African leaders have resolved to tackle rising piracy and smuggling off the continent’s coasts, twin scourges holding back economic development. The decision was taken at an AU summit held in Lome, Togo’s capital.
Chad’s head of state Idriss Deby, the current African Union chairman, opened the summit, noting that some 90 per cent of Africa’s imports and exports were transported by sea, making maritime security key to the continent’s economic future.
More than 40 countries have sent representatives to the AU’s “Protect Our Oceans” meeting hoping to sign a new charter on maritime security.
The leaders include 18 heads of state — an unusually high figure for an AU meeting of this kind — signaling the importance that governments place on the need to cut piracy and other crime in Africa’s waters
Of the AU’s 54 member states, 43 have coastlines.
President Deby said the charter would “allow the promotion of commerce and the exploitation of the huge potential of the maritime sector, as well as the creation of wealth and jobs in several industries”.
It would also “mark a decisive new step in the push to preserve the maritime environment”, he added.
Piracy, smuggling and other crimes at sea have cost the African maritime sector hundreds of billions of dollars in recent decades, according to the AU.
“Most African countries that have a coastline are victims of one of these problems, which is why it’s so important for African leaders to sit down and try to find solutions,” Togo’s Foreign Minister Robert Dussey said ahead of the summit.
World piracy has been on the decline since 2012 after international naval patrols were launched off East Africa in response to violent attacks by mostly Somali-based pirates.
But the focus of concern has shifted to the Gulf of Guinea, particularly the waters off oil-rich Nigeria.
The perpetrators are often offshoots of militant groups from the Niger Delta seeking a fairer distribution of the revenues from the continent’s largest oil reserves.