse has forcefully shown this. Scholars have observed the detrimental effects of problems such as piracy in East and West Africa, trafficking of people in the Mediterranean, fishery crimes or the trafficking of narcotics and other illicit goods. The dangers of the sea and the promises for economic prospect have gained particular attention on the African continent.
The African Union adopted in 2014 the African Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 to provide joint direction and the basis for a cooperative approach to managing blue growth and maritime security on the continent. At a major African Union summit taking place this week in Lomé, Africa’s leaders will adopt a legally binding charter. In the charter, they commit themselves to make more efforts in tackling maritime crime, to share information and build the infrastructure for harvesting ocean resources sustainably.
The EU is one of the main supporters in maritime capacity building
The EU has been very pro-active in assisting the African continent in improving its ocean governance. This substantial engagement started with the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia and the launch of the naval mission EUNAVFOR Atalanta, the civilian capacity building mission EUCAP Nestor, and a range of capacity building projects including MARSIC, CRIMARIO or MASE. The EU also became quite active in addressing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. With the Critical Maritime Routes Programme, funded under the EU’s Instrument for Stability, it provides assistance and capacity building that go well beyond piracy and aim at addressing ocean governance, in particular, law enforcement at sea. Although recent years have seen a decline in piracy, there is little doubt that the EU will continue to offer this support. In preparing for the post-Lome work, EU actor should ensure that they pay more attention to three lessons that have been shown in recent scholarship.
Find a better balance between development and security at sea
The EU needs to find a better way of managing and balancing the tensions of the security development nexus at sea. That there are inherent tensions in the relation of development and security is widely known, but discussions on maritime matters have not really acknowledged these so far. Although the EU frequently emphasises that maritime capacity building is part of a comprehensive approach, so far security considerations tend to dominate the discussions with the African continent. This is not the least problematic because it risks that African elites misinterpret the EU’s efforts as a neo-colonial intervention and do not see the direct benefits of EU proposals. It also risks paying insufficient attention to the root causes of maritime criminality, which can be seen in bad ocean governance and corruption, but also the marginalization of coastal populations.
Reduce institutional proliferation
The continent doesn’t require new institutions, but working ones. Over the past decade, a plethora of different information sharing centres, new fora or other coordination initiatives have been launched. The results is an overly complex, badly coordinated thicket of institutions and centres. A recent study on the Western Indian Ocean, for instance, identified 18 overlapping and competing institutions for that region alone. The EU has been one of the core drivers of this trend and each of its projects has tended to come up with new initiatives, rather than assuming a coordinating role and work closely with other actors to develop existing mechanisms. Rather than inventing new institutions, existing ones need to be strengthened.
Keep the traction after Lome
Africa was never short of intentions. Moving from declaration and document to action is usually the problem. The AU’s African Integrated Maritime Strategy of 2014 was never followed up by actions or concrete project. Although a small task force at the African Union Commission was put in place, it lacked the resources for any major actions, nor did it had the support from the African member states . The charter to be adopted in Lomé, although a legally binding document, risks a similar fate. Considerable efforts will be required to keep the charter alive and to ensure that its ideas do not remain abstract but are put to action. Mainstreaming good ocean governance across all dialogue between the EU and the African continent will be important to keep the traction gained in Lomé going.
Originally posted on the EU-CIVCAP blog.