Swapping Pirates for Commerce

An African Maritime Growth Initiative

On September 22, in a vivid display of the spreading dangers in African waters, pirates armed with Kalashnikov rifles attempted to seize an oil platform off the coast of Nigeria. Although they failed, the pirates kidnapped three Frenchmen and a Thai mariner. It was at least the 11th attempted act of piracy in Nigerian waters this year.

Meanwhile, on the same day in New York City, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the UN Millennium Summit and signed a Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the first of its kind. Through his new policy, Obama intends to “foster the next generation of emerging markets by enhancing our focus on broad-based economic growth and democratic governance.”

Although the act of piracy and Obama’s speech occurred half a world apart, the two events were deeply interconnected. The African maritime sector, ridden with piracy on its eastern and western seaboards, plays a largely unheralded but critical role in the attempt of African states to emerge onto the global market. A new U.S. emphasis on African maritime development -- dedicated not only to rooting out piracy and preventing transport of narcotics and weapons but also renovating ports, streamlining maritime bureaucracies, and investing in businesses and job creation -- could serve as a bold effort to implement the president’s development strategy. To that end, and to support ongoing military and diplomatic efforts to counter piracy and other crimes at sea, the administration should develop a signature program geared toward growing (and revolutionizing) Africa’s maritime sector.

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