Kenya has in the recent years realized the great potential that exists in the maritime sector fondly referred to as the ‘blue economy’ but unfortunately, the country has been sluggish in creating serious measures that would tap this goldmine even as the country grapples with the high rate of unemployment among the youth.
The country has treated the industry, which in 2015 was estimated to have contributed a whopping $ 1.83 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so unfairly that we lack even basic data on how the sector can contribute to economic growth. Although the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics has been able to generate a lot of data on other sectors, the same cannot be said of the maritime sector, which has not received a fair share of budgetary allocation, a situation made even complex by the global nature of the industry.
Kenya has a coast line of 640 kilometres with territorial waters of 12 nautical miles and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that covers 200 nautical miles.
This is vast water mass that justifies investment in the industry even on basic infrastructure such as having vessels and other tools that can be used to carry out ocean surveys to understand all the resources underneath. We even lack the capacity to offer surveillance on the ocean based resources which has exposed us to exploitation by foreigners who do illegal fishing.
By investing in modern fishing gears, the country can exploit its high potential of sea food and create thousands of jobs for youth.For instance, marine fishing was estimated to have potential of 350,000 metric tonnes in 2013 worth Sh90 billion.
The region only yielded a paltry 9,134 metric tonnes worth Sh2.3 billion, a figure that has stagnated there the years that followed.
Although the president created a task force in 2016 to help in the development of an integrated maritime policy, the pace the task force has taken is not is impressive and its work is not being felt despite the significance importance of its undertaking.
There is also need to involve many other stakeholders such as the Ministry of the Youth, Labour and Education to create consciousness among the youth and the country at large that just as in other sectors of the economy, maritime is of equal importance.
The importance of the ‘blue economy’ in contributing to the economy must also inform and guide the country in targeting the youth empowerment in maritime education and training so that they can build skills in order to participate meaningfully in a sector has most of its workforce past 35 years of age.
The industry also has a huge proportion of its workforce dominated by foreigners. There is need to first appreciate the fact that maritime education and training has been ignored over the years, until 2012, when the institutions in the country started offering maritime related courses.
This was after a successful evaluation and confirmation by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee, of Kenya’s demonstration of giving the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) 78, as amended full and complete effect to the relevant provisions in 2010.
Although a number of institutions are now offering maritime related courses such as Degree in Marine Engineering in Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) and Diploma in Nautical Science at TUM, there is no institution of higher learning in the country that offers postgraduate programme on maritime.
Lack of appropriately qualified instructors coupled by inadequacy of simulation equipment and other training equipment has been cited as one of the main challenges holding back the growth of training maritime personnel.
With the establishment of maritime related curriculum by Kenya Maritime Authority and other stakeholders, there is need to support Bandari College to enhance its capacity and also create collaboration with other private institutions of higher learning both in and outside of the country.
During the global maritime conference, that Kenya was privileged to host, President Uhuru Kenyatta took the stage, rallied up the over 16,320 delegates and identified 35 projects worth Sh1.438 trillion ($14.38 billion) in the marine economy.
Raphael Obonyo, via email.