The University of Arizona

Securing the blue: political ecologies of the blue economy in Africa

John R. Childs, Christina C. Hicks


The Blue Economy concept is being embraced enthusiastically in Africa, both internally and externally. However, this new framing creates and calls for new understandings of how actors and places relate to one another, control, and create meaning and value. Thus, understanding the ocean - and its conceptual and material fabric - in this context, is a matter of political ecology, raising a number of questions that extend across geographies, spatio-temporalities, and political actors, both human and more-than-human. In this article, we flesh out these questions. An understanding of historical efforts to legally secure oceanic space can help contextualize the emergent African blue economy, one which we propose rests predominantly on the notion of 'security.' We demonstrate how resources are economically, environmentally, and politically 'secured' as they are first constructed as economic objects of accumulation, then militarized as matters of geopolitical security, and finally controlled through technologies of monitoring, surveillance, and resistance. The 'security' of the blue growth agenda and its effects operates across different temporal and spatial dimensions and are realized in different ways across the continent as explored in the six articles in this Special Section.

Keywords: blue economy, deep sea mining, political ecology, oceanic space, security


Full Text:



Agnew, D.J., J. Pearce, G. Pramod, T. Peatman, R. Watson, J.R. Beddington and T.J. Pitcher. 2009. Estimating the worldwide extent of illegal fishing. PloS One 4(2): p.e4570.

African Union 2014. Agenda 2063. The Africa we want. Available online at

Andriamahefazafy, M. and C. Kull 2019. Materializing the blue economy: tuna fisheries and the theory of access in the Western Indian Ocean. Journal of Political Ecology 26: 403-425.

Barbesgaard, M. 2018. Blue growth: savior or ocean grabbing? The Journal of Peasant Studies 45(1): 130-149.

Baucom, I. 2005. Specters of the Atlantic: finance capital, slavery, and the philosophy of history. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bennett, N.J., H. Govan and T. Satterfield. 2015. Ocean grabbing. Marine Policy 57: 61-68.

Bond, P. 2019. Blue Economy threats, contradictions and resistances seen from South Africa. Journal of Political Ecology 26: 341-362.

Campling, L. and A. Colás. 2017. Capitalism and the sea: sovereignty, territory and appropriation in the global ocean. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36(4): 776-794.

Carver, R. 2019. Resource sovereignty and accumulation in the blue economy: the case of seabed mining in Namibia. Journal of Political Ecology 26: 381-402.

Cavanagh, C.J. and T.A. Benjaminsen, 2017. Political ecology, variegated green economies, and the foreclosure of alternative sustainabilities. Journal of Political Ecology 24: 200-216.

Chassot, E., P. Dewals, L. Floch, V. Lucas, M. Morales-Vargas and D. Kaplan. 2010. Analysis of the effects of Somali piracy on the European tuna purse seine fisheries of the Indian Ocean. IOTC Scientific Committee Report: IOTC- 2010-SC-09. Victoria, Seychelles: Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

Childs, J. 2018. Extraction in four dimensions: time, space and the emerging geo (-) politics of deep-sea mining. Geopolitics in press.

Clarke-Sather, A., B. Crow-Miller, J.M. Banister, K. Anh Thomas, E.S. Norman and S.R. Stephenson. 2017. The shifting geopolitics of water in the anthropocene. Geopolitics 22(2): 332-359.

Cohen, P.J., E.H. Allison, N.L. Andrew, J. Cinner, L.S. Evan, M. Fabinyi, L.R. Garces, S.J. Hall, C.C. Hicks, T.P. Hughes and S. Jentoft. 2019. Securing a just space for small-scale fisheries in the blue economy. Frontiers of Marine Science 6.

Colombos, C.J. 1967. The International Law of the Sea. 6th ed. New York: David McKay.

Cudworth E. and S. Hobden. 2017. Post-human security. In Burke A. and R. Parker (eds.). Global insecurity. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 65–81.

De Santo, E.M., P.J. Jones and A.M.M. Miller. 2011. Fortress conservation at sea: a commentary on the Chagos marine protected area. Marine Policy 35(2): 258-260.

DeLoughrey, E. 2017. Submarine futures of the Anthropocene. Comparative Literature 69(1): 32-44.

DeLoughrey, E. M. 2007. Routes and roots: navigating Caribbean and Pacific island literatures. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Dunne, J.P. 2015. Order at sea and landlocked countries in Africa. Available online at

Eikeset, A.M., A.B. Mazzarella, B. Davíðsdóttir, D,H. Klinger, S.A. Levin, E. Rovenskaya and N.C. Stenseth. 2018. What is blue growth? The semantics of "Sustainable Development" of marine environments. Marine Policy 87: 177-179.

Elden, S. 2013. Secure the volume: vertical geopolitics and the depth of power. Political Geography 34: 35-51.

FAO. 2014. Asia and the Pacific's Blue Growth Initiative. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO. 2015. Voluntary guidelines for securing sustainable small scale fisheries in the context of food security and poverty eradication. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO. 2017. Innovative ocean financing: Seychelles Blue Bonds. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Available online at seychelles-blue-bonds/en/

Germond-Duret, C. 2018. Framing the blue economy: development, sustainability and placelessness. Presented at the Regional Studies Association Research Network for Sustainability Transitions in the Coastal Zone, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, September.

Gilroy, P. 1993. The black Atlantic: modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Global Fishing Watch. 2016-2019. (Last accessed December 14, 2018)

Government of Seychelles and the Commonwealth. 2018. Seychelles Blue Economy: strategic policy framework and roadmap: charting the future (2018-2030). Victoria: Blue Economy Department, Government of the Seychelles.

Grotius, H. 1916[1609]. The freedom of the seas or the right which belongs to the Dutch to take part in the East Indian Trade. Ed. J.B. Scott. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grundy-Warr, C., M. Sithirith and Y.M. Li. 2015. Volumes, fluidity and flows: rethinking the 'nature' of political geography. Political Geography 45: 93-95.

Hadjimichael, M. 2018. A call for a blue degrowth: unravelling the European Union's fisheries and maritime policies. Marine Policy 94: 158-164.

Hannigan, J. 2016. The geopolitics of deep oceans. London: Wiley.

Harris, L.M. 2017. Political ecologies of the state: recent interventions and questions going forward. Political Geography 58: 90-92.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., D. Beal, T. Chaudhry, H. Elhaj, A. Abdullat, P. Etessy et al. 2015. Reviving the ocean economy: the case for action. Gland: WWF International.

Hollis, D. and T. Rosen. 2010. United Nations convention on law of the sea (UNCLOS), 1982. The Encyclopedia of Earth. Online

Hugill, P.J. 1993. World trade since 1431: geography, technology, and capitalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

International Seabed Authority. 2017. Marine mineral resources of Africa's continental shelf and adjacent international seabed area. Technical Study, Available online at

Jambeck, J., B.D. Hardesty, A.L. Brooks, T. Friend, K. Teleki, J. Fabres, Y. Beaudoin, A. Bamba, J. Francis, A. Ribbink, T. Baleta, H. Bouwman, J. Knox and C. Wilcox. 2018. Challenges and emerging solutions to the land-based plastic waste issue in Africa. Marine Policy 96: 256-263.

Jumeau, R. 2013. Small island developing states, large ocean states. Expert Group Meeting on Oceans, Seas and Sustainable Development: implementation and follow-up to Rio. April. United Nations.

Kaufmann D., A. Kraay and M. Mastruzzi. 2007. Governance matters VI: governance indicators for 1996–2006. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4280. Washington DC: World Bank.

Kalina, M., A. Mbereko, B. Maharaj and A. Botes 2019. Subsistence marine fishing in a neoliberal city: a political ecology analysis of securitization and exclusion in Durban, South Africa. Journal of Political Ecology 26: 363-380.

Kay, K. 2018. A hostile takeover of nature? Placing value in conservation finance. Antipode 50(1): 164-183.

Kittinger, J.N., L.C. Teh, E.H. Allison, N.J. Bennett, L.B. Crowder, E.M. Finkbeiner, C.C. Hicks, C.G. Scarton, K. Nakamura, Y. Ota and J. Young. 2017. Committing to socially responsible seafood. Science 356(6341): 912-913.

Kothari, U. and R. Wilkinson. 2010. Colonial imaginaries and postcolonial transformations: exiles, bases, beaches. Third World Quarterly 31(8): 1395-1412.

Kraska J. and B. Wilson. 2009. Combating pirates of the Gulf of Aden: the Djibouti Code and the Somali Coast Guard Ocean and Coastal Management 52(10): 516-520.

Lehman, J.S. 2018. Marine cultural heritage: frontier or centre? International Social Science Journal. In press

Lehman, J.S. 2013. Relating to the sea: enlivening the ocean as an actor in Eastern Sri Lanka. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31(3): 485-501.

Little, P.C. and G. Akese 2019. Centering the Korle Lagoon: exploring blue political ecologies of E-Waste in Ghana. Journal of Political Ecology 26: 448-465.

Marsac, F., M. Yeh, T. Nishida, J. Dorizo, J. Ariz and E. Chassot. 2009. Impacts of piracy threats in the West Indian Ocean on the activity and yield of the longline and purse seine fisheries. IOTC Scientific Committee Report: IOTC-2009-SC-10. Victoria, Seychelles: Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

Meehan, K.M. 2014. Tool-power: water infrastructure as wellsprings of state power. Geoforum 57: 215-224.

Mills, D.J., L. Westlund, G. de Graaf, Y. Kura, R. Willman and K. Kelleher. 2011. Under-reported and undervalued: small-scale fisheries in the developing world. In Pomeroy, R.S. and N. Andrews (eds.). Small-scale fisheries management: frameworks and approaches for the developing world. Wallingford: CABI. Pp.1-15.

Mudimbe, V.Y. 1994. The idea of Africa. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Ngwawi, J. 2018. Growing the Blue Economy for all SADC states, not only those with coastlines. Namibia Economist, Available Online at all-sadc-states-not-only-those-with-coastlines/

Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

O'Connell, D.P. 1982. The international law of the sea. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ottaway, R., B. Ainsworth, M. Campbell, A. Clwyd, R. Stewart, D. Watts, D. Reindorp, C. McCafferty and S. Healy. 2011. Piracy off the coast of Somalia, Corrected Transcript of Oral Evidence to be published as HC 1318ii, Session 2010-12, House of Commons, 29 June 2011. (Last accessed December 14, 2018)

Our Oceans. 2018. (Last accessed December 14, 2018)

Patil, P., J. Virdin, J., Diez, S.M., J. Roberts and A. Singh. 2016. Toward a Blue Economy: a promise for sustainable growth in the Caribbean. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Pauli, G.A. 2010. The blue economy: 10 years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs. Taos, NM: Paradigm Publications.

Pauly, D. and D. Zeller. 2016. Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining. Nature Communications 7: 10244.

Pauly, D., D. Belhabib, R. Blomeyer, W.W. Cheung, A.M. Cisneros‐Montemayor, D. Copeland, S. Harper, V.W. Lam, Y. Mai, F. Le Manach and H. Österblom. 2014. China's distant‐water fisheries in the 21st century. Fish and Fisheries 15(3): 474-488.

Peluso, N.L., and M.J Watts (eds.). 2001. Violent environments. Ithica: Cornell University Press.

Potgieter, T. 2018. Oceans economy, blue economy, and security: notes on the South African potential and developments. Journal of the Indian Ocean Region 14(1): 49-70.

Prestholdt, J. 2015. Locating the Indian Ocean: notes on the postcolonial reconstitution of space. Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(3): 440-467.

Republic of South Africa. 2015. Operation Phakisa: unlocking the economic potential of South Africa's oceans. Pretoria: Republic of South Africa.

Ribot, J.C. and N.L. Peluso. 2003. A theory of access. Rural Sociology 68(2): 153-181.

SADC. 2018. South African Development Community: Member States, Available online at

Schrijver, N. 2008. Sovereignty over natural resources: balancing rights and duties. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schutter, M. and C.C. Hicks. 2019. Networking the Blue Economy in Seychelles: pioneers, resistance, and the power of influence. Journal of Political Ecology 26: 425-447.

Semple E.C. 1931. The geography of the Mediterranean region: its relation to ancient history. New York: Henry Holt.

Silver, J.J. and L.M. Campbell. 2018. Conservation, development and the blue frontier: the Republic of Seychelles' Debt Restructuring for Marine Conservation and Climate Adaptation Program. International Social Science Journal. In press.

Silver, J.J., N.J. Gray, L.M. Campbell, L.W. Fairbanks and R.L. Gruby. 2015. Blue economy and competing discourses in international oceans governance. The Journal of Environment and Development 24(2): 135-160.

Steinberg, P.E. 2001. The social construction of the ocean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Steinberg, P.E. and K. Peters. 2015. Wet ontologies, fluid spaces: giving depth to volume through oceanic thinking. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 33(2): 247-264.

Sullivan, S. 2013. Banking nature? The spectacular financialisation of environmental conservation. Antipode 45(1): 198-217.

The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies 2010. HCSS Piracy Database. The Hague: The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

Theriault, N. 2017. A forest of dreams: ontological multiplicity and the fantasies of environmental government in the Philippines. Political Geography 58: 114-127.

UNCTAD. 2017. Review of maritime transport. New York: UNCTAD

UNECA 2016. Africa's Blue Economy: a policy handbook. Addis Ababa: UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

UNESCO. 2001. Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, available online at cultural-heritage/2001-convention/official-text/

UNESCO. 2017. Safeguarding underwater cultural heritage for sustainable development in Nairobi. Available online at view/news/safeguarding_underwater_cultural_heritage_for_sustainable_de/

United Nations. 1958. Conventions on fishing and conservation of the living resources of the high seas, A/CONF.13/L.54, New York: United Nations.

United Nations 1958. Conventions on the continental shelf, A/CONF.13/L.55. New York: United Nations.

United Nations 1983. The Law of the Sea: official text of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea with Annexes and Index, A/CONF.62/L.122. New York: United Nations.

United Nations. 2012. The future we want: outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Rio de Janeiro: United Nations.

United Nations General Assembly. 1982. Convention on the Law of the Sea. (Last accessed December 14, 2018)

United States. 1945a. Presidential proclamation no. 2667: concerning the policy of the united states with respect to the natural resources of the sub soil and the sea-bed on the continential shelf (September 28). Federal Register 10: 12303.

United States 1945b. Presidential proclamation no. 2668: concerning the policy of the united states with respect to coastal fisheries in certain areas of the high seas (September 28). Federal Register 10: 12304.

Voyer, M., G. Quirk, A. McIlgorm and K. Azmi. 2018. Shades of blue: what do competing interpretations of the Blue Economy mean for oceans governance? Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning 20(5): 595-616.

Walcott, D. 1987. The sea is history. In D. Walcott (ed.). Collected Poems, 1948-1984. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Pp. 364-367.

WFFP. 2018. Fisher Peoples reject the "Our Ocean Conference" and organize the Ocean's People Conference. (Last accessed December 14, 2018).

WFFP and WFF. 2013. A call for governments to stop supporting the global partnership for oceans (GPO) and Rights-Based Fishing (RBF) Reforms. Governments_GPO_200313.pdf (accessed December 14, 2018).

WFFP and WFF. 2015a. Fisherfolks say no to the Coastal Fisheries Initiative. (accessed December 14, 2018).

WFFP and WFF. 2015b. No to Blue Carbon, yes to food sovereignty and climate justice. (accessed December 14, 2018).

Winder, G.M. and R. Le Heron. 2017. Assembling a Blue Economy moment? Geographic engagement with globalizing biological-economic relations in multi-use marine environments. Dialogues in Human Geography 7(1): 3-26.