The conventional understanding of maritime security is one that is viewed as battle-ready and state-centric. However, a more sustainable approach would be investment in the maritime sector under the Blue Economy (BE) lens. This would bring the general public into the fold of manning the marine space and frontiers, it would be essential in increasing the scope of security factors to be addressed. The incorporation of BE into African Peace and Security Architecture is vital in order to give it the required prominence within the continent’s peace and security agenda.
The Blue Economy (BE), involves all economic activities touching on coastlines, seas and oceans. It also is looked at as a model for the sustainable exploitation of ocean resources for the sake of future generations. Securing the BE encourages better stewardship of ocean resources, and can play a critical part in strengthening maritime security through enhancing resilience, especially from factors that drive communities to engage in maritime crimes. For example in Kenya, fishing communities along many coastlines that have been organized into Beach Management Units (BMUs) have displayed the potential and willingness to contribute to the protection of ocean resources as they not only are direct beneficiaries of the BE, but stand to have their livelihoods disrupted by maritime insecurity. In view of the fact that the BE has been pitched as the next global economic frontier by scholars and practitioners, its incorporation into African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) is vital in order to give it the required prominence within the continent’s peace and security agenda. The current raison d’etre of APSA is built around structures, objectives, principles and values, as well as decision-making processes relating to the prevention, management and resolution of crises and conflicts, post-conflict reconstruction and development in the continent; a position taken by African Union that at first glance, seems focused on land-based conflicts. The tensions at sea tend to lack the necessary prominence they deserve.
Investments in maritime security
The central debate calls for interrogation of East and West African nations’ preparedness to secure their maritime borders. Looking at the example of East Africa, it is evident that merchant ships dependent on the seaway to India remain targets of opportunity for piracy. However, there has been a reduction in such cases because of the interventions that have worked to curb different crimes at the sea (fishing, smuggling, piracy). To turn the BE into a key contributor to economic growth and development in East Africa, there is need for an African Free Trade Agreement which strengthens the case for investment in maritime security. Military and naval forces are the only ones who can spearhead the venture, but only if robust and clear-cut command and control structures support this process. This would support the oil and gas industries as well as fishing and the civil society in general. At present, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) unfortunately have limited capacities to meet this expectation, which is particularly the case in East Africa.
Even though the main focus on maritime security stems from a militaristic perspective, which involves deployment of naval systems and capabilities, several changes can be observed presenting some opportunities for community involvement in decision making and operations. A number of African countries have begun to realize the power of the BE and are investing in it with more vigour in a bid to address food and economic security as broader factors of human security. This will lay a platform that brings communities onboard the maritime security debate through BMUs that see the rationale to protect the waters for sustainable exploitation.
Blue Economy and disaster prevention
Looking at East Africa with specific focus on Kenya, the government co-hosted the first-ever global ‘Sustainable Blue Economy’ conference from 26 to 28 November 2018 in collaboration with the governments of Japan and Canada. The event recorded an attendance of over 16,000 participants from 184 countries. It culminated in the Nairobi Statement of Intent on Advancing a Sustainable Blue Economy. Important political messages in the statement include the need for the mobilization of financial resources for the BE; creation of a BE as well as people-centered strategies focused on sustainable development; promotion of access to gender equality; and strengthening science and research, among others. With a clear statement of intent to venture into the BE, debate about disaster risk prevention, response and reduction cannot be ignored. This presents a scenario that first of all acknowledges the importance of providing emergency response as and when needed for all, and secondly, presents the need for response that is sensitive to the special needs of the disabled. The second component on the need to safeguard the interests and wellbeing of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in times of maritime disaster is premised upon the slogan ‘leave no one behind’ as well as the Sendai Framework of 2015 to 2030. With estimates of PwDs around the world ranging between 10 to 15% (approximately one billion), and projections showing an increase in the number occasioned by an increasing aging population, a status check on disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction is fundamental. A research study carried out by the International Peace Support Training Centre, sponsored by UNDP-Kenya in 2020 revealed specific frailties in the areas of communication, infrastructure, rescues coordination and post-disaster recovery in the Counties of Mombasa and Lamu. Recommendations revolve around the need to strengthen multi-agency focus in the above-mentioned priority areas drawn from the Sendai Framework.
What is next?
To turn the BE into a key contributor to economic growth and development in East Africa, APSA should recognize the maritime space with more prominence within the peace and security debate. To this end, more emphasis ought to be laid on the BE as a continental agenda that also incorporates land-locked countries. This involves the topic of fishing, as it would not only attract investment, but would safeguard the rights and interests of the local population, thus creating a business-friendly environment with fewer sources of belligerence. In order to address maritime security from a bottom-up perspective with the required enthusiasm, it is important to incorporate the BE under APSA within the context of community empowerment and employment creation. Training communities on best-practice models in fishing as well as conservation of marine ecosystems as well as equipping them to secure their livelihoods will create sustainable security networks (protecting their livelihoods) that would be ready and willing to work with local authorities. Having stated that which needs to be done, coming up with a feasible implementation strategy that will inform policy shapers, practitioners and the scholarly fraternity, it is important to support research and development. An in-depth interrogation of the merger between technologies, sustainable livelihoods and appreciation of existing cultural practice is important. Public and private sector investment will then be effectively guided through rigorous research and development, thus taking care of most if not all intrinsic and extrinsic factors.