Interviews Politics

President Michel: Oceans fundamental to Africa’s existence

President Michel: Oceans fundamental to Africa’s existence
  • PublishedJuly 16, 2015

The Blue Economy is a sustainable development concept that is now in vogue. New African correspondent Wanjohi Kabukuru interviewed President James Michel of Seychelles, a champion of the initiative, in light of the UN climate change talks in November. 

Q: What is the Blue Economy and when was the idea floated?

A: The Green Economy was a central tenet of the debate around sustainable development for several years, leading up to the 2012 Rio +20World Sustainable Development Summit. But Seychelles and many other island and coastal states understood that if oceans were not centralised within the sustainable development debate, sustainable development would remain a myth, as 72 per cent of the planet is covered by oceans and seas, representing 95 per cent of the biosphere. The Blue Economy is thus about developing sustainable practices – green practices in what is a “blue world”. It is about maximising the enormous economic potential of oceans while preserving them.

The vastness of this blue frontier provides an almost limitless source of economic potential although we must be mindful of the already heavy pressures of industrial fishing.

Restoring the health of our oceans has become a universal challenge and one of the most fundamental objectives espoused by the concept of a Blue Economy.

The Blue Economy offers an alternative economic approach that conceptualises oceans as “Development Spaces” and incorporates the real value of natural (blue) capital into all aspects of economic activity – whether it be tourism, fisheries, energy, trade and transportation among others. Fundamental to its approach, the Blue Economy propagates a principle of equity, which ensures that coastal communities optimise on the benefits received from the oceans that surround them while also protecting them. It is in this context that Seychelles launched a Blue Economy Summit in January 2014 as part of the Abu Dhabi sustainability week that aimed to sensitise the Indian Ocean region and the world to the opportunities of oceanic development – while also warning of the risk of continuing ‘business as usual’.

Q: Why is Seychelles keen on the “Blue Economy”?

A: For a small island nation, with a low natural resource base, isolated in location and increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the Blue Economy is not just a concept, it is the only avenue for sustainable development in the Seychelles. The oceans have always and will always be fundamental to our existence. The economy and the identity of the Seychellois people are firmly embedded in our ocean heritage and its resources.

 With an EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone – a sea zone over which a state has special rights] of over 1.3 million sq. km, Seychelles is both a small island state and a large oceanic nation.

How can we use this space productively, efficiently, and more importantly, sustainably? The Blue Economy is even more important when you recognise that the health of oceanic resources is interconnected – we must work nationally, regionally and globally.

Both of Seychelles’ existing economic pillars of tourism and fisheries are wholly dependent on the ocean that surrounds them, thereby intrinsically linking the livelihoods of Seychellois people to their ocean.

In championing efforts to develop a Blue Economy, as of February 2015, a specific department was created under the newly established Ministry of Finance, Trade and Blue Economy.

2014 was a particularly important moment for the adoption of a Blue Economy given the revision of several policies and strategies as well as the enactment of a New Fisheries Act which espouses the principles of a Blue Economy, which are sustainability, equitability and efficiency. We are also in the process of implementing the first “Marine Spatial Planning” tool in the country to support the development of an innovative financing mechanism, known uniquely as the Debt-for-Adaptation Swap. If this mechanism is successful in raising funds to manage the protected area network and the marine resources, Seychelles will fulfill its obligation announced in 2012 to place 30% of our Exclusive Economic Zone as Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by the end of this year, with 15% as ‘no-take’ zones. What is perhaps most relevant about the Blue Economy and its appeal to small island nations such as the Seychelles, is that at a time where the contours of our existence depend on a changing climate, it redefines the traditional concept of development in a way that is sustainable and conducive to the circumstances, constraints and challenges of coastal and island communities. As island nations, we are defined by the ocean that surrounds us. While we may be somewhat isolated, we are also deeply connected through the bountiful and boundless resources of the oceans available to the global community.

Q: Did the Blue Economy feature in the Comoros COI (Indian Ocean Commission) Summit 2014?

A: The Blue Economy was at the heart of the discussions. The Indian Ocean Commission is made up primarily of African island nations which depend on the ocean both for their existing wealth creation and future opportunities. We are also not benefitting as quickly from existing regional infrastructure development as we are not connected by the same roads, nor can we benefit from regional energy initiatives. Our shared oceanic space offers us the means to better structure our development, recognising our strengths while also building in climate resilience.

 We are well on the way to developing a regional Blue Economy strategy which will include financing options. A ministerial meeting will be held as a follow-up later this year. 

We also look forward to working towards the empowerment of all African states with regards to their oceanic space, as laid out in the aspirations for the next 50 years in Agenda 2063.

Q: COI is attracting new “big economy” nations seeking observer status. What does this imply?

A: The COI has indeed become increasingly recognised for its expertise, particularly in the fields of management of marine and coastal resources. The broadening of the COI to other partners in the region including those who are part of the Indian Ocean’s geographical reach and share the island development concerns, would strengthen the economic prospects of the region. The COI is planning to establish a general framework for the reform of the COI statutes to create the position of observer status.

 The observer status will be a tool for strengthening the cooperation between the COI and African islands of the “Atlantic, Indian Ocean Mediterranean and South China Sea” (AIMS) group, such as Cape Verde and São Tomé & Príncipe, while also strengthening partnerships within the region such as the Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge. This cooperation, while symbolising the strength of friendship, could provide a platform for the economic development and stability of the region; with particular reference to the fight against common threats and to the relevant agendas of the COI, 
such as sustainable development, tourism, regional connectivity, climate change, and the Blue Economy.

The inclusion of “big economies” as part of the conversation on the Blue Economy, in particular, to explore and benefit from much needed international technological assistance, in order to fully realise the benefit of the resources within their EEZs.

 Structured international cooperation is of particular importance to the development of the Blue Economy as it would help advance governance mechanisms for the sustainable development of waters beyond national jurisdiction, and would promote a science-based approach where natural blue capital would be critically valued in recognition of the full spectrum of blue values – from the intrinsic value of living organisms to the monetary value of non-renewable resources. Such strategies would be of paramount importance to the Blue Economy and its survival as a sustainable development strategy.

Q: When you visited France towards the end of 2014, climate change featured prominently in the discussion. Was this aimed at the elusive climate change deal in Paris this year?

A: Climate change discussions were indeed a key component of the agenda, during this visit at the end of 2014. It presented an opportunity for Seychelles and France to exchange views on several climate change-related priorities, namely the vulnerability of small island developing states, the capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), mitigation and adaptation efforts and the recognition of the juncture between climate change and sustainable development.

The Blue Economy can be a key catalyst to address all of these issues.

 Worthy of particular mention, the Seychelles seeks the support and assistance of France to assert the use of a “Vulnerability Index” as an effective tool for measuring the development of SIDS and their vulnerability to impacts of climate change. The discussions also addressed our strong position in calling for a real increase in temperature of not more that 1.5 degrees centigrade at the upcoming 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), to be held in Paris in November 2015.

We believe that for sustainable development to succeed we can’t just proceed with business as usual. We need to innovate.  We are also very pleased to have the support of France for such innovations in relation to our debt-for-adaptation swap. As one of our largest creditors, France’s willingness to address climate change through such policies is encouraging ahead of these climate change negotiations.

We hope also that such innovations can provide an interesting model for climate finance, which can be replicated elsewhere. 

Q: How will Africa and the world benefit from the Blue Economy?

A: The African continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Ocean to the North, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Antarctic Ocean to the South and the Indian Ocean to the east. This vast area of ocean represents tremendous economic potential for the continent as well as the global community, if harnessed sustainably and efficiently. But we must start by more empowerment for African nations in terms of management and wealth creation from the resources. Why should the primary beneficiaries be distant fishing nations, or big multinationals focused on extraction?

 We need a better deal for African nations and one which is lead by Africans. This is the promise of Agenda 2063 and we thank all African nations for continuing to stress this point. Currently, fisheries and aquaculture are the main contributors to rural livelihoods and food security in almost all of the African Coastal states. The Blue Economy in certain African countries contributes as much as 27% of the revenues and 33% of total export revenues. With the lives of millions depending on the fisheries sector alone, the notion of blue economies as an avenue for development in Africa, is one that has gained significant attention in recent years.

 Seychelles was pleased to be joined by so many African countries when we launched our first Blue Economy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January 2014. We are proud also of the strong African engagement in the Western Indian Ocean Coastal Challenge. Following this, the Abidjan Convention held in March 2014 in Cape Town also embraced the concept of the Blue Economy and called for further examination of its implementation as a sustainable development strategy.  This was later reiterated at the African Union (AU) Summit as it embraced the economic possibilities of a Blue Economy strategy by dedicating an entire chapter of the AU Agenda 2063 to the concept.

 The Blue Economy is about intelligent growth, social inclusion and empowerment in a world that is increasingly challenged by a changing climate. In sharing this vision, our small island nation, the Seychelles, will continue to champion the Blue Economy because we believe that the Blue Horizon is one that can change the curve of development.

Written By
Wanjohi Kabukuru

Wanjohi is an award-winning international environmental investigative journalist, whose specialty covers environment, geo-politics, business, conservation and the Indian Ocean marine development. Over the last 17 years Mr. Kabukuru has written extensively on energy, marine science and environmental conservation. His articles have been published in top-notch publications as African Business, African Banker, Inter Press Service (IPS), New African, BBC Focus on Africa, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Africa Renewal, 100Reporters, and Radio France International (RFI) among numerous other publications.

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1 Commentaire

  • Thank you, Wanjohi, for the intelligent interview with president Michel of Seychelles. The interview brings to the world the concept of Blue Economy as championed by President Michel himself. Going through the interview, one understands the opportunities that our oceans offer. They are indeed a powerful source of income for our poor African countries. Indeed Africa is very very rich in natural resources. What we lack is formidable leadership to harness these immense resources towards the desired development.

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