It has been South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in her present role of Chairwoman of the African Union, who has not just identified women and oceans as Africa’s foremost assets when it comes to development and industrialization, but has also intertwined them by pointing out that Africa’s Blue Economy offers great opportunities to help achieve the continent’s goals on women’s involvement in leadership and employment.

At an AU-hosted conference in Ethiopia on getting more women into parliament, Dlamini-Zuma urged women to play key roles in addressing the historical disregard of Africa’s oceans, which has led to underutilization by Africans, and over-exploitation by just about everyone else.

“The majority of our countries are coastal, or islands, so the oceanic space is bigger than our land mass,” Dlamini-Zuma pointed out, before adding: “Now we’re trying to get everybody to focus on this and we are also saying to women that this is an underdeveloped area. Don’t let the men develop it. Don’t come in at the end. You must be part of that development.” She encouraged African women in the Maritime industry to join or form women’s Maritime Associations in their countries and regions.

Her call-to-action didn’t fall on deaf ears. The 1st Continental Conference on the Empowerment of African Women in Maritime was held in Luanda in March 2015, with the theme, ‘African Maritime Women: Towards Africa’s Blue Economy’. The aim of the event was to stimulate the formations of such associations in African Regional Economic Communities (RECs). In this way, Africa’s relatively few maritime women in the private and public sectors can develop a common platform to benefit from shared experiences as well as to formulate goals and strategies to open up opportunities for many more African women in the Blue Economy.

In a subsequent news article in The Guardian it was noted that it is not just women in the industry who have taken an interest. Africa’s Blue Economy holds an allure too, for women entrepreneurs. Founder and Chairperson of the South African Khumo Group, Ipeleng Selele, is reportedly investing in her first shipping vessel, and has declared: “I want to become an African Maritime champion.” Selele, a high-level marketing strategist, who led the team that articulated Brand SA, has said that she is excited to see young African women taking an active economic role in the Maritime sector, from shipping, maintenance and port services to financing.

“I am a true pan-Africanist,” she asserts, “And I am all about intra-African trade. I clearly understood and did my homework on what is it that will increase intra-African trade and I realised that our economies actually lie in the ports and logistics. You can have the best product ever; but how do you move it from A to Z? When you look at the role that ports, rail and road play in our economies, you realise they are crucial and that is why I have so much passion for it.”

Critical to opening up Maritime opportunities for younger African women is education and skills development. This is the view of Jon Hughes, Managing Director of SABT, a wholly African Maritime fuel supply business operating in over 50 ports around the African coastline. “There is so much opportunity for women to play a great variety of roles, and to be well-represented in the leadership of Africa’s Blue Economy.”

The South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), launched in November last year, aims to address issues of education, skills and research so that South Africa can optimize on its Blue Economy opportunities. A joint initiative of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), SAIMI aims for the education sector to contribute to a sustainable, efficient and competitive South African Maritime sector.

NMMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz said: “We live in the age of the knowledge economy. We need a new generation of skills, knowledge and technological innovation to develop the industry and enable South Africa to identify its unique niches in the global Maritime economy. We need to stimulate bright young people to pursue careers in the industry, and we need to ensure the right qualifications are in place to provide them with a career pathway, and knowledge and skills that meet the needs of industry into the future.”