The Potential of the Gulf of Guinea's Blue Economy

Blue Economy in the Gulf of Guinea
A boat on the beach near Lome, Togo. Photo: Geraint Rowland

The concept of the “blue economy” acknowledges the ocean’s potential to contribute to countries’ economic growth, particularly “in the fields of energy (both renewable and non-renewable), food, tourism, coastal protection from storms, transportation that links the global economy, and natural products that promise advances in medicine.” [1] In the Gulf of Guinea, as with much of the African continent, the ocean offers an unparalleled opportunity for economic development—not only for coastal states but also for their landlocked neighbors. The Gulf of Guinea is rich in diverse fish stocks and hydrocarbon deposits, and with improvements to the transportation and shipping sectors, and possibly the cultivation of a marine tourism sector under the right conditions, the potential growth of the region’s blue economy is practically limitless.

A few substantial obstacles lie in the way of seamless blue economy development. The first is instability in the maritime space in the Gulf of Guinea: a secure maritime space is critical, as otherwise shipping companies may opt to avoid dangerous swaths of maritime territory in favor of safer ports in neighboring countries. This compromises opportunities for traders in both destination markets and countries of origin. Similarly, a burgeoning tourism industry is highly unlikely to flourish where waters, and even beaches, may appear dangerous. (Look no further than the example of a rash of tourist kidnappings from beach resorts in Kenya in 2011 and the subsequent sharp decline in tourism in the region. [2]) The inverse is also true, however: a virtuous cycle exists where blue economy development enables more employment opportunities, which improves maritime security, which in turn begets more blue economy growth.

Developing the Collective Blue Economy

The second major challenge confronting the countries of the Gulf of Guinea is not only how to develop the collective blue economy, but also how to do so sustainably and equitably. While the oil and gas industry provides an undeniable opportunity for economic growth, the industry presents its own set of challenges, as it’s not evident that profits necessarily reach poorer coastal communities, and extraction and processing activities can be deleterious to the environment: oil pollution and waste can accelerate climate change resulting in rising sea levels. Rising sea levels consequently result in floods, which further endanger coastal communities. It is essential that as countries in the region continue to prioritize blue economy growth, they must put equal consideration into opportunities and risks of investments into blue economy projects to ensure long-term sustainability of growth.

To read more about the blue economy in the Gulf of Guinea, be sure to check out Stable Seas: Gulf of Guinea, available on the Stable Seas website now.

[1] Stable Seas Maritime Security Index, “Blue Economy,” https://stableseas.org/issue-areas/blue-economy.

[2] Xan Rice, “Kenya Kidnap Attacks by Somalis Drive Terrified Tourists out of Paradise Islands,” The Guardian, October 4, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/04/kenya-kidnap-attacks-tourism-hit.