Ideas & Debate

Give priority to Kenya’s blue economy for faster growth

A group of fishermen in Watamu, Malindi,  prepare their nets to head into the  ocean. FILE PHOTO | NMG
A group of fishermen in Watamu, Malindi, prepare their nets to head into the ocean. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

It is estimated that Africa’s coastline hosts a Blue Economy estimated at Sh103 trillion ($1 trillion) yearly.

The United Nations Commission for Africa (Uneca) defines the Blue Economy as that which covers both aquatic and marine spaces, including oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water encompassing a range of productive sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bioprospecting and underwater mining and related activities.

According to Stellenbosch University, Africa’s oceans can and should be an important source of economic activity and growth for the continent, pulling up the standards of living and wealth of Africans.

Africa ocean territories are estimated at 13 million km², all of which can drive a blue economy.

The University of Queensland estimated that the annual economic output of the Western Indian Ocean, of which East Africa is a part, is the fourth largest ‘economy’ in the region after South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.


It holds a total asset base of at least Sh34.5 trillion ($333.8 billion) and according to United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), produces more than Sh2.6 trillion ($25 billion) in goods and services every year.

The main assets for the region’s blue economy, according to the University of Queensland are fisheries, the coastline itself, mangroves, carbon absorption, seagrass beds and corals reefs, carbon sequestration and fisheries.

According to Unep over 60 million people live along the Western Indian coast, many of them deriving livelihoods from the ocean. In South Africa alone, the blue economy is said to be capable of generating a million jobs by 2033.

The focus for Kenya’s blue economy, according to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute is on coastal tourism, offshore oil and gas exploration, deep and short-sea shipping, cruise tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, inland water way transport, offshore wind, blue biotechnology, marine mineral mining, marine aquatic products and ocean renewable energy.

However, according to Kenya’s Shipping and Maritime Affairs department, the country loses Sh90 billion per year in the sector and fails to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs due to a lack of financial support exacerbated by the under-management and failure to invest in building skilled and critical human capital.

Sadly, Africa’s ocean areas also tend to be poorly governed with high levels of insecurity that facilitate illegal fishing, sea piracy and armed robbery, drug and human smuggling.

According to Greenpeace, Western African economies are estimated to be losing Sh208 billion ($2 billion) a year to illegal fishing alone.

There is also the problem of chronic mismanagement of blue economy assets.

A report led by the World Wildlife Fund found that 35 per cent of the fish stocks assessed in the Western Indian Ocean are fully exploited and 28 per cent are over-exploited.
If the trend continues, Tanzania and Kenya could lose 18 per cent of mangrove cover over the next 25 years.

Further over 50 per cent of the region’s shark species are threatened and 71-100 per cent of the region’s coral reefs at risk.

As Kenya begins to design the priority areas of the Medium Term Plan III under Vision 2030, the blue economy ought to receive special and deserved attention.

There is a need to more effectively monetise the sector so that it can become an important generator of economic and social development for the country.