The blue economy lies at the heart of globalisation. Ninety percent of international trade takes place via the sea and 95% of global communication relies on underwater networks. The blue economy encompasses all economic activity in and around rivers, lakes, streams, riverbanks, shorelines, groundwater, freshwater, seas and oceans.
The blue economy is mostly unknown, overlooked and underdeveloped in Africa. It could represent a major growth driver.
Its potential is not lost on the African Union (AU), which has made the blue economy one of the priority areas for the next 10 years: the blue economy holds immense potential as a key to a prosperous Africa. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure share this outlook, seeing the blue economy as a potential source of blue gold.
But where does it currently stand in Africa? Does it benefit African economies?
The strategic significance of the blue economy for Africa is clear. UNECA has gone so far as to publish a policy handbook on the topic, echoing the African Union’s position.
According to the handbook, 38 of Africa’s 54 countries are coastal states and more than 90% of import-export occurs via the sea. The territorial waters controlled by African nations stretch out over 13 million km², with a continental shelf of about 6.5 million km², including exclusive economic zones. For the AU, the blue economy represents a new frontier of African renaissance.
There are tensions between African nations over the demarcation of maritime borders. But the fishing industry employs nearly 12.3 million Africans. And the blue economy could potentially solve nutritional and food security problems for nearly 200 million Africans. It has the potential to provide vital nutrition through underused resources in fresh and salt water fish.
A grassroots, holistic and collaborative approach would make it possible to establish a blue development strategy, taking into account climate change and sustainable development. But several outside forces jeopardise its success.
The danger of illegal fishing
Blue economic activities are hampered by natural phenomena like storms and rising sea levels. But they are also impeded by human activities such as piracy, and the arms and slave trades. Illegal fishing is one of the most significant threats.
Based on Africa’s financial inflows and outflows, UNECA reckons that the continent loses US$42 billion per year through illegal fishing and logging activities.
Illegal fishing – untaxed and unregulated – impoverishes nations and triggers cross-border population displacement. According to Professor Jean-François Akandji-Kombé at the University of Paris, the current situation can be explained by the fact that:
The sea as economic entity is a new concept in Africa. For a long time, the continent didn’t have the means to exploit marine resources, or the means to assert political power over the seas. There were no seafaring people or nations to speak of in Africa. These people, these nations focused on the land, not the sea.
The European Union has woken up to the magnitude of the systematic plunder of African fishing resources, and its potential political consequences. In recent years, it has been working to establish fishery partnership agreements with African countries like Cape Verde, the Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal and the Seychelles.
China’s policy has been remarkably shameless regarding illegal fishing. A number of African states hold Chinese vessels responsible for plundering African maritime resources and have called on the Chinese government to stop illegal fishing in West Africa.
African governments must therefore come up with strategic frameworks if their people are to reap the benefits of this potential bounty.
Translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast for Word.