Kenyan eyeing global maritime seat to promote ‘blue economy’

International Maritime Organisation Secretary General candidate Juvenal Shiundu. [PHOTO: COURTESY]

On June 30, Kenya may have one of its own holding a coveted position that has eluded Africa for five decades. This is the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

And as if on cue, Juvenal Shiundu, after being nominated by the Government for the position, chose to officially launch his campaign aboard a historical ship.

Based in London, the HMS Wellington Ship is a floating Livery Hall and Headquarters of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. It is here that acting Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, joined Shiundu as he hosted a dinner for London-based ambassadors, high commissioners and permanent representatives of the 40 voting IMO council members.

IMO is a specialised UN agency, which sets global standards for safety, security and environmental performance of global shipping. The council will on June 30, decide who among six candidates will replace the Japanese Koji Sekemizu. Sekimizu’s term ends on December 31.

Shiundu is the organisation’s deputy director and head, programme management section based in London.

A naval architect, he joined IMO 17 years ago, after a stellar career in the maritime industry. He has worked as the general manager of African Marine and General Engineering, the largest shipyard on the East African Coast. He also has worked for the Kenya Ports Authority as assistant merchant shipping superintendent.

Backed by a good education, Shiundu acknowledges the six candidates running against him are equally competent and qualified. They are Andreas Chrysostomou from Cyprus, Vitaly Klyuev (Russia), Ki-tack Lim (Korea), Maximo Mejia (Philippines) and Andreas Nordseth (Denmark).

However, he is buoyed by a dose of self-belief, as the book he is currently reading, The power of self- Confidence, by Brian Tracy, attests.

“Let me offer my appreciation in advance to the council members who will be casting a vote of affirmative ballots in support of my candidacy,” said Shiundu at the London dinner to bouts of laughter.

“And enlist the support of undecided members to cause their respective pendulums to swing decisively in my direction,” he added.

But he is not relying on words only, as he is doing ‘intense legwork’ visiting world capitals of council members. In the course of this interview, we communicated with him while he was in Johannesburg, South Africa, Amsterdam and Netherlands, before he left for Madrid, Spain, then on to Washington DC in the United States.

While in South Africa, Shiundu, attended the African Union summit where African leaders endorsed him for the post, a much needed boost if he will have to break the ‘jinx’ Africa faces. Since the establishment of the IMO in 1959, there have been eight secretary generals, five from Europe, and two from Asia, and one from North America. Africa and Latin America, despite trying have not produced any.

Tom Mensah, a Ghanaian lawyer tried in 1989, as did Monica Mbabefo, a Nigerian. Shiundu was the first Kenyan naval architect, which has seen him featured in one of the Footprint books of Kenyan Achievers ‘Scaling the heights – Biographies of leading Kenyans’.

On the campaign trail, Shiundu is telling council members that he will promote the “blue economy, and greener shipping” if elected.

During the London dinner, he demonstrated his knowledge of the world, hinting that as secretary general, he will fully participate in the Post-2015 Agenda.

This is the UN process, which is currently defining new world targets after the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals.

The UN Working Group from the Rio +20 has actually proposed one of the goals as; to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea and marine resources.

In an email interview, Shiundu tells us that he was a member of the IMO delegation to the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, besides having participated in all preparatory meetings prior to the Rio Conference.

“Shipping and maritime issues are captured under oceans and seas chapter in the main outcome document “The Future We Want”. As secretary general, I will facilitate the linkage of the work of IMO and the Sustainable Development Goals,” he says.

Universal targets

Similarly, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, a think-tank based in Denmark, working with top world economists and Nobel laureates reviewing the UN new universal targets, has identified coral reefs as key in protecting marine habitats while promoting tourism and Shiundu agrees.

“Of course, saving coral reefs will protect the marine habitats as most of the fishermen along the Kenyan Coast will confirm,” he says.

The Nobel’s cost benefit analysis argument on the coral reef is that the world should seek to halve its loss, which will cost Sh3 billion a year, but will save three million hectares of coral reef while providing natural fishing hatchers and boosting tourism.

This kind of tourism, encompassing maritime resources, oceans, seas, rivers and lakes is known as blue economy. Shiundu acknowledges that the issue of blue economy is recognised by high level bodies like the African Union, which in its just ended AU Summit, adopted a resolution on oceans and seas. And for the first time, the recent G7 gathering had oceans on its agenda while the European Union early this year published a document on blue economy for their member States.

But the oceans are not without their challenges, which Shiundu says are “daunting but not insurmountable”. This includes carbon emissions by ships.

“I will advocate for greener shipping, which entails ships being more energy efficient, and emitting less carbon,” he says.

Then there is the ugly face of piracy, which in the past few years has terrorised the world. Ensuring safety in shipping falls on the shoulders of IMO.

“IMO has put anti-piracy measures,” says Shiundu, whose country borders Somalia where piracy thrived. “More relevant to Kenya, at the height of piracy off the coast of Somalia, IMO facilitated the signing and entry into force of the Djibouti Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.”

So does Kenya stand to benefit with Shiundu’s election? He believes so. He says his election will enhance Kenya’s image both in the maritime sector and in the global diplomatic community.

Kenya Liberia, Morocco and South Africa are the only IMO Council Members from Africa.