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  • Analysis

Charting new waters: How to fuse maritime security, development and business in Africa

Africa faces major maritime security challenges: in the Gulf of Guinea, off the Horn of Africa and in the Mediterranean. However, the budgets of European governments are constrained. Development organisations, African governments and local communities are feeling the pinch as shifting priorities and scarcer resources mean that European-funded programmes are closing. Maritime companies are affected too; the market potential in Africa is growing, but the attempt to seize this comes with greater exposure to regional and local security challenges – violent robbery, piracy, kidnapping, corruption, and more.1 Neither the African host states nor European public and private stakeholders have the resources to tackle these issues alone, but all have an interest in improving security and supporting development.

How can the EU contribute to solving these challenges with fewer means? How can it work together with African and European partners? This article suggests that the EU should do away with the dogma of separating business, security and development. Instead, the EU should be a pioneer, recruiting and bringing together maritime security and development experts at EU delegations in African countries. These experts can help to mobilise new resources for development while building greater resilience in African local communities tied to European maritime interests.

The fusion of business, security and development

Shell, Chevron, Starbucks and Heineken are engaging in peacebuilding ventures in some of the most fragile, impoverished and conflict-affected regions of the world. Meanwhile, traditional government and intergovernmental peacebuilding stakeholders have begun to work with businesses, creating public-private partnerships to stimulate poverty reduction and socio-economic growth. With government budgets shrinking, this development seems not just mutually beneficial, but necessary.

Optimists see opportunities for new insights, initiatives and funding. They argue that business activities advance stability in a number of ways: they grow markets and economically integrate regions, facilitating a “peace dividend”; they encourage local development; they import democratic accountability. They also change the drivers of conflict by undertaking direct diplomatic efforts with warring parties. Pessimists, as well as some more traditional actors, see this as “peacewashing” at best and corporate exploitation at worst. Even so, the United Nations – the international gold standard of neutrality – has ramped up its public-private engagements with an 8,000-strong network of businesses engaged through the Global Compact initiative (UNGC), the Business for Peace platform and the Sustainable Development Goals.2 Similarly, the Danish government engaged businesses in its new foreign and security policy strategy, as did the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) during its work to combat piracy in East Africa. These new networks are merging business, security and development where they have converging interests.

Maritime businesses have historically played a key role in counter-piracy efforts in East Africa. They improved best management practices, fitted ships with barbed wire and water cannons, and hired private armed guards. But these efforts, despite their combined effectiveness, offered more symptomatic relief than treatment of the root causes, which still rest ashore today. In East Africa, however, the Danish NGO Somali Fair Fishing (SFF) is trying to solve this problem by combining community-building and security interests to collect donations from maritime businesses active in the area. SFF seeks to provide income, sustenance and a livelihood through local fishing in Somalia, and established the first-ever fish processing station in Berbera, Somaliland, with seven refitted containers, an ice machine and an office building. In 2014, 25 local employees refined 400 tons of fish with an estimated market value of US$1.3m and a turn-over of $100,000. Today, they service 50 local fishing company partners, representing 500 fishermen and about 85% of all active fishermen in the area. Local users of this facility have increased their income by an average of 92%. Recently, SFF signed a contract with the EU to expand its project funding by €3m.

The SFF’s community-based approach is not only an effective way to give young locals an alternative to piracy, it is also cheap (costing $1.1m). Its cost equals that of hiring private armed guards for 18 vessels passing through the high-risk Gulf of Aden (which costs around $60,000 per trip). 20,000 vessels pass through the Gulf each year. The downside is that such a project is hard to upscale; but a new policy idea could provide an opportunity to meet this challenge.

The next step – developing communities to build resilience, support stability, and secure businesses

How can this fusion of business, security and development provide new opportunities for maritime security? The potential lies in the overlapping interests of the five different actors involved here – the European maritime industry, European governments, development organisations, African governments and local communities. Maritime companies want stability for their businesses in Africa and are willing to invest in strategic community-building when this benefits their activities. Development organisations can deliver the regional expertise and contacts needed to reduce risks tied to the local geographic and social environment, and make these investments worthwhile. In exchange, they require new public-private partnerships and more funding for their target groups. Meanwhile, local communities are likely to engage actively in the protection of businesses and provide an innovative workforce, if they can see that this leads to economic development and more attractive prospects for themselves and future generations. Finally, both African and European governments have an interest in increased trade and growth in Africa and in lending legitimacy to such strategic partnerships, which could increase funding from international donors.

Maritime companies can use NGOs in a number of ways. First, NGOs may use their regional insight to offer market analyses that allow companies to consider new consumer potential. If the company shows interest, the next step would be an impact assessment of how new installations – such as port facilities or off-shore platforms – would affect and be received by the local population. This could help to avoid costly mistakes.3 Private companies could also hire NGOs to provide contacts and logistics for business exploration trips. Finally, companies might see this work as part of their grander corporate social responsibility strategy, and a way of improving employee satisfaction.4

Sometimes these partnerships would be little more than having development organisations as consultants. At other times, there may be greater scope for collaboration. Companies interested in operating in conflict-prone societies will need “hard” security measures, such as guards and fences. But they will also need resilient surrounding communities that do not fall prey to criminal activities. This requires communities to experience economic development and feel that they benefit directly, on a day-to-day basis, from a company’s presence in the area. By forming strategic partnerships with NGOs, companies can focus their efforts on their core business and effectively outsource sustainability efforts to insightful consultants. This partnership can also provide access to valuable local information and a community dedicated to protecting the company’s activities.

How could maritime security and development advisors at EU delegations help facilitate this process? The EU should by no means become a substitute for direct contact between stakeholders. Rather, these advisors should act as facilitators, promoting these public-private projects and attracting new European and international donors, such as the World Bank or the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which already have multi-million-dollar fisheries projects in West and East Africa. These donors could reinforce the momentum generated by the partnership between local communities, development organisations and maritime businesses to build resilient societies. EU experts should facilitate contact between interested businesses and NGO experts, and act as a door-opener to African governments when necessary.

European governments still have an immense interest in safeguarding their maritime businesses in Africa, despite their shrinking budgets. There is an opportunity for the EU to position itself as a caretaker of common European maritime interests. The EU also has a much larger coordination, economic and bargaining potential than a small maritime state like Denmark. Moreover, many member states have maritime interests in Africa but only few would feel that these would merit investing in new advisor positions at their embassies. By drawing on the collective European interest, the EU is in a strong position to become a pioneer in this field.

Lessons learned

There is growing potential for synergy between business, security and development actors in Africa. Maritime security and development advisors at EU delegations would represent an opportunity to mobilise and coordinate new resources for development, while building greater resilience in local communities around European maritime interests in Africa. When a local community is more resilient, it is more likely to mitigate elements of instability or crime, in turn making it more attractive for businesses, which is in the interest of all stakeholders.

1 My latest report describes some of these interwoven business, security and development issues more broadly and how to strategically mitigate them in the maritime domain. See Smed, Ulrik Trolle: Maritime Security and Development in Africa, Centre for Military Studies, University of Copenhagen, April 2016.

2 See, for instance, Miklian, Jason, Peer Schouten & Brian Ganson: From Boardrooms to Battlefields: 5 New Ways That Businesses Claim to Build Peace, Harvard International Review, June 10, 2016 (online).

3 Recently, the Danish wind power company Vestas joined the Lake Turkana Wind Power project to set up turbines at an estimated project value of 620 million euros. Electricity from the turbines would increase Kenya’s energy output by 15-20% and bring electricity to 2,5 million additional Kenyans. But the project has faced strong headwind since residents from a nomadic local community filed lawsuit against it and the Kenyan government, dragging the project to a halt and endangering its future. Consulting local NGOs could have informed Vestas better about the risks involved in taking on such a project and how to cope with them in case they became reality.

4 The Danish dairy product producer Arla, for instance, have a highly specialized workforce who normally spend all their time in industrial complexes in rainy Denmark. Today, they are letting them contribute their skills to improve dairy products in Ethiopia together with the Danish Church Aid, which highly increases their motivation and job satisfaction – in addition to Arla creating a surprisingly profitable new market.

This article is part of Friends of Europe’s Discussion Paper ‘Europe, China and Africa : new thinking for a secure century ’ to be published in November 2016, which brings together the views of Friends of Europe’s large network of scholars, policymakers and business representatives on the future of EU-China cooperation in the security field in Africa. These articles provide insight into stakeholders’ views and recommendations as China evolves from an economic to a security player in Africa.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta