Dussey: African Charter on Maritime Security Essential to Continent’s Development

Noting the spikes in piracy off the Gulf of Guinea and the coast of Somalia, the Foreign Minister of Togo Robert Dussey told an IPI audience that because maritime challenges impact the whole continent of Africa, it’s urgent to produce an African charter at the upcoming high-level summit in Lomé.

“We need right now the charter, the binding text, about the insecurity in African coasts,” he said. “We hope during the summit, we will have this text, this charter, because we need this charter for our development,” Mr. Dussey said.

Fifty-four African countries will be in attendance at this Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on Maritime Security and Development, being held November 2-7, 2015.

The African Union has made progress towards improving maritime security, but the continent still faces many challenges, Mr. Dussey said.

Mr. Dussey spoke at a day-long event convened on July 9th, 2015 by Togo, Oceans Beyond Piracy, and IPI, to provide recommendations for the summit in two areas: regional and international cooperation for maritime security, including maritime piracy, illegal fishing and illicit trafficking; and maritime security & development, including preservation of the marine environment and promotion of the sea.

On July 25th, the African Union observed its first ‘Day of Seas and Oceans,” and kicked off the “Decade of African Seas.” Téte António, Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, spoke about the cultural history of oceans in Africa, and why he feels “promotion of the sea” is a particularly important part of the agenda.

“I think it is really a turning point to discuss seas in Africa,” he said, noting that people used to see the sea, “as a dangerous place which swallowed so many Africans.”

“This cultural barrier, with time, has been overcome,” he said. He emphasized that despite plentiful natural resources on land, it was important to embrace what many speakers referred to as the “blue economy” ripe for development beyond Africa’s 26,000 nautical mile shores.

A similar sentiment was echoed by John Huggins, Director of Oceans Beyond Piracy. “Instead of looking at the sea as a place where crime occurs, a place of threat, how do we turn that corner?” he asked. “We’re starting to see maritime domain as an opportunity.”

IPI Senior Adviser John Hirsch moderated this first conversation on Africa’s maritime opportunities. He emphasized the Lomé summit “represents a new effort to bring the international organizations and the African Union closer together,” and, he said, it would present “a unique opportunity to really bring these partnership to fruition.”

A second panel, composed of technical experts, provided actionable items that could shape the agenda at Lomé. Earlier that day, maritime experts from governments, international organizations, and civil society held discussions in focused areas. The panelists summarized the recommendations of the groups of which they were members. Topics addressed included piracy, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, maritime crime, preservation of the marine environment, and maritime economy.

The “Support for the African Maritime Summit” session was moderated by Jérôme Michelet, Associate Director of Oceans Beyond Piracy. Mr. Michelet opened the panel by saying, “All the experts agree that the development of blue economy is very closely linked with addressing specific maritime problems.”

He then listed some of the ways in which the diverse areas of expertise for the panelists were inter-related. “Piracy is a strong deterrent for trade. Port monitoring created jobs locally,” he said. “Fighting crime provides the necessary grounds on which legal activity can be developed. Illegal fishing prevents the legal fishing industry, and is also a cause of piracy. Finally, the absence of pollution is the necessary condition for economic development, and public help.”

Mr. Michelet said he envisions the Lomé summit as an opportunity to remind its high-level attendees that the “blue economy is the return on investment, and it is gained through good governance.”

Governance was a touchstone throughout the conversation. Lisa Speer, Director of the International Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke on the preservation of the marine environment. “Bad governance has ecologic, economic, and social loss,” she said. “Today more than ever, the ocean is vital for the health and welfare of Africa and its peoples.”

She said the health of the oceans is critical to maritime security in Africa. “Healthy oceans are the basis of security,” she said. “You don’t have a healthy ocean, you don’t have any fish, you don’t have tourism, you don’t have employment, and you don’t have the kind of activity that can keep people out of piracy,” she said.

Also highlighting the necessity to combat these related maritime problems through a holistic approach, the panel received a briefing from John Steed, of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Maritime Crime. Piracy, drug trafficking, and the smuggling of migrants “have interconnections,” he said.

Often, he said, criminals “use the same vessels to transport drugs, people,” as well as use those vessels for illegal fishing, smuggling of weapons, and illegal trafficking in rare and exotic animals. “It is a multi-connected business which requires a multifaceted response,” he said.

One of the reasons the Lomé summit is so important, he emphasized, is that “many countries do not have a framework which enables their police and regulatory authorities to deal with some of the crimes that I’ve described.” The multifaceted approach he recommends would include “looking at legal frameworks, helping develop and drafting laws, and capacity building for law enforcement,” he said.

Robert Mazurek, Director of Secure Fisheries, provided insight about how the African Union could best combat IUU fishing. “Rather than re-creating another plan for illegal fishing, we should focus on implementing existing plans for marine conservation in general,” he said.

One existing plan that “can make a significant, significant impact in combatting illegal fishing” is the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Port State Measures Agreement of 2001, which is yet to be implemented.

Three of the countries that have signed the text are in Africa—Gabon, Mozambique, and Seychelles. Mr. Mazurek appealed to the leaders who will meet in Lomé to move FAO’s agreement forward, rather than drafting a new text. “The African Union alone, being that there are already 12 countries who’ve ratified and 25 needed, could ensure its ratification all by itself.”

Véronique Roger-Lacan, of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quantified the threat of piracy, her area of expertise, with some precise statistics. The “highest number of piracy attacks was in 2013, 169,” she said. “Then we heard that it had decreased in 2014, 120 attacks, and we hear from our colleagues from the oil and gas companies that in 2015 it is increasing again. Against those attacks, you also see some hostage taking.”

Such an unpredictable environment has consequences, she elaborated. “If you work in those terrible conditions and now also you run the risk of being abducted, you don’t want the job,” she said. “So shipping companies have a social problem to solve, a security problem to solve. They have to take care of their seafarers.”

Earlier in the discussion, Foreign Minister Dussey said that African leaders want to take a strong stance on piracy. Ms. Roger-Lacan recommended a practical way to do so. “One line in this charter should be that heads of state and government of Africa should identify from the date of the charter, the appropriate budgetary lines in their national budgets for maritime security,” she said.

To conclude the event, Mr. Dussey returned to the podium. “In Africa we want to take our future, our destiny,” he said. “Please, believe in Africa’s future. Believe in us, and we can work together.”

Watch event:

Watch introductory panel on YouTube>>

Related coverage:
The paradigm shift in sea piracy (American Journal of Transportation, July 27, 2015)
Global group concerned over rising piracy in SEA (BA Reports, July 13, 2015)
Netherlands to pursue ‘thorough investigation’ into downed MH17 flight (Borneo Post Online, January 22, 2015)