Reclaiming the Maritime? The AU’s New Maritime Strategy


In the past, the maritime domain has not featured prominently on the policy agenda of the African Union and Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Neither the 1963 founding Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OUA), nor the 2002 Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU the successor of the AOU) contain any explicit reference to the sea or inland waterways and lakes.

On 31 January, at the 22nd Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, African Heads of States and Governments adopted the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 AIM Stragey, see webpage here) and Plan of Action. Outlining an overall strategy “to address Africa’s maritime challenges for sustainable development and competitiveness” (§11), the strategy is in fact only the latest piece in a number of maritime security efforts on the continent and “flag a recent pattern of African responses to maritime vulnerabilities that says something about a declaratory shift away from a period of self-imposed sea blindness” (Vrey 2013: 4). In fact, Africa’s leaders also declared the 2015-2025 decade as the “Decade of African Seas and Oceans”, and the date of 25 July as the African Day of Seas and Oceans.

According to Bueger (2013), these developments indicate the emergence of African maritime security communities. A “security community is characterized by a shared repertoire that includes a shared securitization, a joint enterprise to include shared projects of protection, and a high level of mutual engagement” (ibid: 303).

The 2050 AIM Strategy is the one of the first true African effort to reclaim the continent’s maritime security agenda and to move it beyond the international counter-piracy agenda. Towards this end, the strategy sets out to strengthen, develop and shape a coherent African maritime security community; this community, as it takes shape in The 2050 AIM Strategy and other initiatives, reflects African experiences and desires, and seeks to define an African programme for the protection and realization of Africa’s maritime development potential.

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In search for a mission? The EU’s regional training mission EUCAP Nestor

eucap_nestor_logo_brightThe European Union (EU) has been one of the driving actors of counter-piracy: EUNAVFOR Atalanta is one of the core naval force providers, the EU has been one of the core sponsors of the UNODC’s Counter Piracy Project, EUTM Somalia provides military training in Somalia, and the Critical Maritime Routes Program intends to enhance information sharing and training capacities.

The latest addition to the counter-piracy architecture by the EU is the regional training mission EUCAP Nestor. In July 2012 the Council of the European Union decided (EU. Doc. 2012/389/CFSP) to establish a two year mission to complement the EU’s naval operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta with a land-based component. The mission is directed towards assisting states in the development of “a self-sustainable capacity for continued enhancement of their maritime security including counter-piracy, and maritime governance capacities” (EU. Doc. 2012/389/CFSP, Article 2). Headquartered in Djibouti the mission is geographically focussed on supporting Djibouti, Kenya, the Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania. Equipped with a budget of 22 million Euro for the initial first twelve months the goal of the civil mission is primarily in training coastguards and in assisting with legal reform. The original decision document (EU. Doc. 2012/389/CFSP, Article 3) set out ten objectives which can be summarized as support for coast guards and land-based coastal police capabilities, the delivery of training courses and expertise with the goal to achieve self-sustainability in training, a regional legal advisory programme, and legal expertise to support the drafting of maritime security and related national legislation; the promotion and strengthening of regional cooperation, the assignment of experts to key administrations; and to coordinate donations. The mission is carried out in the frame of the EU’s Common Security and Defense policy and works under the auspice and reports to the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC) and a governing body was set up of the mission in January 2013 (EU Doc 2013/41/CFSP). The first effective deployment began with a core team in September 2012, the Djibouti headquarter was opened in February 2013 followed by the opening of an office in the Seychelles in April 2013. Read more →

The Decline of Somali Piracy – Towards Long Term Solutions

The decade of large scale piracy off the coast of Somalia appears to be over. For almost two years no successful hijacking attempt was reported. Has piracy off Somalia been eradicated once and for all? According to the latest report of the UN Monitoring Group pirates have not gone out of business, but into other (illicit) businesses. Moreover, acts of piracy or armed robbery in the Western Indian Ocean is still occurring. But if it does, it is on a lower scale, and concerns smaller local trading and fishing vessels and is outside of the radar of the international community. Arguably it is still the time to be optimistic that the various measures adopted to curb piracy in the region have shown effect. In this blog I argue for the need of being cautious about the current success and question its sustainability.

I start in briefly revisiting the factors that are known to be the triggers of piracy and reflect on how these provide an explanation for the rise of Somali piracy. I then proceed in discussing the prevailing explanation for the decline of Somali piracy. Core reasons for the success of international measures can be seen in the measures adopted by the shipping industry, including the employment of armed guards, the successful international naval program and international prosecutions, as well as the declining support of local communities for piracy. Investigating these reasons leads me to the conclusion that many of the factors that trigger piracy still pertain. This centrally concerns the high degree of maritime insecurity in the region. A primary goal hence has to be to improve the quality and efficacy of maritime security governance in the region.

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Finding a Regional Solution to Piracy: Is the Djibouti Process the Answer?

A significant component of the long term strategy to counter-piracy originating in Somalia is the attempt to find regional solutions. The idea is to build a regional maritime security infrastructure which can cope with the menace in the long run. The very successful implementation of the East Asian Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP ) which provides a regional structure for cooperation and communication is the role model for such a solution. [ref] For a discussion of ReCAAP see Ho 2009, Geiss & Petrig 2011, Kraska 201.[/ref] To build such a structure for the Western Indian Ocean region, the international actors have worked along two tracks. Firstly, attempts have been made to implement such a structure within existing regional organizations, including the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), the East African Community (EAC), the South African Development Community (SADC) or the African Union (AU). Several initiatives are underway or in the planning stage within these organizations, the outcome of which is unclear so far. Secondly, since 2009 a process is underway to build such a structure outside of existing organizations. The so called Djibouti Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea areas process (or in short: Djibouti Code or DCoC, ) steered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO)  has been making slow but steady progress to build such an infrastructure. Implemented as a largely technical structure on an expert level the process has led to some tangible outcomes. The DCoC process is and arguably will be crucial to address piracy in the long run. Yet, so far there is little analysis or debate on it. In this commentary we aim at filling this gap. We review what DCoC has achieved so far, what it wants to achieve, what its main hurdles for progress are and what its future role in the counter-piracy regime might be. In what follows we provide an overview of the process and offer some initial thoughts on the challenges the process faces. Read more →

The Save Our Seafarers Campaign – More a Hindrance, than a Help?

Shipowners frequently wonder why the problem of piracy does not receive more political support and why not more public resources are spent to address the issue. One answer to this quandary is: public support. No convincing case has been made that the problem of piracy is in the public’s interest, that it is an issue that requires the money of taxpayers and cannot be dealt with by the shipping industry on its own.

A recent study of reporting on Somali piracy in the major international newspaper has shown that media reporting – crucial to win public support – does not present piracy as a problem of the public. International media largely presents piracy as a problem of economic security. Piracy is considered mainly as a concern of the shipping industry and mariners.[i] So far, “widespread public concern was not demonstrated” in the media, the study concludes.[ii]

The international shipping industry has made increasing efforts to raise the public profile of the piracy problem and to lobby for more support. A crucial device has been the campaign “Save our Seafarers” (SOS) launched in March 2011. If we follow the results of the study, then public campaigns such as SOS have not succeeded to convince their publics that piracy is a public concern. They have failed to make a case that piracy is more than an issue of commercial interests and a problem of a handful of corporations (which moreover, have hesitated to contribute as much as they could in tax). If such a case will not be made than it is unlikely that more public resources will be devoted to piracy. Even more worrying for global shipping, it carries the risk that the international naval missions will come to an end or will be significantly downscaled sooner or later. Yet, why has the SOS campaign failed so far to make such a case and win the public? One answer is obviously the lack of resources. Another answer is experience. Over the past decades, global shippers have been more busy to hide the nature of their business from an already “seablinded” public. This widespread culture of secrecy among the shipping industry as well as the exclusivity in the wider community of mariners is a hindrance in reaching out to the public. A third answer, which is the one I want to expand below, is to be found in the message the SOS campaign disseminates. As I will show below, the campaign is badly designed and might even be considered as counter-productive. Read more →