Author : Abhijit Singh

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jul 11, 2016
Modi's Africa visit: The 'Blue-Economy' imperative

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Africa, New Delhi’s nautical stakes in the African subcontinent have never seemed more stark. In the past few years, it has become clear that for India to be a successful security provider in the Indian Ocean Region, the naval effort in securing the littorals must be complemented by a suitable geo-economic strategy. What is needed is a comprehensive initiative — a broad security-developmental project that extends from the South Asian littorals to the east coast of Africa, with human security concerns being accorded the same priority as trade security.

For many, such a new approach would mark a clear shift from a traditional focus on naval operations in the African commons aimed at trade convoy protection, to a more holistic model, which includes security, infrastructure creation, industrial capacity building and marine development. It would also dispel the unfair assumption in Africa that India’s maritime efforts remain confined to the anti-piracy effort in the Gulf of Aden. While New Delhi has raised it developmental effort in Africa significantly in recent years, there is a continuing impression that Indian naval ships deployments off Somalia, Mauritius and Seychelles define the scope of New Delhi’s nautical interests in the region. Many in Africa feel India’s regional security policy remains focused on securing energy and resource shipments flows.

That said, a change is gradually beginning to appear. Following Modi’s visit to smaller island states in the Indian Ocean Region in March 2015, there has been a new emphasis on maritime development and “Blue Economies”. During his interactions in Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka, the Indian Prime Minister underscored the need to harness the economic potential of the maritime commons. Modi’s advocacy of maritime development served to expedite an agreement to develop island infrastructure in Mauritius (at Agalega) and Seychelles (Assumption). These projects, maritime experts point out, have the potential to revive African domestic growth through the development of maritime infrastructure, sea-air transportation, fisheries, marine sciences, renewable energy and hydrography.

It is noteworthy that the accent on Africa’s maritime capacities aligns well with ‘Sagar-Mala’, the Prime Minister’s mega-modernisation project, which involves coastal area development, port infrastructure building, connectivity and sea-based industrial capacities. As India strives to be a defence and logistical partner for Africa’s eastern states, Modi’s domestic prioritisation of maritime development is a signal of positive intent that African governments are likely to read favourably.

Meanwhile, Africa’s own efforts to improve its maritime economy and develop a harmonising vision for the subcontinent have been significant. In 2013, the Africa Union announced an Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 and ‘Plan of Action’, outlining a blueprint to address the continent’s maritime challenges for sustainable development and competitiveness.  The strategy, meant to systematically address Africa’s maritime vulnerabilities, marked a declaratory shift away from a period of self-imposed sea blindness. More significantly, it sought to integrate individual maritime strategies of Africa’s other security communities and develop a unique vision of comprehensive maritime development.

In this context, the example of South Africa is instructive. In October 2014, Pretoria proposed Operation Phakisa, a maritime project aimed specifically at unlocking and developing the ocean economy. Pitched as a national movement aimed at the promotion of growth and jobs in the country's ocean economy, ‘Phakisa’ has four priority sectors as new growth areas in the ocean’s economy:

  • Marine transport and manufacturing activities such as coastal shipping, trans-shipment, boat building, repair and refurbishment,
  • Offshore oil and gas exploration,
  • Aquaculture, and
  • Marine protection services and ocean governance.

Importantly, each of these sectors also represents areas that India has been looking to partner regional states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India’s own developmental experience, in fact, could go a long way in providing valuable inputs to South Africa, especially since Phakisa is based on a model that brings together teams from government, labour, business and academia. For New Delhi, partnering Pretoria in realising its National Development Plan 2030 goals through a sustained engagement with diverse stakeholders, would certainly be a positive gesture.

This still does not address the principle challenge Africa faces in rejuvenating the maritime economy: the absence of a legal framework in managing the commons. There is an increased awareness among Africa nations that their major maritime dysfunction stems from a lack of effective governance in the maritime littorals. It is the illegal capture of resources — overfishing in the African EEZs, rampant exploitation of the seas, drug smuggling and arms trafficking of arms and the widespread pollution of coastal waters — that has thwarted African efforts to build an effective maritime governance system. Africa needs not only maritime administration frameworks and the local capacity to enforce regulations, but also a model for sustainable blue-economy development that does not result in the destruction of its natural maritime habitat.

Building a workable developmental model, however, will not be easy. A key challenge is the maritime sectors continuing inability to create jobs and a sustainable rate of production. The new blue economy may open up new avenues in areas of environment, energy, defence and food production. But, it still hasn’t adequately explored sea-land complementarities in creating a sustainable balance.

Last year, the Blue Economy Strategic Thought Forum India, debated many ocean economy concepts, proposing multiple ways in which the blue economy could influence human activities.  The Indian Ocean Rim Association’s (IORA) first Ministerial Blue Economy Conference also sought to enhance cooperation on sustainable development projects in the Indian Ocean Region. The conference in Mauritius identified four priority issues:

  • Fisheries and aquaculture,
  • Renewable ocean energy,
  • Seaports and shipping, and
  • Seabed exploration and minerals for development.

These are all areas in which India could develop an effective partnership with Africa. Since China already has a strong presence in Africa, New Delhi could even combine efforts with Beijing in strengthening networking, exchange of experiences and best practices for the development of the Blue Economy in the African littorals. Many of these goals correspond with the UN led Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the Blue Economy, especially for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for development.

As it embarks on its new initiatives, New Delhi will be aware that the ‘Blue Economy’ is science, technology and finance intensive, and many African states are constrained by capability and resources in achieving desired goals. Their need is for international and regional financial institutions such as the IMF, ADB and AIIB to develop an exclusive fund for Blue Energy Projects.

Besides, transforming Africa’s maritime sector will require India to contribute in the creation of a coherent maritime system. Beyond infrastructure creation, New Delhi will need to offer aid in the strengthening of legal frameworks and institutions. India has the systems, personnel, experience and know-how to help Africa evolve rules and norms that can equitably manage maritime resources. Indian agencies, however, must assist African states in creating the material capacity to deal with governance challenges in critical commons — especially the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Guinea, where a working law-enforcement system is yet to be effectively implemented.

As Modi discusses maritime development with his hosts, he will be aware of Africa’s need for assistance in the achievement of Agenda-2063, the Africa Union’s guiding document spelling out a comprehensive vision of “development goals” and “international aspirations”. In volunteering aid, Modi will appreciate Africa’s need for a composite strategy — one that achieves both tactical security and sustainable ‘blue’ development.

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Abhijit Singh

Abhijit Singh

A former naval officer Abhijit Singh Senior Fellow heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at ORF. A maritime professional with specialist and command experience in front-line ...

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