Maritime Security and Trade Key to Africa Determining its Own Destiny

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Published Jul 30, 2019 7:20 PM by Eric Ichikowitz

Despite the seismic shocks of globalization which offer both opportunities and threats to the global marketplace, African challenges have always required African solutions. The continent's public and private sectors have a shared role to play in this process, maintaining our economic potential by securitizing our natural resources and citizens against threats foreign and domestic. 

Critical to this mission, not only must Africa's naval forces work closely together, share in local knowledge and capacities to bolster our coastlines' territorial integrity, but so too must the business community support these efforts by creating a conducive climate for localized manufacturing and production, rapidly expanding industrialization in doing so.

It was a great honor and privilege to lend our support during the 60th Anniversary of the Ghanaian Navy and participate at what was the inaugural International Maritime Defense Exhibition & Conference (IMDEC), held in Accra. I personally took the opportunity to commend the Ghanaian Navy’s visionary leadership in building a fleet that has the capability, technologies and resources to meet the modern challenges of the 21st century while emphasizing during my address the need for greater dialogue, cooperation and industialization by African naval forces in the years to come and certainly the private sector’s role in this process.

IMDEC, which drew together 14 Chiefs of Navy from across the continent, was an important opportunity to highlight the critical role that they continue to play in building a safer and more prosperous Africa. And clearly, on the backdrop of the recently established African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, one which would serve to create the world’s largest free trade zone, hosting a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion, the stakes to protect our present resources and future potential couldn’t be greater.

For AfCFTA to succeed, for Africa to succeed, greater intra-African collaboration and in particular, strategic investment in indigenous security capacity-building which has proven to enhance job creation, high skills development and transfer, thus improving economic conditions in country and today, cross border, is vital. Moreover, the partnerships that were on display at IMDEC along with the shared understanding of the need for continued inward investment in security is critical in the fight to protect the continent’s resources while ensuring sustainable and importantly, autonomous growth.

I’m proud of the strong and lasting partnerships we’ve had the privilege to forge with navies across the continent. It is only through partnerships like this that governments can unlock the vast benefits of the blue ocean economy by creating indigenous and regional naval capabilities that will bolster local manufacturing, skills development and technology transfer.

Manufacturing equipment and designing services and training to fight yesterday’s conflicts, or conflicts on other continents, is never going to contribute optimally to resolving Africa’s challenges in any lasting or decisive way. Moreover, it leaves Africa tragically incapable to defend from exploitation, piracy, human and drug trafficking, bunkering and the myriad of threats of the modern day. The public and private sector must continue to find innovative solutions, invest in developing new technologies, equipment, services, training and indeed partnerships that acutely understand the problem and design the solution. 

The results of this practice speak to the new definition of innovation – technologies and capabilities which are unprecedentedly sophisticated yet invariably more intuitive, efficient and cost-effective, with longer term benefits. 

Looking ahead, we already know the security challenges that will be with Africa for the foreseeable future. Others loom on the horizon, and we have to factor them into our thinking if we are to deal with them effectively. 

The threats to African potential, to our continent’s resources are real, for example. Vital coastal and intercontinental thruways such as the Gulf of Guinea have long been known as the world piracy hot-spots. Recorded piracy encounters in the region, collated by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported 72 attacks last year on vessels at sea between the Ivory Coast and Cameroon — up from 28 in 2014. Encounters that went unrecorded are suggested to be double this figure. Left unabated, bunkering and piracy in all of its forms dramatically hinders socioeconomic development.

We are also aware, for instance, of the rapid demographic changes that are happening as we speak. Africa’s population is overwhelmingly young, and we are told the numbers will double to about two billion by 2050, and double again to around four billion by the end of the century. In addition, the effects of climate change and conflict situations means the number of migrants, internally displaced people, and refugees in Africa will continue to grow. Even if these predictions are only partially correct, they will have profound implications for the continent, and threaten to weaken the capacity of governments to protect and provide for their citizens.

This is a global problem, not limited to Africa of course, but our continent is particularly vulnerable because of its sheer size; a continent surrounded by oceans, one which does not always have the institutional capacity to deal decisively with these problems.

However, we must not allow these vulnerabilities nor conventional impediments to stand in the way of AfCFTA and our self-determined path to prosperity. Saying that we do not have sufficient budget, adequate infrastructure, or human resources, while understandable, means Africa will not be equal to the task. That is why we at Paramount Group have developed a highly successful model of portable manufacturing to promote localization; technical and operational training programs to promote skills transfer and indigenous capacity; and innovative financing structures to enable our partner countries and regional organizations to create their own manufacturing industries to meet these growing requirements. 

In Ghana and Nigeria, we were privileged to pioneer localized production has created production and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) hubs in Nigeria and Ghana; we look forward to working alongside navies across Africa, heeding the call to drive industrialization to enormous benefit.

We are conscious of the promise of Africa and also of its challenges. We have worked closely with many African governments over the years, sharing their concerns and understanding the threats their people face and have helped to find solutions they could afford and manage. We have developed advanced experience of peacekeeping operations and their requirements, of internal security needs, border management, combating human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and illegal small arms; anti-poaching operations and environmental protection; and all of the problems that face so many African countries.

Now that the African Continental Free Trade Area has come into force and priority is rightly being placed on securing its potential, we at Paramount and throughout the business community, look forward to greater collaboration with African navies, with African governments, supporting the creation of local production hubs and prioritizing the implementation of smarter, innovative and indeed local strategies to seize the rising opportunities in manufacturing and industrialization that the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ has created and with rapidity, increase the overall global security (and market competitiveness) of the continent in the process.

What is clear to us is that Africa will never be in a position to take its destiny in its own hands until it can provide for its own security, and create a stable environment for its nations and their people to live and work in safety and in freedom. The mutual benefits of intra-African free movement, coupled with a strategic investment in greater collaboration and cost effective, Fourth Industrial Revolution-driven, localized manufacturing will lead to elevating Africa's status in to rapid prosperity.

Through closer collaboration, the establishment of industrial partnerships and working together to find African solutions to our local challenges, we can secure and build an African economy that will drive the welfare and prosperity of Africa’s people.

Eric Ichikowitz is the Senior Vice President of Paramount Group, Africa’s leading aerospace and technology business. (http://ParamountGroup.com) The views expressed are his own.

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