Maritime security: Implementing the AU's AIM strategy

You're reading

Maritime security: Implementing the AU's AIM strategy

Edwin E. Egede

08 Jun 2018

6min min read
  • Maritime law

aritime security has become a key issue in international politics with a number of states and regions adopting and publicising their maritime security strategies. Yet, it is is still a contested concept which may vary in emphasis depending on the state or region of the world. For instance, Natalie Klein in her book Maritime Security and the Law of the Sea points out that “[t]he term ‘maritimesecurity’ has different meanings depending on who is using the term or in what context it is being used.” She argues that it may best be understood from two key viewpoints, namely, traditional security concerns and responses to perceived maritime security threats. The former, she asserts, primarily refers to border protection, preventing incursions into areas that are considered as the sovereign domain of a state, as well as power projections, involving a state exercising naval military power in its relationship with other states. The latter reflects steps taken by states to reduce the risk of certain crimes or activities which they believe would prejudice or injure their interests and society.

This article aims to address two key points. First, how the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (2050 AIM Strategy) has influenced the shift in the focus of maritime security in Africa i.e. from a bi-dimensional approach to a multidimensional one. Second, it identifies challenges with implementing the integrated strategy and offers some suggestions on how this could be addressed.

The 2050 AIM Strategy 

From the early 2000s, the Horn of Africa (HoA) has attracted international attention due to the piracy and armed robbery at sea situation, which led the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to adopt a number of resolutions authorising international action to combat piracy as a threat to international peace and security. Apart from the international naval patrols deployed under the UNSC resolutions to protect ships transiting seas adjoining the HoA,  another notable initiative was the adoption of the 2009 Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden (the Djibouti Code of Conduct), under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), by certain African and Arab states, which focused solely on the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

In January 2014, the African Union (AU) adopted the 2050 AIM Strategy, an Africa-wide integrated maritime strategy. The strategy engages with maritime security from a multidimensional perspective, in the sense of not limiting its engagement solely to piracy and armed robbery at sea, but also including other illicit activities at sea, as well as putting sustainable development of the African Blue Economy and Maritime Safety at the core of dealing with maritime security. In essence, it emphasises the need to adopt an integrated approach to tackling maritime security. It must be noted that this approach has been influenced by the thinking that a maritime security agenda concentrating solely on piracy and armed robbery at sea would be skewed in favour of the developed maritime states agenda of protecting their trading interests. Furthermore, such a bi-dimensional approach would not address other maritime security threats and concerns that may adversely impact the blue economy developmental growth of African states.

The 2050 AIM Strategy’s multidimensional approach has influenced subsequent maritime security instruments, for instance the Intergovernmental Authority on Development's (IGAD) Integrated Maritime Strategy 2015. Even the Djibouti Code of Conduct has been developed and revised by the 2017 Jeddah Amendment to ‘address wider maritime security issues, as a basis for sustainable development of the maritime sector’ and to recognise the critical importance of the Blue Economy in the Code. Furthermore, many aspects of the 2050 AIM Strategy have been incorporated in a legally binding treaty, the Lomé Charter, adopted by the AU in 2016.


An integrated maritime strategy like the 2050 AIM Strategy is quite complex, and implementation would be rather challenging. It has been argued that ‘… while it is currently fashionable to argue that “policy silos” should be replaced by policy integration such efforts are fraught with risks; notably the very real possibility of creating ineffective instrument mixes or incomplete reform efforts with resulting poor outcomes at the macro, meso or micro-level.’ In essence, the challenge with the implementation of the 2050 AIM Strategy is how to achieve coherence as it engages with wide-ranging maritime security threats, whilst reconciling this with achieving maritime safety, as well as resource development to achieve blue economy developmental goals and at the same time ensuring that the marine environment is protected. 

Although, on paper the 2050 AIM Strategy is described as an ‘overarching, concerted and coherent long-term multi-layered plans of actions’, the article argues that coherence would only be achieved if three core issues are addressed – effective coordination, information flow and the nexus approach.

Effective coordination

This author echoes a point raised in a previous write-up on the need to have a prominent department in the AU that would coordinate the 2050 AIM Strategy and the various aspects of the African Blue Economy, as well as mobilise the involvement of policy makers and other stakeholders to ensure coherence. This is vital as policy coordination is essential in the ‘pursuit of coherence, consistency, comprehensiveness and of harmonious outcomes.’

It should be noted that the department proposed here is not identical to the High Level College of Champions recommended by the 2050 AIM Strategy (this is yet to be established), which would be composed of selected high profile African leaders to engage in sustained lobbying both within and without Africa, to promote political buy-in and to marshal the required resources for the implementation of the strategy. While the latter, as and when established, would engage in the high-level political coordination, the proposed department would be responsible for the day to day administrative coordination of the 2050 AIM Strategy. It is important to note that the strategy had also recommended the establishment of a Strategic Foresight Marine Task Force (which again is yet to be established) to be involved in assessing the broad spectrum of marine activities and to engage in a technical role of preparing for the establishment of the proposed Combined Exclusive Maritime Zone of Africa (CEMZA).

However, such a task force would not suffice for the 2050 AIM Strategy which is a long-term one. Rather, a standing department of the AU, similar to the UN Department of Ocean Affairs (DOALOS), is needed with a clear mandate, not only to assess the broad spectrum of activities under the strategy and be involved in a technical role, but also to effectively coordinate the implementation of the strategy.

Information flow

Information flow both within and without the AU on the steps taken towards implementing the strategy is key so all relevant policymakers and stakeholders are aware of the progress made. This would help in avoiding the duplication of efforts. Such information flow should not be a purely top-down approach but also a bottom-up one that would encourage wide-spread input and monitoring of the implementation process by both policy-makers and other stakeholders. Effective utilisation of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and a dedicated section on the AU website, which should be regularly updated would be helpful in promoting such information flow. 

Furthermore, to promote such information flow and to keep the implementation of 2050 AIM Strategy high on the agenda of the AU Assembly. there should be an annual report on progress made on the implementation of the strategy and the Lomé Charter, similar to that of the United Nations Secretary-General's annual oceans report to the General Assembly, which should be presented to the Assembly by the AUC Chairperson and posted on the AU website. In essence, different communication and advocacy tools would need to be utilised to ensure that there is appropriate information flow on the implementation of the 2050 AIM Strategy.

Nexus approach

The nexus approach ‘denotes the observation that different issue areas are intrinsically interconnected and must thus be governed as such.’ Whilst the inter-connectivity of issues is reflected in the 2050 AIM Strategy, which stresses that  ‘[t]here cannot be sustainable socio-development without peace and security, and without development and empowerment no sustainable peace will occur’ and further points to the ‘building on the security-socio-development nexus,’ it is vital that in the course of implementing the strategy that the interaction and interdependence (the nexus) of the different issues is constantly communicated and highlighted.


The 2050 AIM Strategy is an impressive document that emphasises the multidimensionality of maritime security. However, for it to move from ‘paper to practice’ it must be implemented in a coherent and consistent manner. Thus, it is crucial that there is effective administrative coordination by an established department, proper information flow to relevant officials and stakeholders and that the nexus between the different aspects of the strategy is highlighted and properly communicated.

This is an edited version of a paper in the Horn of Africa Bulletin Vol 30 Issue 2 March-April 2018 from our content partner, the Life and Peace Institute. Download the bulletin here

(Main image: Benin navy's anti-piracy team (Force Navale) on patrol in the Bight of Benin. Piracy off the small west African country of Benin has risen sharply and fears are that it is starting the emulate Somalia in its threat to shipping. – Jason Florio/Corbis via Getty Images) 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.