Oceans, seas, rivers and dams are often associated with fun and relaxation for families or friends coming together to celebrate a special time. However, it is argued that more than 90% of the world’s commerce is seaborne. This, in simple terms, means that most economic activities are linked to maritime through transportation of our most basic needs such as food, energy, clothing et al.

Africa is not taking full economic advantage of its marine economy: The reasons are quite straightforward – insufficient investment capacities. More than 95% of the companies responsible for the transport cargo trade are foreign-based. 

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) made a shocking announcement this week when they said that about 7.2 million South Africans, mostly youth, are unemployed. If the government’s Operation Phakisa yielded positive results, the ocean economy could at least curb the growing unemployment rate by contributing a significant number to creating work and investment opportunities for South Africans. 

Water covers more than two-thirds of the earth’s surface, 70% of the entire earth is covered in water. What oceans have been doing over the years was to connect nations and make them interdependent through economies, politics and cultures. 

While maritime affairs offer us these mind-blowing opportunities, there are many security threats coming along with those opportunities. Oceans are also susceptible to being used for heinous things such as human, arms and drug trafficking. These growing criminal activities include pirate attacks. 

Maritime Aspects off Africa

Three universities (Haifa, Israel, and Stellenbosch and Free State, South Africa) held a public international conference themed “Shipping Security: Maritime Aspects off Africa”, this was conducted virtually as a result of Covid-19 regulations. 

This event was important on two fronts: what Africa could learn from NATO countries and how Africa could utilise the ocean economy to address its “poverty pandemic”.

Africa, through the African Union (AU), would need a strategic partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an intergovernmental military alliance consisting of 30 European countries and North America. NATO’s purpose is elementary, that it exists to take care of each other as 30 member states. They defend their territory, citizens and their interests as per nations. 

NATO does not only limit itself to North America and European countries, they have in the past partnered with other countries outside of their original scope. They have helped other African countries, and they are also being requested by the AU to accomplish other missions for them.

The North Atlantic Council (NAC) currently has seven non-NATO member-countries of the mediterranean region: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. Israel and Jordan are in the Middle-East while Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania are found in North Africa. None of these countries are from Europe or America but they are working closely with NATO to safeguard the interests of their various nations. There are also specific operations at play for immediate security needs, for example to support the 2011 United Nations Resolutions on Libya

Israel and Jordan are surrounded by Mediterranean and Dead Sea hence the need for a quality security service. While Israel is a safe country to travel to, there are other parts of the country such as Gaza which are not “touristic”, like Jordan, it is necessary for Israel to invest in its national security given its history and number of nemeses the country may have.

South Africa, too, is not immune from all the security threats and terrorism facing many nations across the globe. The political and security instability in the northern coast of Mozambique poses real threats to South Africa and its people.

These security threats are not only posing risks to South Africa, they are precarious to everyone making use of the oceans. NATO does intervene where they believe that security or stability of their member states could be exposed. 

Dr Glen Segell during the Shipping Security online conference said “It is NATO policy, and it has in practice assisted non-NATO African states because it is in NATO’s interest to do so as their security and stability is a prerequisite to that of maritime security. As such, for example, shipping security, both civil and military, sea route patrols, and air-sea surveillance and rescue are part and parcel of NATO’s maritime dimension”.

One may ask why these important tasks are carried out mostly by NATO. The reasons are quite straightforward: NATO has got all the infrastructure and capacity to face off with pirates from Somalia or from any other country in the world.

While oceans play a significant role in global economies, we should acknowledge that these oceans are used to perpetuate continental conflicts which have lasted for decades. How are the militias from Sudan, Nigeria or Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) supplied with weapons? These weapons are transported to these militias through the seas, and by those countries whose interests are to colonise those countries. 

If we really intend to silence the guns in Africa, then all 38 out of 54 African states which have coastal borders for exports and imports should take full responsibility of the shipping security, as such an exercise will minimise criminal activities which are posing security threats to the entire continent. 

It is now becoming apparent that Africa has not fully taken advantage of the ocean economy, we are still stuck into the agricultural and mining (mineral resources) economy while we overlook a sector which can liberate us from beggary.

Those who have been through a revolution would understand that the struggle is always centred around the land. The land, in simple terms, means everything existing or found on earth, including space, air, water, oceans, people, vegetation etc. One should never make the mistake of thinking that the land is restricted to mean only one part of the whole. 

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Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political and social commentator.

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