Kenya’s hosting of the blue economy conference next month should not only focus on missed opportunities over the years but the abundance of wealth that should be urgently harnessed for economic growth and job creation.
Being a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (Iora), Kenya should have taken a leaf if not two from partners in the 20-country group on exploitation of the vast marine resources at its disposal, especially in the Indian Ocean.
With the help of global partners, there is room for joint capacity building in community-based tourism ventures for poverty reduction, cultural heritage and ecotourism. Not much has been done to harness ocean and lake resources like deep sea mining, fishing, transport and water sports among other areas.
This is an area largely ignored by successive governments and our participation in Iora activities has been largely passive, said a senior officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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While other delegations at Iora ministerial conferences are led by ministers of either Fisheries or Ocean and Marine Development, the Kenyan team is always led by under-secretaries.
In 2012, during his short stint at the Foreign Affairs ministry, Prof Sam Ongeri’s was among the most notable speakers at the conference held in the commercial and hospitality hub of Gurgaon, India. But when Iora countries gathered at the First Ministerial Blue Economy Conference in September 2015 in Mauritius, the then Nyali MP Hezron Awiti was the senior most Kenyan official.
Kenya’s input at the conference was minimal. Issues canvassed at these meetings include fisheries and aquaculture, marine safety and security cooperation and the promotion of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management in the Indian Ocean rim.
Ocean bed mining is now big business not only for oil exploration and drilling, but also natural gas, gas hydrates, manganese and body oil products enriched with natural sea minerals and sea salt.
Governments have generated policy, legal and institutional considerations to enable them operate within international standards as they exploit blue economy resources.
Food processing and deep-sea mining projects have for example blossomed in Iora countries with the support of members and partners through private and public partnerships to provide for food security and nutrition.
Other priority areas include trade and investment facilitation, disaster risk reduction, academic, science and technological advancement and tourism promotion and cultural exchanges.
IORA has also identified women empowerment as an important cross cutting theme in all of its priority areas. To achieve its targets, working groups bringing together business persons and academics meet annually to deliberate on various projects and policies in their respective fields and send their recommendations to the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) through the headquarters in Mauritius.
Maritime transport safety should be a priority and there’s need to have a regional entity that combines interests of neighbouring states and indeed the IORA region to facilitate transport and shipping.
A fisheries support plan can play an important role in enhancing cooperation in the fisheries sector for better utilisation of fish resources, expertise exchange and joint research activities.
It is from such ventures that countries like Mauritius have developed an advanced Tuna harvesting and processing projects which earn the country huge amounts of export revenue. Focus should also be on facilitating transfer of technology to Kenya from countries that have over the years made big strides in different marine fields.
That should also include promotion of cultural exchange, university exchange programmes to promote research and other academic discourses in the blue economy sector.
That the organisers of the Nairobi conference have anchored it on sustainability, climate change and controlling pollution, and production, accelerated economic growth, jobs and poverty alleviation shows how much the sector can offer. The conference will focus on new technologies and innovation for oceans, seas, lakes and rivers as well as the challenges, potential opportunities, priorities and partnerships.
-The writer is a media consultant and has covered several Blue Economy conferences