The Blue Economy: Somalia’s Economic Future Lies at Sea

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Somalia has a proud and rich maritime history and as the continent’s longest coastline, the new concept of the Blue Economy means more than aspiration for the country. Over half of Somalia’s population lives within a few miles of the coast and the ocean can be an engine for dynamic growth and sustainable development.

Given the strategic location of the country in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, there are numerous economic benefits to the country deriving from the blue economy.  This is the perfect time for slowly recovering country to seriously adopt the blue economy concept in order to increase the benefits of the vast ocean for its sustainable development.

The contribution of maritime sector to the economy is currently insignificant and the vast marine resources remain untapped. The living marine resources such as fish stocks have the potential to contribute more to the country in terms of providing food security and sustainable livelihoods and ultimately, represent a potential new frontier for commercial fisheries.

Again, the concept of Blue Economy doesn’t only represent fisheries and aquaculture but rather encompasses extraction of non-living resources such as hydrocarbon, renewable energy and mineral resources as well.

The ocean has to be recognized as comprehensive and economically viable source of commerce and trade, which includes tourism, shipping and port facilities.  All the latter are areas of economic development where Somalia can enjoy competitive advantages over neighbors as a result of geography and proximity to major international markets.

These modern, emerging and dynamic new industries within the maritime sector can successfully support Somalia’s wider economy. The revenue that currently Mogadishu port generates has steadily increased and this is a clear example of how investment in the blue economy can revive the maritime business like the shipping industry and create direct employment in the ports sector and maritime services. Furthermore, the Maritime Industry has the potential to spur the growth of non-maritime linked supply chain and value additions.

The concept of the Blue Economy was backed significantly during Rio+20 and also gained further importance within the framework of the Post-2015 Development Agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Particularly Goal 14, which is the framework to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, is the best evidence of this.

As the world is turning in many ways to the Ocean as a new source of employment, innovation, sustainable development and competitive advantage with different practices, Somalia should consider setting clear policies and approaches to establish robust and implementable strategies for utilizing the economic gains of the oceans. Adopting and reforming the policies and legislative frameworks at the national level and applying the existing regional and international frameworks are the essential entry points for improving the government institutions that manage the maritime sector.

One of the great achievements was the adoption of Somali maritime resource and security strategy (SMRSS) on September 2013. The objective of this strategy is to secure the maritime resource and security interests of the country and also the future development of the Somali maritime sector. This strategy provides the Federal Government of Somalia tremendous potential to develop and implement policies that promote economic growth while preserving and protecting the marine environment.

A successful and sustainable maritime sector needs effective institutions, therefore establishing institutions like the Somali Maritime Administration, Port Authority, and Coast Guard are crucial for maritime operations and ensuring safer, secure and cleaner Ocean and Seas. It is fundamental that the policy innovatively prioritizes the areas of the blue economy to invest in with regard to the research, capacity and technological gaps.

The matter of prioritization is paramount. Today, many coastal developing countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) adopted the Blue Economy and have started to promote food security, economic growth and decent livelihoods. Somalia needs initially to focus on fisheries, aquaculture, energy, marine and coastal tourism and gradually develop other important sectors depending on the context.

Somalia is among those countries severely affected by the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing both in the EEZ and on the high seas. This causes economic damage estimated to be worth around $300 million each year

Furthermore, the protection and preservation of the marine environment is significantly important for the oceans’ environment and long-term sustainability. Meanwhile, it is fundamental that the policy ensures investment in maritime skills and producing marine engineers, marine scientists, lawyers, seafarers, shipping and port managers. With these ambitions of developing maritime skills, the Government must seek closer partnerships with specialist international maritime organizations like the IMO.

Somalia has a complicated relationship with the Ocean. The challenges of harnessing the nation’s marine resources for sustainable development are enormous. The contribution of fisheries sector in terms of export earnings is insignificant and fish export industry is in steady decline due to factors including lack of capacity to enforce fishery legislations, lack of information on the magnitude and status of the fish resources, low capacity in the institutions and poor infrastructure.

Somalia is among those countries severely affected by the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing both in the EEZ and on the high seas. This causes economic damage estimated to be worth around $300 million each year and it is sometimes very difficult to the estimate the real cost of the illegal activities in terms of environmental damages, food insecurity and fish resource loss.

The country needs to turn its attention on suppressing both the traditional and contemporary maritime security threats including complex issues labeled under maritime crimes or crimes at sea such as piracy, terrorism, armed robbery, narcotics, weapons and human trafficking, illicit drug smuggling, maritime pollution and depletion of marine resources. However, it is clear that Somalia’s economic relationship with the ocean is once again evolving in several ways.

As a post conflict country, Somalia seeks to redevelop its maritime sector despite facing challenges including weak maritime governance, maritime security challenges, damages to marine environment and resources and ongoing maritime disputes.

Launching a maritime development roadmap and adopting the concept of blue economy requires coherent and integrated policies and legal frameworks in order to build strong institutions and capacities and utilize global and regional frameworks to achieve mastering our maritime domain, protect the marine environment and develop strong maritime economy.

When the Federal Government of Somali is able to manage and fully utilize its Ocean and Sea, it will be able to empower its people with the vital economic resources for progress. Therefore, the Government’s determination to create the right conditions within the country to attract international investors in the maritime sector is quite fundamental.

The writer is the Director of Maritime and Ocean Affairs- Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion, Somalia