The 26th Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) was held in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa at the end of January 2016. While human rights, lack of peace and security issues dominated both the agenda and outcomes, the leaders of the continent also reviewed the ongoing efforts towards realizing the 50 year vision for Africa, known as Agenda 2063. Africa’s maritime aspirations and issues are incorporated into Agenda 2063 via AIM 2050 (Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050), which has established the AU as a driving force of the continent’s Blue Economy.

Last year, Institute of Security Studies (ISS) Researcher, Timothy Walker wrote an interesting article on the role the AU has taken on. We asked, Jon Hughes, Managing Director of SABT, a wholly African maritime business operating in over 50 ports around the African coastline to provide further insights:

Do you think there is significant value in the AU’s current and long term focus on a sustainable African Blue economy?
“Of course, the AU is the major African stakeholder; so having their focus on the importance of continent’s oceans to African economies, as well as on the health and security of Africa’s coastline, and that impact on people, is all absolutely vital. They’ve done what they need to do which is to set the agenda, define the framework and now, help to facilitate the strategy that can turn the historical over-exploitation of African waters by others into a vision of healthy, commercially viable oceans that enhance the security and prosperity of African people.”

The AU adopted AIM 2050 two years ago, do you think there have there been any milestones since then?
“I think the Continental Conference on the Empowerment of African Women in Maritime that took place in Luanda, Angola in March 2015 was definitely a worthwhile event and a step forward. It not only opened up the conversation on the importance of women’s participation and leadership opportunities in the Blue Economy, but also provided a platform for the relatively few women to connect with each other, and hopefully that engagement will lead to more women bringing their skills to the maritime industry. Then, in July last year, we also saw the AU launch ‘The African Day of the Seas and Oceans’ as well as designating 2015-2025 as ‘The Decade of African Seas and Oceans’. Observance of these occasions puts Africa’s Blue Economy in the spotlight, and helps to raise both local and global awareness that Africa has a vision and a plan to stimulate wealth creation for the continent. The point has been raised that for many decades that we, as Africans, have been largely ‘sea-blind’ and this has enabled others to come in and exploit our ocean resources. It’s long overdue that we understand and value our ocean resources so that we can sustainably reap the benefits ourselves. These commemorative occasions were launched at the first meeting of AIM2050 strategic taskforce in Addis Ababa. So, there’s a momentum that has started there. Once again, the AU put women in the Blue Economy on the agenda at this meeting, keeping that conversation going. These efforts might not be significant enough to call ‘milestones’ yet, but that’s only because it is really the beginning. What I think is important is that steps have been taken, and they’re going in the right direction.”

In a previous article, you highlighted the importance of state-level participation in the Blue Economy…
“Yes, there’s only so much that the AU can do to achieve this vision of sustainable wealth creation from the continent’s oceans. They have helped to open African eyes to the value and potential of thriving Blue Economy. But there are many other stakeholders that need to share that vision and work towards it for it become a reality. This includes the UN and civil society stakeholders; and it is critical that it includes every country’s government in Africa. When you consider that more than 90% of Africa’s trade is seaborne, then even the continent’s landlocked countries are highly dependent on the oceans. So everyone has a stake in achieving this vision and we are starting to see individual countries developing their own Blue Economy strategies. South Africa has made strides with the Department of Environmental Affairs spearheading Operation Phakisa which aims to foster a Blue Economy that boosts GDP and build viable maritime industries. Alongside Namibia and Angola, we’ve signed the Benguela Current Convention to protect and sustainably manage the vast resources of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem along our coastlines. Similarly, Mauritius and Seychelles have launched their own Blue Economy strategies. And, it is this kind of progressive and committed state-level action, aligned to AIM 2050, that is really going to enable the overarching AU vision to be realized. And, I think that, so far, the AU is doing well to encourage countries to play their part in the Blue Economy.”