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Toward an African Maritime Economy: Empowering the African Union to Revolutionize the African Maritime Sector

Author: Michael L. Baker
Spring 2011, Vol. 64, No. 2
Naval War College Review


The high profile of Somali piracy has brought the issue of African maritime security to the attention of world leaders and citizens. This crisis, however, is not the only challenge facing Africa “in the maritime”; rather, it is a symptom of amuch deeper problem—that Africa suffers fromweakmaritime governance and the lack of a harmonizing vision for an African maritime economy. Every year in Africa billions of dollars' worth of fish is illegally captured, billions of dollars'worth of drugs and arms are shipped overseas, pirates capture and hold for ransom hundreds of mariners operating commercial and private vessels, bandits steal maritime oil worth billions of dollars, and thousands of liters of waste are illegally dumped. Some of these crimes flow into Africa from abroad (including much of the illegal fishing and narcotics trafficking), while others (such as piracy) go from the inside out. These nefarious activities are global in their reach and require global action if we hope to eliminate their impact.

Africa's maritime realm has deep significance for African and international actors. The oceans, ports, and inland waterways of the African continent are more than mere sources of food and energy; they are how Africa trades with the rest of the world. Accordingly,
the African maritime sector holds the key to wealth and prosperity for the continent as a whole. If Africans hope to realize a prosperous future as stakeholders in an emerging market or even as global market leaders, they will need first to master the maritime domain. But for too long governments and institutions have turned blind eyes toward the African seas and allowed security problems, corruption, bureaucracy, and weak infrastructure to rob Africans and their honest partners of food, energy,wealth, and prosperity. Given the importance of the maritime in the global market, and hence in Africa, the United States and other international partners should consider ways to support maritime sector development in Africa, to help actualize plans, strategies, and partnerships that improve security, governance, infrastructure, and commercial investment.As the U.S. national security strategy clearly states, it is in the American interest to do just that.To highlight this reality, theNational Security Council encouraged the Department of State and theU.S.Africa Command to hold an international conference to discuss the issues and solutions surrounding the African maritime domain in October 2010.

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