Can the Oceans of Sub-Saharan Africa be its Gateway to Economic Prosperity?


CNN recently published an article presenting the decay across the oceans of Sub-Saharan Africa. It identified years of neglect and insecurity as two reasons the “blue economy” is contributing less to the overall economic development of the region. Unfortunately, CNN is right: Sub-Saharan Africa is neglecting a sector with an economic capacity of over $1 trillion. And as a matter of urgency, countries in the region must explore their oceans to resuscitate the fishing industry and create a solution to power supply. But before this, insecurity must be critically addressed.

A recent report by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) revealed that insecurity across the Sub-Saharan coastline costs the region over $2 billion annually. This is a consequence of criminal activities like armed robbery, human smuggling and sea piracy. In 2016 alone, there were 95 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea, which cover key areas of the West African coastline. And this is just scratching the surface compared to the more deadly East African waters dominated by Somali pirates. The OBP also revealed piracy cost West Africa $794 million in 2016, and that East Africa lost a staggering $1.7 billion the same year.

If Sub-Saharan Africa must explore the benefits of an ocean economy, sea piracy and other crimes must be eliminated. This is because unsafe oceans can deter potential investors, which of course would not help the sector grow. Just as the fight against insurgency is getting the required attention on land, piracy must get similar consideration on water. Besides, security is important for a successful diversification to the ocean economy as proven in other parts of the world.

However, most African countries remain glued to their old means of revenue that are performing poorly lately. With the free-fall of crude oil and the rampaging effects of harsh weather on agricultural productivity, it is most reasonable for Sub-Saharan Africa look towards its oceans. Besides, a thorough exploration might eventually present an avenue to solve the region’s energy crisis.

The greatest impediment to business in Sub-Saharan Africa after anti-market policies is insufficient energy supply. Businesses in the informal sector spend heavily on alternative means of energy generation while the bigger corporations often impose extra charges on commodities to make up for power cost.  Meanwhile, Africa’s oceans can generate electricity through means like tidal power, wave power, and thermal energy conversion. Wave energy, for instance, fits in the green policies of many countries in the region and has the highest concentration of renewable energy. This is because sea waves come from natural sources like wind, tides, sun, ocean currents, and earth rotation. Unlike wind and solar, power production from sea waves never stops.

Equally, the small dams and barrages in tidal energy production can protect ports and coastal areas from the dangerous tides during storms and bad weather conditions. This would protect any potential business structures on the sea or around the coast. Also, large scale production of tidal energy can help the region reduce fuel importation used to power dams and instead enhance energy security. And coal thermal power plants provide the cheapest electricity worldwide, which are mostly simple to maintain. These are all efficient alternatives that can support existing hydroelectric plants to power up Sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries in the region must similarly check the menace of illegal fishing on their waters. It is estimated that West Africa alone loses over $2 billion annually to illegal fishing. This is a mere fraction compared to the more porous and larger coasts of East Africa. If there are moderate laws guiding an open fishing industry, businesses will thrive to eventually improve individual income and bolster economic capacity.

Even poorer coastal countries like Somalia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could possibly build an economy through a competitive fishing industry if the policies were favourable. This would work because small-scale fisheries support many Africans involved in fish processing and trade, especially in these poorer countries. Presently, there are over 12 million people employed in fisheries either on a full-time, part-time or seasonal basis.

Countries like the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, and Mozambique are implementing plans to improve the productivity of their oceans. Other Sub-Saharan Africa countries should learn from their strategy. Evidently, the region is in a precarious economic situation that might see majority of its population slide into poverty by 2030. If revenue generation does not significantly improve within few years, the feared possibility might become the chaotic reality.

It is nonetheless necessary Sub-Saharan Africa urgently diversify towards its oceans. This is not primarily because its promises, but because it is the real and most durable option it can afford at this time.