As the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference gets under way next week, the Indian Ocean Region (WIO) is at a critical juncture, demanding cooperation to secure its ocean-based economy. Maritime security threats have been on the rise.
In recent years, pirates off the coast of Somalia have hijacked nearly 200 ships. Although piracy has been largely contained, trafficking in human, drug, illicit small arms and ammunition and crime related to wildlife and fishery have become prevalent.
The Indian Ocean rim has historically been, and still is, geo-strategically important to the world.
As the third largest of the world’s oceans covering 20 pc of the earth’s surface, the Indian Ocean is a source of over 40 pc of the world’s offshore oil production.
It is a busy sea route connecting world economies, with almost a third of the world’s container shipping and two-thirds of oil shipments passing through its waters.
True to form, in the wake of the return of the geopolitical rivalries of the Cold War era and as countries revert to protectionism and isolationism to counter external competition, the region’s strategic significance for the United States has increased. India and China are also trying to establish their clout over this region.
And resurgent Russia and the Gulf States (Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey) are locked in fierce geo-strategic struggles over the region.
The “Oceans Economy” or “Blue Economy” is a relatively new concept that came into vogue in the wake of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
In a nutshell, as an emerging development paradigm in the 21st century, blue economy conveys three interrelated but separate messages: Oceans, an estimated 75 percent of the earth surface, can contribute to economies; the need to address the environmental and ecological sustainability of the oceans; and the ocean economy is a growth opportunity especially for developing countries.
The economic potential of the planet’s waters needs no gainsaying. What is clear is that oceans carry more than 90 pc of internationally traded goods; 13 of the world’s 20 megacities are coastal; and half of the world’s people live within 100 kilometers of the coast. A study in 2010 estimated the size of the global ocean economy to be between $3 trillion and $6 trillion, providing over 2.7 million jobs.
However, economic activities aside, the sustainability of the oceans is crucial for economies, livelihoods and food security for both animals and humans. As former US Secretary of State John Kerry aptly remarked: “Protecting the ocean is a necessity that contributes to our economy, climate and way of life”.
Since the early 2000, growing concerns over terrorist attacks and piracy on port facilities in Southeast Asia, off the Coast of Somalia and in West Africa have turned the spotlight on the need for enhanced maritime security capabilities to secure the blue economy.
Maritime security and blue economy are inter-dependent in two ways. Maritime security is an enabler of the blue economy. It safeguards navigation routes, provides important oceanographic data to support marine-based economic activities, and protects the rights of countries over valuable marine resources and activities within their maritime jurisdiction.
Inversely, maritime security is galvanising the growth and development of the ocean economy. A functioning economy can boost the security institutions (military, police, intelligence), order and public safety. The growth of the blue economy has increased investment in maritime security capabilities.
Countries with maritime security capabilities can underwrite their marine environmental security. Oceans contain 80 pc of the earth’s life and produce more than half the oxygen we breathe. They moderate the planet’s climate by absorbing about 90 pc of the heat trapped in the ever thickening atmosphere.
Securing blue economies can ensure food security for both humans and animals.
Generally, oceans provide livelihoods for an estimated 3 billion people who depend on marine and coastal areas including fishing, tourism, trade, transport and energy. The earth’s waters provide the primary source of protein for more than 3.5 billion people.
Moreover, securing the blue economy will provide renewable “blue energy” and a diversity of energy sources in form of wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass to ease the growing demand on fossil fuels globally.
Marine biotechnology can create an eco-sustainable and highly efficient society. The global market for marine biotechnology products and processes is currently estimated at US$ 2.8 billion and projected to grow to around US$ 4.6 billion by 2017.
The blue economy is now a strategic priority for pivotal African states. In 2014, South Africa unfurled its “Operation Phakisa” in order to boost its blue economy capacity.
BLUE ECONOMY CONFERENCE
Similarly, Kenya’s hosting of the Blue Economy Conference unveils its renewed efforts to prioritise the blue economy in line with its Vision 2030 agenda, the African Union Agenda 2063, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Nairobi is keen on expanding its share of the western Indian Ocean blue economy, estimated to be US$ 22 billion.
On November 21, 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Kenya Coast Guard Service to safeguard its immense resource potential in its ocean waters. Kenya’s revenue losses from illegal fishing constitutes an estimated Sh10 billion annually.
Besides piracy in the Indian Ocean, Kenya has a dispute with Somalia over maritime boundaries.
At the heart of this dispute is a potentially lucrative triangular stretch of 100,000 square kilometers offshore territory, about 370 km from the coastline, believed to be home to huge oil and gas deposits. Ultimately, developing a collective security dialogue and mechanisms is central to securing the ocean economy.
Prof Peter Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute (Kenya).