With over 70% of the Earth’s surface covered by water, over 90% of global trade transported by sea and 60% of the world’s population dwelling in coastal communities, the maritime expanse remains highly integral to the global economy. The maritime profile of a country presents enormous opportunities and challenges for delivering a positive human development index for citizenry. Thus, the need to keep sea lanes of communication (SLOC) safe cannot be over-emphasised, particularly within the context of a continent with highly vulnerable coasts such as Africa.
While discourse on security sector reform (SSR) has gained popularity over the years, maritime security has often been relegated to the background. However, decades of illicit trafficking, unsustainable fishing practices, piracy and improper management of biodiversity have pushed the confines of maritime insecurity far beyond the boundaries of the ocean. The locus of in-land corollaries resulting from these maritime threats creates severe implications for actors and capabilities whose activities are sometimes far removed from the maritime origin of the threat. Threats to the maritime domain may also originate from land-based actions, activities processes or precursors. This causal interface has resulted in an intricate web of interactions between land and marine-based elements. Thus, there is a deepening nexus between maritime security and core societal interests such as food security, resource conflict, development, national and regional peace and security.
Given the interdependent nature of the security sector, a systematic involvement of institutional, regulatory, policy and human resource components in maritime security sector reform (MSSR) has become a necessity and must be situated within the broader context of SSR.
The Summit of African Union Heads of State and Government in held in Lomé (October 2016) had the aim of charting a path for maritime security in Africa and developing a strategy for protection the continents oceanic resources to enhance peace, security and stability.
During the Summit, over 30 African States committed to taking collective, coordinated, affirmative action in combatting piracy, trafficking and other maritime threats along the shores of the continent, by adopting a binding Charter.
The political commitment shown by African leaders to monitor and coordinate Africa’s maritime space through the Charter requires a strong MSSR to implement; one that is hinged on a comprehensive and cross-sectoral approach to adjusting or reforming the structures, mandates and capabilities of institutions engaged in the maritime security sector.
Although the Charter does not explicitly stipulate a comprehensive approach to MSSR, its provisions provide a good starting point to revitalising the immense potential of Africa’s Blue Economy by curbing the maritime security threats in the region. For instance, the Charter specifies strengthening of law enforcement at sea through capacity building within navies, coast guards, custom authorities and port authorities. Specifically within the scope of maritime justice sector reform, the Charter employs State parties to develop cooperative mechanisms for the purposes of judicial requests, extradition and transfer of detainees. These elements of MSSR are embedded within the broader end of promoting a burgeoning and sustainable Blue Economy.
Each of these elements is certainly a requisite for safer seas; but the success of this historic agreement necessitates the direct confrontation of three categories of challenges – structural, geopolitical and governance-related – through a detailed, systemic approach to broader security and justice reforms in the region.
Whereas Africa’s civil society has leveraged its participation in other facets of security and governance issues, ocean governance and maritime security remains a stark exception. African civil society was at the periphery of the over a decade of crucial dialogue on maritime security in the East Coast of Africa/Indian Ocean, despite the fact that the subject hinged on critical areas of interest – peace, security, governance transparency and accountability. The result was that external players dominated the agenda-setting. Even where there was an element of African participation, it was by the regional and continental institutions with little involvement of civil society.
Even more significant is the fact that in the past five years, maritime security concerns in Africa has received attention at the highest global levels, including within the United Nations Security Council; yet, this has not reflected in African civil society engagement in the matter. Also, the evolving maritime security policy frameworks and strategies by the AU and other African regional organizations are largely taking place without the effective participation of African civil society. The Lomé Charter does call for an integrated human resource strategy for enhancing maritime security; but this does not completely address the depth of civil-society engagement deficits within the framework of Africa’s maritime sector.
An analysis of the concept of security demonstrates that its pursuit is more successfully advanced through the enhancement of society’s welfare, so that it is imperative to seek a governance approach to maritime security cooperation which has society at its core. Such an approach requires changes in the security culture of certain States, as well as reforms to security sector institutions and the judicial system.
This cannot be achieved without first equipping civil society with the requisite tools for understanding and contributing to maritime security issues, not only to enable them effectively contribute to ocean governance through an active inclusion of their views and ideas, but also to ensure that national, regional and continental institutions are responsive and accountable in their role and ultimately engender outcomes that promote civil society interests. Civil society must be empowered to push the confines of existing security structures and arrangements in order for MSSR to be truly complete.
The path to MSSR may seem onerous and unchartered. Nonetheless, there are a number of key focal areas that facilitate the adoption of security and justice reform lenses in the maritime domain:
Of course, these guidelines are by no means adequate without cognition of the fact that one of the governance challenges of maritime security in the Africa is the governance of security itself. With governments of African States permitting the direct “sale” of security services by navies and other agencies through provision of guard/escort duties in exchange of money, the governance problems of the region are exacerbated and unbridled corruption in security services encouraged. To curb this, governments must work towards raising required revenue through legally established governmental channels (e.g. through taxes and royalties), which could be channelled towards building and reforming the capability of security agencies.
Equally important to achieving sustainable MSSR is the need for an effective implementation of the UNCLOS framework and other legal instruments. While international legal frameworks have provided a normative regime for responding to security threats in the Africa, there has been a general lack of implementation mechanisms by African States, limiting the capacity of States to exercise jurisdiction, enforcement and prosecution. Being a product of consensus, international frameworks themselves have limitations; however, they provide a suitable platform for stimulating bilateral, regional and global responses to maritime security and reforming the maritime security sector, particularly within the context of complex maritime regions like those along Africa’s coasts.
The path towards sustainable maritime security and safety within Africa’s oceanic sphere cannot be devoid of a comprehensive approach to MSSR. While some attempts have been made at reforming maritime security and justice structures, institutions and processes – particularly through the Lomé Charter – these attempts are inadequate in themselves because they do not explicitly address the path to reformation. What is needed is an understanding of the three-pronged nature of challenges faced by Africa (structural, geopolitical and governance-related) in light of the continent’s maritime security quandary; an active engagement of civil society; and the adoption of a broadened and shared concept of maritime security.