“The African ocean territories are of strategic importance on the continent, as they provide opportunities to fisheries, aquaculture, and blue economy activities,” Ms. Olushola Olayide, from the African Union (AU) proclaimed in her opening remarks at the virtual meeting of Regional Economic Communities and Commissions on the Development of an Ocean Governance Strategy for the Western Indian Ocean Region held in April 2021. This first meeting in the process towards the development of a regional Ocean Governance Strategy was supported by the Nairobi Convention Secretariat (NCS) through the UNDP-implemented and GEF-funded ‘Western Indian Ocean Large Marine Ecosystems Strategic Action Programme Policy Harmonization and Institutional Reforms’ (SAPPHIRE ) project, in collaboration with GIZ through the Western Indian Ocean Governance Initiative (WIOGI), a partnership with the NCS designed to support improved Ocean Governance in the WIO.
The meeting objective was to take stock of activities undertaken by the regional economic communities (RECs), the AU and regional commissions that would contribute towards the development of WIO Strategy and ultimately to a more a sustainable Blue Economy in the region. The underlying rationale for this ongoing process is to contribute towards a peaceful, politically stable region, with an environmental healthy ocean and a sustainable blue economy based on the protection and conservation of natural resources; all elements encapsulated by the SDGs, particularly SDG 14 on ‘life below water’. These early discussions served as the basis upon which stakeholders could start drawing a timeline of activities to support strategy development to be completed for validation and endorsement by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Nairobi Convention. This meeting followed several preparatory activities including the preparation of a comprehensive background paper on aspects relevant to Ocean Governance in the WIO region and globally (The State of Ocean Governance in the Western Indian Ocean).
The mandate to develop an Ocean Governance Strategy for the WIO is embedded in the decisions of the Nairobi Convention COPs and the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). Most recently, COP Decision 10.5 “to finalize the development, in a participatory process, with the support of partners, the ocean governance strategy for the Western Indian Ocean region as a contribution to the African ocean governance strategy” has provided momentum to the process of regional ocean governance strategy development.
The Secretariat is being supported in this process by the SAPPHIRE and WIOGI projects through three thematic action streams which include: improving regional capacity for ocean governance; developing a regional ocean governance strategy or cooperative framework through a government-led process; and ensuring that the strategy (or framework) is consistent with wider African sustainable development policies, and international ocean laws and norms such as on the peaceful use of ocean resources, ocean governance, blue economy, maritime security, sustainable development, combatting climate change and pollution, environmental and biodiversity conservation, human rights and international cooperation.
According to the SAPPHIRE Project Coordinator, Dr Tim Andrew “The process of developing the Strategy is a first step at bringing regional stakeholders together to work out ways to break down sectoral silos to improve collaborative regional ocean governance – a prerequisite to achieving the aspirations of the WIO states with regards to developing a sustainable blue economy in the region.”
One of the main challenges of this process is how to effectively incorporate the views and inputs of different stakeholders with an interest in ocean governance. To address this, a Task Force has been established under the Nairobi Convention framework to lead the process, comprising of representatives from the regional governments, RECS and relevant Commissions, and non-state actors from the private sector, academia and conservation organizations, among others. This multi-stakeholder Task Force of around 24 experts has held its first discussions in April 2022 and will follow a process facilitated by SAPPHIRE and others NCS initiatives to engage with important sectors and stakeholders as they lead on strategy development in an iterative and highly participatory manner.
It is envisaged that their work will be completed by mid-2023 after which the strategy will go through a process of being validated by stakeholders, endorsed by the Contracting Parties of the Convention and ultimately adopted at the next COP scheduled for early 2024.
For more information about the SAPPHIRE project, visit this page.
This article also appears on the GEF IW-Learn website.