Home|[in] focus|A New Approach to Africa’s Maritime Security
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by Institute for Global Dialogue


Categories: [in] focus

by Institute for Global Dialogue


africas maritime security

African peace and security challenges in relation to the continent’s wider maritime scope and its interplay with external political actors receive little attention. Yet, much of the internal politics that affect peacebuilding in Africa involve interregional actors, such as Europe and the Mideast. This lack of attention is not seen in the South Atlantic where the Zone of Peace and Cooperation in the South Atlantic (ZPCSA), operates as a multilateral platform between some African and South American nations. The ZPCSA’s goalis preserving regional peace and a nuclear-free-zone in regions where documented illegal trafficking flows link South America, West Africa, and Europe, and security challenges plague the Gulf of Guinea, a transport nexus in the Afro-Atlantic oil trade.

Due to the range of security challenges and their international implications and reach, attention should be given to developing a continental, multilateral maritime peace and security system. Such a system could complement and help flesh out the African Union’s (AU) maritime security strategy in conjunction with the regional strategies of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  The Institute for Global Dialogue has proposed the establishment of a broader, Africa-centered Zone of Peace and Cooperation Forum (ZoPCF), which will address the interregional and continental maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, as well as assess the status of the Zone of Peace and Cooperation in the South Atlantic (ZPCSA).

Geopolitical Dynamics of South-South Relations

The existing ZPCSA grew out of the diverse Non-Aligned Movement (nuclear-free zone) and disarmament initiatives in the 1970s within the United Nations which addressed cold war dynamics in the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans. Only in the South Atlantic, under Brazil’s leadership, did nuclear-free ‘zone of peace’ declarations result in the establishment of a multilateral platform for Afro-Latin American security and cooperative dialogue.

However, similar declarations in South and Southeast Asia have gone nowhere, largely due to the India-Pakistan ‘frozen conflict’ and India’s insecurities regarding China’s geostrategic intentions, along with the apparent anti-nuclear overtones of the ZoPC concept. The Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC)—now the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA)—was launched in 1997, and it has shied away from addressing security challenges due to India’s influence, and because the agenda of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) has been narrowly focused on interregional navy-to-navy issues.

Given the security challenges, the AU, member states, and regional economic communities have a vested interest in exploring an architecture broad enough to enable Global South multilateral cooperation that enhances African geopolitical, economic, and developmental stability. This is where the ZPCSA model and agenda—still in need of much further development—may serve as a point for building architectures more suitable for addressing trans-Mediterranean and Indian Ocean challenges and their African regional spillovers. The ZPCSA agenda offers areas of engagement in:

  • Economic and commercial cooperation;
  • Trade and investment promotion;
  • Scientific and technical cooperation;
  • Initiatives of a political and diplomatic nature;
  • Environmental protection;
  • Conflict resolution and;
  • Mechanisms for member states coordination.

In other words, the ZPCSA is reflective of the type of multilateral umbrella framework that could address, on an ongoing basis, the security challenges affecting Africa’s interregional relations. This multilateral framework would involve the European Union (EU) in the case of the trans-Mediterranean, the conflicted Gulf Cooperation Council countries in the case of the Red Sea/Bab-el-Mandeb, and more broadly, diverse Asian agendas affecting Eastern and Southern African littoral states and extended hinterland countries.

Challenges and Opportunities for a Multilateral Framework

In the case of the Mediterranean, a major problem confronting a Zone of Peace and Cooperation (ZoPC) architecture would be the absence of a functioning AU regional economic community for the North African Maghreb. Here, the frozen self-determination conflict over the Western Sahara between Morocco, Algeria, and the Sahrawi complicates peacebuilding prospects across Africa’s northern tier, as well as encompassing much of the western Sudano-Sahelian border regions. Between the Western Sahara stalemate and the ongoing Libyan civil war, peacebuilding in North Africa confronts both the AU and EU with a power vacuum which there is little political will to tackle. The Western Sahara and Libya issues, coupled with sub-Saharan migration across the Mediterranean into Europe, contribute to an ongoing interregional and continental maritime security conundrum for Africa and Europe.

However, in the northwest Indian Ocean, inter-state peacebuilding in the Horn of Africa emanating from reformist political changes in Ethiopia and its peace agreement with Eritrea brings, for the first time in a long time, the promise of growing regional cooperation in Northeast Africa. Reinforced by outreaches involving Somalia, Somaliland, and Djibouti—along with possible accommodation between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Nile conundrum—an Eastern and Southern Africa-centered ZoPC might well add to regional and inter-state peacebuilding momentum in the region vis-à-vis enhanced regional cooperation.

Still, these promising developments remain delicate and subject to any number of hiccups. The AU, in conjunction with the East African Community (EAC) and the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) should consider taking advantage of reconciliation in the Horn to structure a wider peace and security dialogue that reinforces intra-and inter-state peacebuilding. This could include developing a ZoPC structure. Moreover, it would do well to reinforce the momentum of the Eastern and Southern African Tripartite Free Trade Area component of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which would benefit from such a development. Perhaps this could expand more broadly into an Indian Ocean Rim-wide ZoPC accommodating India’s IORA and IONS, among numerous other stakeholders.

The bottom-line is there is a need for an Africa-centered ZoPC Forum for the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean stakeholders to consider the prospects of the regional and continental dynamics and opportunities to address them. These security and peacebuilding challenges demand an integrated, continental approach.

Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The Institute of Global Dialogue is a member organization of the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding.


This article was first published in the Africa UP Close 13 December 2018


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