The 24th session of the ICE for Southern Africa opened up yesterday, at Le Méridien Hotel. The director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa delivered a speech on key development issues of importance in the region.
The topic of the 24th Inter-governmental Committee of Experts (ICE) session highlights three important concepts: “Blue Economy”; “Inclusive Industrialization”; and “Economic Development”, which are closely interrelated. The blue economy, which some refer to as the ocean economy, is what is often called Africa’s “hidden treasure” and the African Union (AU) hails it as the “new frontier of African renaissance”.
This consists of the vast array of coastal water and maritime resources, which could serve as sources of food, energy, mineral extraction, leisure, good health, science, innovation and technology. Indeed, our livelihood and existence are intricably linked with the coastal eco-system, which affects various aspects of socio-economic life.
It is to be highlighted that the President of Seychelles, H.E. Danny Faure, once noted that “the blue economy encapsulating all of the potentials of our oceanic resources, offers us a platform for Africa’s transformation both in terms of Agenda 2063 and the post 2015 Development Agenda and the sustainable development goals. The majority of world trade is by the sea. The majority of the world oil shipments are by the sea. There is no food security without a sustainable ocean. The majority of new mineral resources will not be found on land but in the sea. The Blue economy is Africa’s future”.
While Africa is essentially a coastal region, in which it is estimated that about 38 countries are coastal states, apart from the Island countries mostly in Southern Africa, with vast ocean territories, yet, this coastal sector remains largely underdeveloped, underutilised, and poorly governed, which has enabled other forces from outside the Continent to benefit more from it, than the Africans themselves.
The concept of the blue economy or blue growth, which seems relatively new was first raised during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), in 2012. While at that time, it was essentially a developing world initiative pioneered by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) –; including Mauritius –, however, the concept has assumed greater importance and popularity on a global scale, relevant not only to coastal countries but also land-locked and land-linked countries, which constitute part of the production networks and value chain of the blue economy sector.
The blue economy can be the engine of economic growth, the basis of socio-economic development and industrialization for many African countries, if well utilised. The maritime industry, for example, is estimated at over $1 trillion, and there are other related and emerging sectors of tourism, offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive industries, marine biotechnology and bio prospecting.
In China, the ocean economy contributed $962 billion or 10 % of its GDP and employed over 9 million people in 2014. In the United States of America, the ocean economy was valued at about $258 billion or 1.8 % of its GDP in 2010, and in Indonesia, the ocean economy contributed about 20 % of its GDP which is similar to the ratio of other middle income oceanic countries. While other countries and regions are harvesting the gains and returns from the blue economy, West Africa for example, is estimated to be losing about $2 billion annually from illegal fishing.
It is worthy of note that a number of Southern African countries have adopted strategic plans and development blueprints to transform their blue economy sector. For example, South Africa has the famous Operation Phakisa, which aims to address four critical sectors of transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas, aquaculture, and protection and governance.
South Africa hopes to grow the blue economy sector from R54 billion (rands) and 316,000 jobs in 2010 to R177 billion (rands) and about 1 million jobs by 2033. This is remarkable. Seychelles has developed a National Blue Economy Roadmap through which it seeks to accelerate economic growth and diversification, while Mauritius has the Vision 2030, which provides an overall development framework including on the blue economy sector.
However, the blue economy sector is very complex and dynamic, with various challenges and risks which require more of collective action, cooperation, partnerships and regional frameworks in order to address them. Some of the associated challenges and risks of the blue economy include issues of governance and security of the ocean, piracy and terrorism, climate change, ocean environmental sustainability, poor infrastructure and technology, effective production connectivity with landlinked and land-locked countries, financing, and poor technical skills and capacity.
It is heartening to know that some regional bodies are already taking necessary actions in this regard. The AU, in Agenda 2063, explicitely alludes to the strategic advantage of the blue economy in the process of economic transformation in Africa, hence amongst others, the 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy was developed.
The SADC Secretariat, through its Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063, as well as the Revised Regional Indicative Strategicic Development Plan 2015-2020, identify the Blue Economy as a key area for fostering sustainable development in the region. Linking industrialization with the blue economy at the regional level enables the promotion of regional value chain approach to industrialization. While the Indian Ocean Commission and the Indian Ocean Rim Association have developed cooperation initiatives and strategies for their members.
However, more needs to be done at the regional level in the transformation of the blue economy sector through an integrated and holistic approach. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) recognizes the immense potentials of the Blue Economy for fostering industrial growth and economic development in Africa and its regions. UNECA is fully committed to supporting the AU, Regional Economic Communities and member States, through our research and anaytical work, advocacy and awareness raising activities, technical assistance, and capacity building in achieving this. The present forum is meant to serve that purpose of further debate and discussion, and policy articulation by member-states in the region on the issue.
The ocean economy, as noted by a senior official of government in Guinea Bissau, Cipriano Gomez, “should not be a problem, but a space for solutions”. It should be a space to advance economic production, create jobs, alleviate poverty, encourage small and medium scale enterprises to participate in, and ultimately create a better society where no one will be left behind. As Donald Kaberuka, the former President of the African Development Bank, also rightly noted, “we have a right as a Continent to benefit from our terresterial and maritime resources, there is a commercial case to be made for choosing to support the development of Africa’s blue economies”.
With the calibre of people gathered in Mauritius, for the meeting, consisting of senior policy makers, leading practitioners and experts, private sector operators, civil society, regional and international development agencies, including development financial institutions, there will be fruitful deliberations which different stakeholders, including the member states, the AU, SADC and COMESA could take forward towards the economic transformation and sustainable development of the region.