Is Africa ready to implement cabotage laws?

Is Africa ready to implement cabotage laws?

Cabotage conference glosses over the question of cabotage for Africa

Attending the Africa Maritime Cabotage and Blue Economy Conference hosted by the Republic of Kenya last month, Unathi Sonti, chairperson of the Maritime Business Chamber reflects on the discussions that dominated the event and highlights key outcomes aimed at unlocking the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)’s potential by rethinking the maritime cabotage and blue economy model to improve connectivity.

While the title of the conference and theme aimed to headline cabotage as the subject matter, not sufficient time was provided to engage fully on strategies for its implementation within the context of intra-Africa trade. Indeed – case studies suggest that cabotage laws have been largely unsuccessfully implemented by developing countries.

Let’s look at an example of what had occurred in Nigeria when the Nigerian cabotage laws came into force in 2004 through the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003. Since its enactment, there has been continuous reliance on cabotage waivers to allow non-compliant vessels to continue to operate within Nigeria’s maritime space.

The conference, as part of its resolutions, noted Nigeria, India and the United States as case studies towards developing the gaps, mitigation measures to establish sustainable cabotage systems among African countries.

The event was, however, a good step forward toward reviving the African Integrated Maritime Strategy as well as an opportunity to urge those African States that have not yet ratified their Revised African Maritime Transport Charter to do so in the interest of enabling many of the continent’s maritime aspirations.

As such, I commend the government of Kenya for its continued efforts to drive the African maritime agenda as well as their commitment to establish relevant maritime ministries to drive the development of the blue economy.

Some of the sub-themes that were given consideration during the three-day conference included:

  • • Maritime Cabotage in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region
  • • The role of ports and harbours in facilitating regional maritime cabotage
  • • Harnessing the blue economy by embracing the value chain approach
  • • Importance of intra-Africa trade to drive the regional integration agenda
  • • Importance of trade facilitation to promote intra-Africa trade
  • • Boosting intra-Africa trade from the ship ownership perspective
  • • The role of private sector and financial institutions in promoting continental trade
  • • Shipbuilding and ship repairs in Africa: opportunities and challenges

With such a full programme, it is not surprising that the topic of cabotage could not be explored in too great a detail – despite being the conversation headliner of the conference. 

A resolution to make this an annual event may, however, help address this. The conference did establish the need for collaboration amongst both government and private maritime structures to ensure the advancement of the African Union Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want – and specifically those areas listed within Goal 6 of the document.

Goal 6 seeks to promote the ocean economy for the purpose of accelerated economic growth on the continent within the marine energy, port operations and marine transport sectors – noting, of course, the need for sustainable natural resource management as well as biodiversity conservation.

Indeed, the conversation on cabotage cannot be separated from the discussions around climate change and green shipping as the transformative approach aimed at minimising the environmental impact of maritime operations may have a great impact on the African Continent.

Interestingly, it is noted that many made passing comments on the crucial role that South Africa has to play in the development of the maritime agenda in Africa. My thoughts that the country has been found on a back foot necessitate that we seek ways to resuscitate our efforts it in the face of what is happening on the continent.

The conference was co-hosted by the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa (PMAESA), Kenya National Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KNCCI), Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS), Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and the Kenya State Department of Maritime and Shipping Affairs.

While the event presented an opportunity to begin discussions on the role of cabotage in Africa’s maritime domain, I do wonder whether the continent is in a position to have this conversation at this stage. We have to ask whether Africa has the right tools, resources and infrastructure to independently and effectively drive a cabotage programme.

MAIN PHOTO: Source – Adobe Photo Stock.


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