“Blue is the new green” according to Gregor Paterson-Jones in reference to the emerging blue economy in Africa which is comprised of immense rivers, lakes and an extensive ocean base. Africa’s blue world is the latest untapped resource with strong potential on the market. With a multitude of investment opportunities such as coastal mining, energy production, transportation and even tourism and agriculture, the blue world provides a much needed alternative to achieving sustainable economic and social development. Unlike the green economy, which is restricted to land based resources and sustainable development, the blue economy views water bodies as developmental areas in which a variety of maritime activities are leveraged to provide progressive economic stability.
According to a report by the European Commission, the blue economy of the European Union has been a driver of economic growth, job creation and innovation. This report, goes on to note that the maritime economy represented 1.3% of the total European Gross domestic Product, created a turnover of €566 billion, generated €174 billion of value added and created jobs for 3.5 million people in Europe. The European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella stated that with investment in innovation, responsible ocean management and integration of environmental, economic and social aspects, the sector can be doubled in a sustainable way by 2030.
Now, consider for a moment that 38 of the 54 African Countries are coastal States and more than 90% of Africa’s imports and exports are conducted by sea. Consider that some strategic gateways for international trade are in Africa. Africa’s blue economy consists of oceans, lakes, seas, coasts, rivers and underground water. It is diverse in its productive sectors; comprised of fishing, mining, renewable energy and tourism among many others. Why then, with tremendous potential, does much of Africa’s population live in poverty with large-scale unemployment and an uneven distribution of wealth?
Africa has been heavily reliant on its green economy, with Northern Africa exporting petroleum products, a focus on agriculture and livestock in Eastern Africa, Central and Southern Africa covering precious metals and minerals and textiles being exported in the West. The blue economy has remained largely unexplored in its potential to propel the continent towards Agenda 2063.
The sustainable development of the Blue Economy would require a paradigm shift away from the tried and tested green economy towards the novelty which is the Blue Economy. This undoubtedly presents its own challenges, as the need for new policy, innovation and investment (foreign and domestic) arises. It is not enough that governmental and regional policies provide a framework for the exploitation of the Blue Economy. It must also be ensured that any proposed activity is undertaken in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to establishing a thriving and healthy blue economy is the sectoral constraint to development. Various policies and strategies concerning individual sectors of the Blue Economy such as fisheries, mining, energy and transportation have been developed with little consideration of the interconnected nature of the blue world. This disjointed approach to development has seen a failure in the harmonisation of an otherwise synergy rich sector. This has unfortunately resulted in a conceptual framework that is linear, compartmentalised, and demonstrates weak interconnectedness within the blue world.
Furthermore, geopolitical considerations must be assessed, as the success of the Blue Economy is heavily dependent on the cooperation of member countries. Due to the complex relationship of national interests against international interests; threats of piracy and illegal activity; the lack of comprehensive maritime and transnational aquatic boundaries and other such barriers to development, collaboration at all levels is of paramount importance. Strengthened partnerships through various cooperation mechanisms such as the Regional Fusion and Law Enforcement Centre for Safety and Security at Sea; which is an example of regional cooperation to address maritime threats, would bolster confidence among member states as well as encourage foreign direct investment into the region. Such cooperation mechanisms generally allow for dispute settlement and conflict resolution, which is integral to both the geopolitics of the region and harnessing the full potential of the blue Economy.
In addition to these geopolitical considerations, the African community ought to engage people from all societal groups, paying particular attention to women, the youth and local communities. Women represent a significant portion of the non-monetised core economy, and participate in various sectors of the blue economy. Despite this, the gender gap continues to limit women’s access to credit, training and processing technology. The youth among whom unemployment is rampant, require training, education and job opportunities in order to participate in the Blue Economy, and benefit the community as a whole. An unfortunate consequence of the improper development of the Blue Economy is that the small fishing and coastal agriculture communities might find themselves displaced, and their way of life distorted. It is therefore important that in the pursuit of all things blue, policy makers endeavor to preserve the rich and diverse culture and heritage of the local communities.
The dream of a sustainable African Blue economy should be closer to realisation than it currently is. With Africa’s Great Lakes alone constituting the largest proportion of surface freshwater in the world, the opportunities for resource allocation are innumerable. Africa’s over reliance on land based resources, coupled with the negative impact that industry has had on the environment is an important indicator that there is a need to diversify the economic activity of the continent. A successful implementation of policy would ensure sustainable development through a solid legal and conceptual framework. The result of this would be regional cohesiveness that would transcend the Blue Economy, foster better practices across all sectors whilst removing much of the risk of environmental harm.
Featured image | Ahmed Sekou Toure, 1979 | Romanian Communism Online Photo Collection | wikimedia commons
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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