The Blue Economy Conference that ended last Wednesday (November 28,2018) had mixed. While most of these were positive, some lingering questions remained. First there was the glaring poor Inter-ministerial coordination which explained the peculiar absence of some primary May be these ministries did not know their role in the conference, but then failure to know occasionally leads to national embarrassment.
While the conference raised Kenya’s global profile, internal wrangling meant sidelining such implementing ministries as environment, tourism, and water.
It indicated lack of government ability to coordinate or explain itself. In the end, the sidelined ministries seemed like blue economy orphans, incapable of surviving brutal bureaucratic warfare.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs got all the credit for the conference. The country received more than its value in hosting the conference, both financially and in terms of international politics.
Officially, the conference cost roughly Sh800 million, most of this from donors such as Japan and Canada. In order to “co-host”, Japan and Canada gave Sh600 million.
Other countries such as Britain, Norway, China, South Africa and Portugal donated millions of shillings to ensure the success of the meeting.
The big financial donations, however, were not the big story. The big story was in the billions of shillings that roughly 11,000 foreign participants pumped into the Nairobi economy within four days.
These were mostly high end spenders, paying roughly US$ 300 (Sh30,000) per night in accommodation alone.
There were other beneficiaries of the conference. Taxi drivers ensured that the visitors reached their destinations, entertainers were on hand to provide a relaxing environment while traders selling food and drinks did good business.
The tourism industry also benefited as some of the delegates visited our national parks and game reserves. While Kenyans poked fun at Nairobi’s Governor Mike Sonko accent during his speech, Mombasa’s Governor Hassan Joho showed he knew how to exploit the blue economy opportunity by hosting a mini-blue economy conference of his own.
Although the financial spill over of the conference is yet to be felt, it was no doubt a good investment for Kenya. The financial benefits, however, pale when compared to the geopolitical benefits of positioning Kenya as a global pace setter.
Given that none of the super powers sent a head of state or government, it looked like an African blue economy summit where African countries stated what they were doing to protect and sustain fish and under water resources.
Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni declared that he initially had little interest in the blue economy conference because it sounded like one of the many Euro-inspired projects until he realised that it was about water resources.
President Museveni joked that although he does not eat fish, he had a few suggestions on how to protect them in Lake Victoria, including regulating fishing operations.
President Uhuru Kenyatta called on countries participating in the inaugural conference to address the challenge of plastic pollution in water bodies.
He said Kenya was seeking to reduce illegal fishing to raise returns among fishing communities. Estimates now show that Kenya loses close to 10 billion shillings to illegal fishing.
It was not just the Africans who commended Kenya’s initiative in hosting the blue economy. Some continental super powers that sent delegations did too. Many held side conferences where they explained their contribution to the blue economy.
One Swedish expert warned that with the global population growing rapidly and the land already strained, it was time to protect oceans.
Incidentally, this was during a side conference hosted by China, which leads the world in reclaiming oceans for artificial islands and cities, posing a threat to marine eco-systems.
Ultimately, the conference, the first of its kind in the world, helped Kenya to claim its niche in the world of diplomacy and to boost its role as global geopolitical player.
It forced global rethinking about managing sea wealth; it also highlighted the growing need to end the growing tension between land and sea.
Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU-Africa