In the complex network of global maritime passageways, mounting tensions within crucial water routes are generating widespread concerns for the world and the African continent. From the strategic Red Sea to the indispensable Suez Canal, the Black Sea, and the strategic Strait of Hormuz, geopolitical tensions cast a shadow over the seamless flow of international trade across the high seas.
These sea channels are the lifeblood of the world’s economy. Shouldering the responsibility of transporting 60% of all food stocks, roughly two-thirds of the planet’s oil and gas supply, and an overwhelming 90% of commercial trade. The consequences of geopolitical contests in these vital maritime corridors are therefore profound, and they demand a closer examination for the potential to disrupt global stability.
To understand the significance of the ongoing battles in the oceans close to and in Africa, we must first understand the importance of the Red Sea crisis on global trade and why we should be concerned. At its core, the current Red Sea crisis is a spillover of the Israel-Hamas war happening because the Yemeni Houthi rebels are taking advantage of the regional disruption to garner world attention as they launch several attacks on commercial ships moving goods across continents.
Africa must collectively become a global maritime power to take up some part of global dominance.
For a critical sea route like the Red Sea, which handles over 19,000 vessel transits annually, the disruptions affect the container sector and oil tanker markets, particularly for vessels transporting refined fuels through the canal. This has reduced capacity and caused longer transit times for cargoes.
It has also caused a significant surge in spot container shipping rates, particularly between Asia, Europe, and the US. According to a Bloomberg report, the spot rate for shipping goods in a 40-foot container from Asia to Northern Europe has increased by 173 percent, reaching over $4,000. And in fact, some carriers have announced rates above $6,000 for specific routes.
What does the Red Sea crisis mean for Africa?
The Red Sea crisis poses multifaceted challenges for Africa, encompassing trade, maritime security, and overall economic stability. Maritime security is a primary concern as the Red Sea is a critical global trade route between Africa and Asia, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. So any disruptions in this vital waterway can lead to increased piracy, smuggling, and other illicit activities, jeopardising maritime traffic safety.
For Africa’s economy as it is with the world at large, the Red Sea crisis will lead to increased shipping costs, delays in delivery schedules, and supply chain interruptions. As a result, countries heavily dependent on maritime trade may experience economic challenges. The uncertainty surrounding the crisis could also deter foreign investments in the affected regions, further affecting economic growth.
The crisis also raises geopolitical concerns, with potential spillover effects on neighbouring countries. This makes it crucial for the security and development of Africa that the Red Sea region remains stable. Therefore, taking steps to resolve the crisis is crucial to safeguarding the interests of African nations and the global economy.
Although the ongoing crisis isn’t much about Africa, we are beginning to see tensions brewing in the Horn of Africa as countries like Somalia and Djibouti get concerned over Ethiopia’s Red Sea deal with Somaliland, which is a memorandum of understanding to grant Ethiopia access to the Bab El-Mandeb strait in the Gulf of Aden via a corridor that it would lease for 50 years.
The deal includes Ethiopia establishing a military base and commercial facilities there, while Somaliland would get an unspecified share of Ethiopian Airlines, the continent’s largest carrier, in exchange. Although Ethiopia’s quest to secure international trade routes is laudable because it shows an ability to exploit maritime power opportunities, the deal could cause tensions in the region.
How can Africa improve maritime security for international trade to flourish?
Oceans have been the chessboard on which empires battled for dominance for centuries. Africa must collectively become a global maritime power to take up some part of global dominance. To do this, it must undertake a multifaceted approach to bolster naval security and increase its share of global trade. The question then is, how can Africa do this?
First, strategic investments in naval capabilities are essential, encompassing the acquisition of advanced vessels, surveillance technologies, and communication systems. Collaborative efforts are equally crucial, encouraging regional and international partnerships to share intelligence and conduct joint patrols, forming a robust security network. A focus on training and capacity building is imperative to ensure that naval personnel possess the skills for effective maritime security operations.
Concurrently, developing and implementing cutting-edge technologies, such as radar systems and satellite surveillance, will enhance maritime domain awareness, facilitating real-time monitoring of activities and rapid response to potential threats. Also, strengthening legal frameworks related to maritime security and law enforcement capacity building will contribute to effectively regulating and prosecuting marine crimes.
Finally, investing in infrastructure, including modern ports, supports the growth of the maritime sector and reinforces security measures. Collaborations with the private sector, particularly in shipping and logistics, can foster public-private partnerships that contribute to a secure maritime environment. Engaging in diplomatic efforts for international cooperation and participating in forums focused on global naval security will strengthen collective responses to common challenges.
Furthermore, encouraging research and innovation in maritime security technologies and strategies ensures a forward-looking approach to developing threats. Addressing environmental concerns, such as illegal fishing and oil spills, complements security efforts and ensures the sustainability of maritime activities. Through this comprehensive strategy, African nations can build a more robust maritime security framework, contributing significantly to the security of global trade routes.