The Blue Economy: Africa’s Route to Sustainable Development

Author: Andrés Larios, Graphics: Acasia Giannakouros

The BRB Bottomline:

As Africa looks for ways to establish itself as a key player in international trade, a collective “blue economy” may be a permanent solution for long-term economic development. Does Africa have what it takes to implement this new economic framework?

“Blue economies,” economies that use sustainable ocean resources as a springboard for development, offer an innovative path for the economic growth of developing nations and island economies. African countries have eyed this new framework as a way to help establish themselves as key players in international trade and also add unique value to existing global supply chains.

A Blue Beginning

Whenever the continent of “Africa” is brought up, a couple of things may come to mind: a vast landscape stretching for miles without water, countries characterized by low economic activity, and little potential for leadership on a global scale. These misconceptions could not be further from the truth. In the media, Africa is often portrayed as a land of instability—yet in actuality, the continent is one that is brimming with progress and possibility. 

Africa’s lethargic economic growth rate has prompted both domestic leaders and international organizations to look into its pain points. Factors such as political corruption, poor government planning, and lingering ethno-political problems from the Scramble for Africa and greater Western colonization have historically weakened the development of many countries. 

In trying to reverse this trend, African policymakers plan to use a blue economy framework through the continuous use of ocean resources to advance the sustainable development of their economies. A blue economy spurs the development of domestic industries and increases the overall quality of life by leveraging the importance of oceans via active investment in ocean-based systems (Figure 1).

Industries such as tourism, fisheries, and maritime transport would all benefit from blue economies. Under a blue economy, key industry growth rates would theoretically skyrocket, promoting international trade via imports and exports—and thus serve as a catalyst for less economically developed nations to grow.

Why Africa?

A blue economy blueprint allows Africa to take destiny into its own hands, advancing the continent and forging both stronger intra-African and international trade. While Africa does still need to leap past significant hurdles, six out of ten fastest growing economies are African, and the continent’s average GDP grows by 4–6% a year, compared with the pre-COVID global average of roughly 3%. These statistics show promise; however, the benefits of this growth are heavily contingent upon whether or not institutions and industries are legitimized. A continental blue economy could help in this effort by putting a stop to illegal fishing, logging, piracy, and contraband, while also integrating the continent’s nations into a unified, strategic partnership and thereby promoting long-run cooperation with each other.  

From an international perspective, Africa’s development could create incredible strides for the global economy. Seeing as 46% of Africans are living in extreme poverty, a blue economy could begin the process for a dominant middle class. Furthermore, by formalizing already existing institutions and markets and incentivizing law-abiding forms of income with benefits such as pensions, social security, and health care, a blue economy would change the labor make-up of the continent dramatically.

Africa has over 16,300 miles of coastline, more than 63,000 miles of catchment areas, and more than 160 lakes larger than 16 square miles. With this abundance of water and the resources it entails, as well as a population of over 1 billion people, Africa just needs the physical capital and infrastructure to make this plan a reality.

Moving Forward

Just like Africa is at a crossroads where it must choose how to move forward with regard to its economic development, so is the greater domain of logistics and supply chains. After witnessing multiple major supply chain crises in the past few years caused by COVID-19, the Suez Canal blockage, and armed conflict in Ukraine, the world is in desperate need of a mediating entity that can serve as an international trade hub; Africa can fill that role. 

While blue economy frameworks have the potential to accelerate Africa’s development, it is imperative that in adopting new policies and frameworks, social and environmental factors are given proper attention. Blue economies tend to open themselves up to sustainable innovation, especially in the energy and food sectors. With the rise of marine energy and aquaculture to protect endangered species as well as the greater environment, Africa has the potential to spearhead these movements, setting an example for the rest of the world. In becoming a global leader in growth industries, Africa’s long-term economic potential—if fully realized via a blue economy—will be revolutionary during this time of rampant instability. Should the blue economy framework be used, a rise in African employment and unprecedented profits in the private sector will lead to continuous sustained development.


With foreign investment potentially coming in with vested interest and ulterior political motives, it is up to African nations and leaders to stand together and stand up for their continental interests. With help from international organizations, African nations should be able to carve out an outline for a blue economy plan and use that platform to attract more investment from abroad, both from private and public entities. While the blue economy serves as the most prospective long-run solution for the sustainable development of Africa, the execution of this plan must stress environmental consciousness, income equality, and, most importantly, African free-will.


Figure 1: The social, economic, and environmental benefits of a blue economy.

Figure 2: World’s fastest growing economies (2001-2010, 2011-2015).

Figure 3: Potential for a blue economy in Africa.

Take-Home Points

  • “Blue economies” are economies that use sustainable ocean resources as a springboard for development and offer an innovative path for the economic growth of developing nations and island economies. 
  • Africa, in desperate need of an economic boost, plans to use a blue economy framework.
  • Blue economies would advance African industries, improving the continent’s economies and job markets while also discouraging work in illegal industries.
  • This framework can establish a precedent of African independence in economic affairs, as nations seek to create trade relations around the world on their terms.


  1. This is a brand new perspective on Africa’s potential development. In the past, I’ve only heard about green economy.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great insight into the need for international cooperation to achieve sustainable goals and work towards a blue economy.

  3. A very engaging read that makes you think about the long term effects of foreign investment. First time learning about blue economies.

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