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Taking stock of Africa’s position within the IMO on World Maritime Day
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Taking stock of Africa’s position within the IMO on World Maritime Day

Africa needs to take a stronger role within IMO

The International Maritime Organisation and its member states are today celebrating World Maritime Day, but with 44 of these members in Africa, one needs to consider the continent’s position within the international body as we head towards the election of council members at the end of the year. Editor, Colleen Jacka takes a closer look. 


Only 11 African countries have served as members of the council since 1959 despite Egypt, Ghana and Liberia joining the IMO within the first decade of its existence and being amongst the first 30 countries to do so. In addition, Liberia represents the second largest gross tonnage of registered merchant ships amongst member states and is second only to Panama by a short margin.

As such, according to recent financial statements published on the IMO website, Liberia contributes some 12% of the revenue that the organisation receives from member states making it the second largest contributor to this revenue stream.

Interestingly, Nigeria is listed as contributing 4,5% of donor funds allocated towards fellowships at the World Maritime University.

Currently there are no African countries included in Category A and B of the IMO Council while Egypt, Morocco and Kenya served in Category C over the last term. Unfortunately Kenya’s excellent candidate for the position of Secretary General at this year’s election, Nancy Karigithu, was not successful in claiming the post. The position of SG has yet to be undertaken by anyone from the African continent.

African member states will be hoping to see the situation shift when elections are held in December this year. Liberia has been listed as a candidate for election in Category A while the current African members in Category C are vying for re-election. South Africa is also hoping to reclaim its position within Category C.

Looking at the data included in an IMO document released this month recording the members of the council dating back to 1959, it appears that Africa is punching well below its weight within the international organisation. Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone all fall within the top 50 States in terms of gross tonnage on their flags. Of these four countries, only Nigeria and Liberia have served on the Council. With 14 terms under its belt, Nigeria was last elected in 2009 and has sought re-election a number of times since then. Similarly, Liberia has served a total of 12 times and was last elected more recently in 2017.

Historical involvement

The document highlights that the first African country to be represented was Madagascar in Category C in 1967. The island country served for two terms from 1967 to 1971, but has not been re-elected since then.

As one of the first three African countries to join the IMO, Ghana was elected to the Council for the first time in 1969 and served two consecutive terms. They served again during terms beginning in 1993, 1985, 1995, 2001 and 2003. The 2001 election was only effective as of November 2002 when the membership of the Council was increased from 32 to 40.

A current member of the Council, Kenya, also benefitted from the increased size during 2002 when they were elected for their second term after previously serving in 1977. Since their re-election in 2002, the country has managed to maintain its position on the Council and will be aiming to do so in December this year.

The other two current African members, Egypt and Morocco, represent the longest serving African countries having served 22 and 15 terms respectively. Egypt has enjoyed an unbroken stretch on the Council since 1977, while Morocco’s current consecutive representation dates back to 2011.

As one of the world’s largest Flag States, Liberia’s representation on the Council does not reflect its status. With only four terms in Category and eight in Category C, the country has not been a member of the Council since being elected for a term in 2017.

Both Algeria and Nigeria have clocked in more terms – both serving 14 times in Category C of the Council. With their sights set on being re-elected this year, South Africa is the next most successful country having served 12 terms – all of them consecutive from 1997. Facing disappointment at the last elections in 2021, the country will definitely have an agenda to prove this year.

Having already set a precedent that allows for the increase in Council membership, the IMO is seeking to expand from 40 to 52 members in order to improve the representation of developing countries and island states.

The additional 12 members will be allocated to Category C and will undoubtedly provide a better opportunity for Africa to become more representative within the IMO structure.

Current IMO Council Members

COUNTRY GROSS TONNAGE # OF TERMS *
  CATEGORY A: Ten countries with largest interest in providing international shipping services.
 Panama  241,674,906  19
 China  72,023,345  23
 UK and Northern Ireland32  37,217,407  32
 Greece  34,743,707  31
 Japan  31,508,684  31
 Norway  20,187,862  32
 Republic of Korea  15,829,458  16
 Italy  13,623,766  28
 USA  12,320,407  32
 Russian Federation  11,883,447  31
 CATEGORY B: Ten countries with largest interest in providing international seaborne trade.
 India  11,182,801  32
 France  8,927,623  32
 Netherlands  7,475,225  25
 Germany  7,252,732  31
 Brazil  3,894,724  28
 Canada  2,992,908  32
 Spain  2,886,008  23
 Sweden  2,338,730  22
 Australia  2,335,860  27
 United Arab Emirates  804,182  5
 CATEGORY C: Twenty countries not elected in Category A or B but which have a special interest in maritime transport or navigation, and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world.
 Singapore  93,352,560  15
 Malta  80,213,753  13
 Bahamas  61,657,936  14
 Denmark  22,904,861  11
 Indonesia  22,327,275  23
 Cyprus  20,922,845  18
 Malaysia  8,005,782  9
 Saudi Arabia  7,825,628  13
 Belgium  5,823,254  15
 Turkey  5,490,464  12
 Philippines  4,617,670  15
 Thailand  2,938,732  9
 Mexico  1,932,033  20
 Vanuatu  1,246,907  1
 Egypt  1,147,217  22
 Chile  928,151  12
 Qatar  410,711  1
 Morocco  344,106  15
 Jamaica  59,514  7
 Kenya  19,763  11

 

* # of Terms represents how many times the country has been elected onto the IMO Council in any of the three categories since 1959 and does not necessarily indicate that these terms were consecutive. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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