By Wanjohi Kabukuru
“The success of the Blue Economy will depend on unleashing a new generation of entrepreneurs who can match the impact of the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the legendary Silicon Valley. Can we anticipate individuals who can do the same for the Blue Economy, creating a global transformation in our use of the sea? We can learn much from the example of the Information Age pioneers. Their success was not a result of top-down planning. Instead, young people found their way to a particular locality, attracted by an absence of inhibiting rules and regulations, by the inspiration of being with other like-minded individuals and by the proximity of the world-class Stanford University. They made good use of vacant garages and front-rooms, dressed casually and played loud music. Their genius was not only to come up with ground-breaking ideas but to turn these into business opportunities. It was a heady mix but surely we could imagine comparable clusters of bright young people at different points around our oceans,” - President James Michel, Seychelles Third President
President James Michel expounding on his Blue Economy legacy at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) of the National University of Singapore [Image: SJ-JMF]
When he made the Blue Economy as the main anchor of his administration, Seychelles third President James Michel had turned his government’s service delivery commitment and manifesto into a life-long calling.
Indeed the Blue Economy has stayed with him even after he has retired.
Many anticipated that President Michel would quietly amble into retirement after he stepped down from office late last year.
But the man credited in promoting the “Blue Economy” to the world is now a much-sought-after lecture circuit speaker gracing global podiums in university lecture halls and think tanks panels expounding on his economic concept.
The Blue Economy is an intellectually inclined determination articulating the interests of small island nations and coastal states in the quest of harnessing massive economic opportunities from the ocean. These include maritime transport, tourism, environmental conservation, fisheries, renewable energies, infrastructure development, maritime security, deep sea mining together with oil and gas to mention but just a cluster that forms the backbone of the Blue Economy.
It is these inter-linkages of critical oceanic related economic activities that have granted President Michel a rare opportunity even in his retirement.
In late November 2016 a month after he stepped down President Michel addressed a high-level meeting of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) of the National University of Singapore. The theme was “Maritime Governance in South Asia: The Potential for Trade, Security and Sustainable Development.”
The high-level meeting discussed the various geopolitical tensions in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions, maritime governance in South Asia, the rise of new Asian powers and economic development.
President James Michel flanked by students drawn from the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) of the National University of Singapore who had turned up to listen to his Blue Economy lecture [Image: SJ-JMF]
In his presentation at ISAS President Michel spoke about the Blue Economy not simply as way of about making greater use of the sea but about making better use of it too by recognising the importance of sustainability and the need for invention.
“We should look not simply at the way the sea has been used in the past and replicate that. Of course, we must listen to fishermen and boat-builders, divers and ship’s captains, who have a deep understanding of the sea and what it can offer.” President Michel says. “But we must also invite some of the world’s best minds to turn their attention to the oceans, breaking new frontiers of knowledge and application,”
President Michel is acknowledged in Africa for his role in lobbying the continent to embrace the Blue Economy and convincing the African Union (AU) to entrench the “Blue Economy” in the continental body’s 50-year development plan also known as “Agenda2063”. Interesting enough President Michel has taken his message further to the world by advocating for sustainable use of oceans. This effort paid off when the world leaders adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and oceans were incorporated as SDG14.
The Blue Economy anchored on sustainable and smart usage of oceans remains a key legacy of President Michel. This is indeed not a surprise considering that some three months before he stepped down he had actually penned a seminal book “Rethinking the Oceans: Towards the Blue Economy” now used as a key reference on the Blue Economy.
President Michel highlighted the potential economic rewards for the nations that chose to develop the Blue Economy, but also noted the constraints that remain such as the diminishing yields of the main fisheries, which he said can be reversed if catches are carefully managed to allow for new stock to flourish.
“One has only to stand on the shore to feel the power of the waves and to sense the hidden currents, all of which will surely one day be converted to an inexhaustible supply of renewable energy for use on land; and beneath the surface of the sea is a diversity of plant life and living organisms that are already being harvested for use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and health foods,” President Michel says.
During the course of the high-level meeting, President Michel was joined in a panel discussion on ‘Ocean States and Economics’ by Professor Bob Carr, former Australian Senator and Foreign Minister as well as Professor Gopinath Pillai, Chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies (Singapore) and Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, and Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (India), Professor SD. Muni.