Kathy Gibson reports from the Maritime and Coastal Security conference in Cape Town – African navies should be changing their role from fighting wars to protecting countries’ maritime assets and developing the blue economy.

Philip Holihead, head of project implementation: Djibouti Code of Conduct, International Maritime Organisation, UK, points out that navies should look to moving to a more constabulary role.

There is a real opportunity for the African Union to draw on the experiences of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, and a similar code agreed on for the west and central Africa, to form a cohesive and efficient force to address problems ranging from piracy and armed robbery against ships to illicit maritime activity.

The maritime economy includes oil and gas, fisheries, ports, beaches and maritime trade – in fact, anything the brings revenue from the maritime environment into national coffers, he says.

“It makes sense to protect them all.”

On the one side of the equation, Holihead says, are the maritime industries that generate money for the GPD; on the other are the navies and agencies set us to protect these maritime assets.

And in the middle are the political agencies that need to start considering all the maritime assets and agencies in a coherent way.

The codes offer an opportunity for African coastal nations to start working together on a cohesive strategy to police their waters across national boundaries.

“Not all of Africa’s coastal states are in a position to protect their own resources, and they will require the assistance of more advanced navies to help them. Remember, if your neighbour have a maritime security problem, so do you.

“If you know your neighbour is unable to control its own naval space what does this mean to you. If you have a common problem and a common purpose, then the benefits of sharing the solution generally outweigh the cost.”

This will require the co-operation of navies, agencies and the private sector, Holihead adds, and needs to be co-ordinated with international efforts.