Why a conference on the blue economy?
We need Africa to see the blue economy as an avenue of production and investment – a way for inclusive growth. For the time being, African nations underestimate it. It’s often the external forces that are making use of it through illegal fishing. The African continent has been deprived of close to $40 billion because of illegal fishing, which tells us that outside forces are taking advantage of our inability to make use of our own resources.
Who are the outside forces that are exploiting Africa’s marine resources illegally?
It wouldn’t be useful to name the countries that are involved, but they are many. And it’s not always countries per se, but also private people who have ships and cargos and choose to exploit our waters. If we are able to take control of our ocean resources, we will be able to monitor them and make optimal use of the resources ourselves.
You said that cooperation between countries in Africa is vital. Why?
We need to create a good linkage between landlocked countries and oceanic states. That linkage is currently very weak and poor, although it is extremely important for economic development. Oceanic resources shouldn’t be restricted to coastal countries. We need a new narrative, which is what we are trying to create here at the conference. We need to come up with an agenda of our own and push it.
What is the most promising sector of the blue economy for Africa?
Traditional areas like fishing, shipping and maritime transport remain interesting. Industrialised fishing is already well developed in some countries like Mauritius, which has a promising tuna industry. Then, there are areas like mineral extraction, biotechnology and medical projects. To explore those areas, we need to be at the cutting-edge of technology. Also, we need to make sure that the projects are environmentally sustainable.
If we look at Mauritius specifically, what type of blue economy collaborations with other African countries have the potential of being successful?
Mauritius has already expressed a willingness to work more closely with the rest of Africa, through its Africa strategy. The blue economy is no exception. I think that many countries on the continent can learn from how well Mauritius is doing. This is a country that was not even given a chance in 1968. Yet, it managed to transform itself completely. It still has a long way to go before it becomes part of the industrialised world, but it is making remarkable progress. If we can use Mauritius’ experiences as an example in a regional context, it would be helpful.
Is there enough willingness among African countries to work together, or does the (mis)perception that it is supposedly more prestigious to work with Europeans and other westerners still prevail?
The mindset is still there, for historical reasons. We have a vertical relationship with Europe. It will take time to change the mindset, but what we need to do first and foremost is to deconstruct our national borders. The perception that every African who wants to go abroad is potentially an immigrant is wrong. We travel for business and for tourism purposes. People still don’t acknowledge that there is a growing middle class on the African continent. It’s a middle class that does have a disposable income to spend. Also, business sectors are growing on the continent – but African businessmen will go elsewhere if we don’t create the right circumstances for them to grow here. They will invest elsewhere, like in Asia or Latin America, if they think that it isn’t possible for them to develop within Africa. We must deconstruct and decolonise our minds to be able to accommodate each other. The movement of not only goods and services but also of people should be easy within Africa. Once that is done, we will develop a different world view. We don’t do enough to attract each other’s populations for tourism purposes either. Who says that the African middle class don’t go on holiday? They do and they spend a lot of money abroad – but they go to places like Europe and America. They don’t know, for example, that there are gorgeous beaches in Mauritius because they don’t have any information about it.
So should Mauritius target some of its tourism awareness campaigns towards the African continent?
Yes, but there are also practical problems to address. European tourists get visas upon arrival. Coming to Mauritius is easy for them. They barely have to stand in line, and then they are in. African tourists, on the other hand, have to go through a lot of hassle if they want to visit Mauritius. It’s somewhat easier for SADC countries, but for the rest of the continent, it’s difficult. Even with a visa, the airport officials ask a lot of questions. You already feel criminalised. You don’t even feel like entering the country anymore.
Aren’t European tourists asked questions too?
They are, but not in the same way. The restrictions are not the same. Sometimes, the airport staff don’t even ask European tourists that many questions. They get a welcoming smile. As Africans, we need to change the stereotypes that we have about ourselves. If we don’t consider ourselves worthy, nobody will consider us worthy. Europe prospered because there was collaboration – they worked together. We need to do the same.