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Why Africa united to fight illegal fishing

Samantha Maloof

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Earlier this month, over 40 African Union (AU) nations signed a binding agreement to curb piracy and other maritime crime on the continent’s coastlines. The meeting in Lomé, Tongo, drew 18 heads of state – considerably more than most African Union meetings – a fact that demonstrates the importance to African leaders of curbing piracy, illegal fishing, and other crime on Africa’s economically endangered coastlines. The deal will establish a maritime security fund, and is also meant to strengthen cooperation and communication between governments.

The Lomé agreement brings together more than 40 nations with mutual interest in securing the continent’s shores. 90 percent of African imports and exports are transported by sea, making maritime security essential to the economic success of all African countries. Coastal states in West Africa are losing about $1.3 billion annually, just to illegal fishing alone. It is no wonder then that the agreement was praised as “historic” by Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, while President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya said that it demonstrated an increasing ability to work together as a continent to solve such problems. Only a few years ago, outside powers such as the EU needed to be called in to help control piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The attention given to this problem is evidence of the vast economic impact of maritime criminal activity. South Africa alone loses billions of dollars every year to illegal fishing, especially to the poaching of abalone and lobster, prized by poachers for their high demand in places such as Hong Kong, China, and other parts of East Asia. Last year, 74 fishing vessels operated by Chinese Distant Water Fishing companies were found to be fishing illegally in prohibited West African fishing grounds and falsifying their gross tonnage, according to a two-year Greenpeace investigation. Most of those cases dated between 2000 and 2014, off the coasts of Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau. One report by the Overseas Development Institute estimates that West Africa could create as many as 300,000 jobs by ending illegal fishing.

Much of the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing that goes on in West African waters is at the hands of Chinese vessels. Chinese companies have expanded operations in the region from 13 vessels in 1985 to 462 in 2013. IUU fishing by Chinese vessels has been increasing in other parts of the world as well, but in Africa, these practices pose a particular threat. African governments have historically had limited ability to enforce maritime law. One third of all fish caught in waters off of West Africa is obtained illegally by Chinese fishing vessels. Traditional fishermen, using wooden canoes and small nets are now forced to compete with Chinese fishermen using some of the most destructive and large-scale fishing methods the world has ever seen. For example, many of these vessels use massive “drift nets”, which were banned by the UN in 1992. These nets can range from 10 to 100 nautical miles long, connected between buoys on the surface and lead weights 40 feet below.

Since many impoverished Africans rely exclusively on fishing for not only income, but also basic sustenance, the influx of IUU fishing is an especially serious problem. In Mozambique, IUU fishing has reached critical proportions. A 2013 study revealed that out of the 130 ships operating off its coast 129 were foreign, and concerns increasing that within 10 years, the Mozambique Channel may be all but bereft of maritime life. With the country losing 65 million dollars a year to illegal fishing, Mozambique’s state-backed tuna fishing company EMATUM bought several patrol vessels to help protect the nation’s waters. The country is now embroiled in a multimillion-dollar international controversy, after creditors deemed the purchase too expensive.

Meanwhile, piracy in West African waters has increased, as pirate activity off the coast of Somalia has finally started to decline. Fueled by the rise of militant rebels on land in places like Nigeria, economic pressure on a rapidly expanding population, and slumping oil prices, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has yielded some of the world’s most dangerous waters for seafarers. One report said that 1,225 seafarers were attacked by pirates there in 2015 alone. African nations have tried to deal with this problem on their own, but have found little success.

While efforts by individual nations are commendable, the nature of the causes and effects of piracy and IUU fishing mean that cooperation between governments is essential to tackling the problem. International policy observers have suggested that more regional coordination could be the next step for Africa’s maritime security. Coastal waters must be protected as a shared resource. Furthermore, nations could fill the gaps in their own security infrastructure with assistance from private sector security firms. Finally, African partners in China and the rest of East Asia must pressure Beijing to reign in illegal fishing operations.

The Lomé agreement is a step towards the kind of cooperation that is necessary to secure Africa’s coastline. The signatories should ratify the agreement as fast possible in order to reap the benefits from its operation. With so many countries dependent on fishing and other economic activity on the African coastline, measures like this one are crucial to stem a still growing problem.

Samantha is a freshly minted graduate in International Relations based in Cairo, currently working as a research assistant in a small think tank looking at development and inequality in Africa

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Oil: A blessing or a curse for Somalia?

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Somalia recently reached a landmark agreement with Shell and Exxon Mobil to develop the vast petroleum reserves believed to lie off the troubled country’s coast. The deal rekindles a previous joint venture with the two oil giants that was cut short in 1990 when the ousting of Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre threw the country into a prolonged period of instability—and rekindles debates over whether oil will present greater opportunities or risks to Mogadishu.

Somalia’s new petroleum law, passed by the federal parliament earlier this year, has paved the way for this renewed exploration of the country’s extensive natural resources—estimated at as much as 100 billion barrels. The government hopes that drawing on these riches will help kickstart economic regeneration as the country’s security situation slowly but steadily improves after decades of conflict, terrorism and piracy.

Talks are now being held to enable the agreed concessions to be converted into revenue sharing agreements (RSAs) that will return 55 percent of offshore oil revenues to Somalia’s central government, with the remainder being channelled to member states. A new licensing round, covering another 15 offshore blocks, has begun, with concessions expected to be awarded early next year.

Rebuilding a damaged economy or fuelling rifts?

Concerns are nevertheless rising that the possible influx of petroleum resources may exacerbate existing rifts between Somali states. The adjacent states of Somaliland and Puntland have disputed the ownership of the oil-rich Sool and Sanaag regions for decades; if an exploration licence were granted to a foreign company, the situation could easily descend into war.

Meanwhile, the prospect of oil revenues has also added fuel to the fire of a long-running maritime border row between Somalia and Kenya. In February this year, Nairobi accused Mogadishu of an ‘illegal land grab’ after Somalia attempted to auction off oil and gas blocks from disputed territory on the border between the two countries – a flashpoint which resulted in the recall of the Kenyan ambassador and the tit-for-tat expulsion of the Somali diplomat in Nairobi. The Somali government responded by withdrawing the disputed blocks from sale, pending a judgement by the ICJ.

Learning from experience: Senegal and Equatorial Guinea

As Somalia wrestles with the question of how to benefit from its oil reserves while eschewing further strife, it has examples – both good and bad – among fellow African nations who’ve uncovered fossil fuel deposits.

Senegal, not historically an oil-producing nation, has been the site of a number of promising discoveries recently. Industry analysts have suggested that the Senegal Basin could be the “next offshore boom”—particularly likely following the announcement earlier this month that new, high-quality gas reserves have been discovered at the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim site straddling the Senegalese-Mauritanian border.

Senegal has already faced some of the troubles which inevitably accompany rich petroleum finds. The African Energy Chamber has suggested that recent allegations that the Senegalese president’s brother improperly benefitted from the awarding of oil and gas contracts in fact stemmed from an attempt to taint the reputation of both President Macky Sall and the Senegalese fossil fuel industry in general.

Senegal’s oil hopes have not been derailed, however, and Dakar is making a concerted effort to reap the maximum benefit from its oil reserves. The country’s new petroleum code, voted into law earlier this year, has brought Senegal’s legal framework for natural resources in line with industry norms, increased transparency and upped the state’s share of oil revenues.

If Dakar is so far managing to avoid the notorious “resource curse”, other African countries flush with oil have not found the fuel to be such a boon. Equatorial Guinea is practically a textbook example of a country squandering its oil reserves without returning tangible benefits to its citizens. In fact, while Equatorial Guinea’s per-capita wealth is the highest of any country in sub-Saharan Africa, government spending in areas like health and education are way below average.

That’s not to say some haven’t benefited from the oil millions: President Obiang—who has ruled the country with an iron fist since he had his uncle shot and killed in 1979— has managed to shore up the family coffers nicely, collecting race cars and mansions in Europe and America. Obiang once questioned “what right does the opposition have to criticize the actions of a government?” and spent his early years overseeing Black Beach, the most notorious prison in Africa.

Since Equatorial Guinea discovered oil, however, the despot has been more or less accepted by the international community. The once-shuttered U.S. Embassy in Malabo was reopened and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to Obiang as “an old friend”.

Somalia needs to tread carefully

The cases of Senegal and Equatorial Guinea, among others, offer Somalia guidance as it attempts to use its oil to further its progress towards peace and reconciliation. The involvement of US troops has helped to push back the terrorist group al-Shabab, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that Somalia could qualify for debt relief as early as next spring – which would enable the government to plan public spending programmes and invest in job-creation schemes. However, regulators have cautioned that more needs to be done in the interim to tackle poverty and build a more resilient economy.

Against this backdrop, an oil boom could help Somalia rise to the challenges it faces. But it’s also possible that the influx of wealth could serve to fuel already-serious corruption. In the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Somalia received the highest score out of all 180 countries ranked, making it the most corrupt in the world. Tapping into oil revenues could help lift Somalis out of endemic poverty—almost three-quarters of its population survive on less than two dollars a day— but the vast cash flow this would release may also cause political corruption to thrive, as Equatorial Guinea has shown. Carefully managing any oil finds, as Senegal is trying to do, will be essential for Somalia to maintain recent progress.

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The ambiguity and the ambivalence of the EU position in Western Sahara

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Morocco enjoys an extraordinary geo-strategic position thanks to its Mediterranean Atlantic coastline and its proximity to the European continent, but at the same time, the Moroccan diplomatic influence comes from its occupation of Western Sahara, which is considered as lungs and a Gateway for all connection of Morocco with Africa across the road of El Guergarate. This situation has direct geopolitical and  geoeconomic consequences on Moroccan relations with the European Union and Sub Saharan Africa.

Morocco and the European Union (EU) are bound by an association agreement signed in 1996 and entered into force in 2000, which is concretized in October 2008, by an “advanced status”.

In this context, the 14th meeting of the EU Association Council with Morocco of 27 June 2019, witnessing a new European approach to the issue of Western Sahara, which has been relegated to the second plan, without any declaration that respects the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. It must be admitted, that only the European Court of Justice, which has an indisputable position respecting the international law of non-self-governing territories in the case of Western Sahara.

Indeed, the judgment of 21 December 2016 of the CJEU on the EU-Morocco agricultural agreement (Polisario v. Council), and that of 27 February 2018 on the fisheries agreement (Western Sahara Campaign judgment), distinguish the territory of Western Sahara from Moroccan territory.

However, on 16 July 2018, the EU Council of Foreign Ministers adopted the amendments to the protocols on agricultural products of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, which have the effect of extending its scope to the territory of Western Sahara. The text was approved by the European Parliament on 16 January 2019. Thus born the new position of the EU in favour of Morocco and against the interests of the Saharawi people.

The reasons for the EU’s position are purely strategic and economic

If in post-imperialism the power is vital for the defence of peace, however, be aware that at the age of postmodernism, the use of force is a failure of policy rather than an instrument of policy. The principal objective of foreign policy is to maintain peace and prosperity.

You have to know, at every crisis between Morocco and the EU concerning the Western Sahara issue, it is Morocco that wins politically, because it has other elements of the game such as immigration, security, terrorism, smuggling, cannabis and drugs ,to decrease the risk of these all threatening, EU help Morocco to play the role of the guardian for European security, and the only compensation for Morocco is the change of the EU position in favour of Moroccan thesis.

With the same idea, it is the European companies and especially those of France and Spain that take advantage of the natural resources of Western Sahara, in complicity with the Moroccan authorities whether in agriculture, fishing, phosphates or other metals. But there is another factor, that pushes the EU to change his position.

The divergence between the Polisario Front and Morocco push EU to impose its agenda

It is important to make clear, that Morocco is not the administering Power, but the Occupying Power, with a legal status similar to that of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. The United Nations has never recognized Morocco as the administering power, in fact, has on several occasions disavowed such an occupation.

Since the blockage of the referendum process by Morocco in 1993 (hypothetically where can the Saharawi people choose their destiny), and despite the negotiations and the good offices of UN, the two parties Morocco and Polisario Front are far from choosing the path of reconciliation.

In fact, the Moroccan approach, finds its origin in the idea of Clausewitz, for who war was the continuation of policy. On the other hand, the approach of the Polisario Front accommodated with that of Sun Tzu, the Chinese Taoist military philosopher, who argued that the best war was one that did not have to fight.

This situation has led the EU to choose a new approach.

The EU solution is based on the political approach of enlarging the system

The end of the cold war and the subsequent development was caused by the defeat of the Soviet domestic system has consecrated the victory of the American capitalist system. It is in this sense that the EU wants to strengthen its domestic affairs to have strong diplomacy outside the EU. To exercising influence abroad, you must obtain power at home.

George Kennan had already noticed, ” what must always be accompanied by, or be made subordinate to, a different sort of undertaking, aimed at widening the horizons and changing the motives of men”. We think this observation of the famous American diplomacy, summarizes the diplomacy followed by the EU over Western Sahara since the advent of the Moroccan- European association.

Likewise, the remark of Jean Monnet one of the instigators of the creation of the EU stipulates when you have a problem you cannot solve, enlarge the context. For the UE it is a tactical equation, to find other temporary alternatives solutions against the cardinal principles of international law that govern the relations between different sovereigns states (Morocco and SADR) ,in order to engage larger interests.

You have to notice, the absence of a conflict management policy related to the Maghreb area, whether from a point of view of the military, political, economic and cultural, with the exception of 5+5 dialogue( and where the Saharawi’s are not present), suggests that the European approach is far to be unanimous because of the contradictions of interest between Northern Europe and those of South. The Nordic countries are for the decolonization of Western Sahara, while those of South are for a negotiated solution according to realpolitik situation.

There are other differences of opinion between Germany and France,  for example,if Germany attaches greater importance to respect UN resolutions and respect international law by using the soft power in all its forms of influence, persuasion or negotiation, instead of, France maintains a traditional approach of military design and in a colonial vision.

However, it is important to mention, that the linkage between economic cooperation and conflict resolution, could lead to a definitive peace agreement between Morocco and Polisario Front, if  the EU pushes Morocco and SADR after their accession to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), to join an economical sharing in order to find a peaceful solution to their territorial dispute.

Finally, can the EU come to the same conclusion like John Bolton the security advisor of President Trump, when he say( in a statement to the US magazine on Dec. 13, 2018, on the sidelines of the presentation of the new US strategy in Africa) “ we must think of the people of Western Sahara, think of the Saharawis, many of whom are still in refugee camps near Tindouf, in the Sahara desert, and we must allow these people and their children to return. and have normal lives”.

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Kenyan universities aim to be “greenest in the world”

MD Staff

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Strathmore University students, pictured here with the Flipi-Flopi boat made of recycled marine plastic, organized a garbage clean up in their community. Photo by Canaan Owuor, Strathmore University student.

In Kenya, over 70 universities are being called on by the UN Environment Programme and the Kenyan Government to work together and transform their campuses to be the “greenest in the world”. This comes as Strathmore University in Nairobi has put in place one of the greenest campuses in Africa and is offering its support to other Kenyan universities.

“Universities across Africa can run on the power of the sun and set new standards for sustainability,” says Professor da Silva of Strathmore University. “But it’s just not on the roofs of our campuses that we need to take action. We also need to support students to take action in support of the planet in their personal lives.”

Strathmore University set up its own 600-kilowatt photovoltaic grid tie system about five years ago and is not only enjoying free energy from the sun but also selling the excess to Kenya Power under a 20-year contract.

Another initiative on campus involves “green buildings” which utilize natural lighting, water evaporation cooling systems and rain water, making them much more affordable to run than conventional buildings. Students and faculty members are also working together on projects around plastic recycling and using food left-overs to produce natural gas.

Support is now growing to re-establish the Kenya Green University Network in the country with network members including 18 Universities, such as Karatina University, University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University. At a recent meeting, they

committed to a new plan of action including greening campus operations while also enhancing student engagement and learning.

Apart from the desire to go green, many universities are seeing the shift to adopting green technologies as a way to reduce costs and further sustainability. Strathmore University and Karatina University were selected to lead the effort to commit universities to going green.

Working closely with the Ministry of Environment and the National Environment Management Authority, UN Environment will be hosting a Kenya University Summit in the coming months, calling on other Kenyan universities to join the network.

“Kenyan universities not only define the learning and careers of the next generation, they can also shape their behaviours,” says Juliette Biao, Africa Director for UN Environment. “We look forward to supporting the Green University Network to inspire Kenya’s students and to become a point of reference to other universities on the continent.”

Professor Abutho from Karatina University says: “The [Kenya Green University Network] meeting was timely and has helped me establish relevant contacts to support Karatina University’s solar energy project. Karatina University is at a very advanced stage to implement this project and intends to go 100 per cent solar in the near future.”

The Green University Network in Kenya draws on the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment’s Arusha Declaration “to strengthen environmental education and training and develop an action plan for Africa” and the lessons from Kenya will be shared at a ministerial meeting in South Africa in August.

“I’m particularly happy about the proposed green campuses plan and incorporation of environmental studies into the curriculum,” says Daystar University student Chris Waweru. “This will help students gain the awareness, knowledge and skills needed to impact the environment, thus fast-tracking the movement to a greener and cleaner Kenya.”

UN Environment

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