A pact for the region’s future

Message from Prof. Vêlayoudom Marimoutou, IOC Secretary General

(c) JD Maxwell Marie

It is a real honour to become the 9th Secretary General of the Indian Ocean Commission. It is an honour that I owe to my country, France, which nominated me and to the members of the Council of Ministers who nominated me to succeed my esteemed predecessor, Mr Hamada Madi, at the 34th Council of Ministers of the IOC on 6 March 2020 in the Seychelles.

This is a great honour and a great and noble responsibility.

Our islands in the South West Indian Ocean that make up the IOC are the sentinel islands of East Africa. They emerge from the waves at the edge of the continent and thus form territories at the interface of the maritime routes from Africa to Asia. The women and men of these islands have created the social and economic conditions that have led to the emergence of a vast system of trans-oceanic exchanges that continue today and that we must rediscover in a renewed, sometimes disrupted, often turbulent globalized structure.

Writing new chapters of a common history

Beyond geography, we share a common history. And we have new chapters to write together, those of Indianocean and, beyond that, those of the Indo-Pacific, as shown by the new interest of Asian countries in the area. To write these new chapters, to build our common future, we need to spend more time together to identify in our differences what brings us together, to bring out collective solutions to common challenges.

The IOC, an expression of a unique identity and a common future

The IOC offers us the opportunity to signify ourselves to the world in all our originality. This representation that we have of ourselves and of ourselves in the world must enable us to assume a common destiny and to fully assume that we have a region to build.

Our space contains vital fish and energy reserves for our region and beyond that, it contains treasures of biodiversity. There is an agenda to be built, an agenda that is necessarily collaborative, cooperative, based on a strategy of genuine friendship, solidarity and openness, between our islands, and also with all the countries in the region.

The IOC is strongly committed to building solidarity and sustainable development in this vast area of Indian Ocean area, which in many respects overlaps with the areas of Eastern and Southern Africa. My predecessors laid the foundations of a solid IOC, with a renewed and clearly defined architecture, with quality human resources, accompanied by financial resources from Member States and highly proactive partners. We still need to move the IOC forward, for as Heraclitus said, “a river is never the same river”.

Security, climate and biodiversity, economy

I have therefore chosen to place my mandate under the sign of a triple set of challenges:

  • Firstly, security, in line with the actions of my predecessor and the priority of our Member States:

Indianocean must be a space of freedom and sovereignty respecting each other, and we must collectively ensure its security so that everyone can “have the freedom of sovereignty” and that no hegemony takes hold in the region. It is a common agenda with an oceanic vision for building that freedom. It is an agenda of maritime surveillance and protection of our marine areas. I hope that together with the Member States, the observer members, the regional organisations and the development partners, we will deepen the integration agenda around maritime security.

  • Then there is the imperative of fighting global warming and protecting biodiversity.

This is not the smallest subject. The climate agenda is absolutely decisive for the future of our islands. It is about resilience, about resistance. It is simply about life. There is a framework for international cooperation, we need to mobilise funding and build common strategies with all IOC partners. The biodiversity agenda is a strategic agenda for the whole region. One of the region’s assets is its biodiversity capital. It is not an artificial capital, it is a natural capital. It must be fully exploited so that there is a return on the territories and for the populations.

  • Finally, the third issue is the economy.

Connectivity and both physical and digital infrastructure. Connectivity is essential because it opens up the possibilities: the possibilities of exchange and wonder, of trade and encounter, of training and employment. The infrastructure needs in the region are colossal. In an area made up of island countries, the question of network connectivity and its transport networks is central, both economically and politically. The challenge is to build, with our partners, quality transport and communication infrastructures that guarantee the free movement of people, information and goods, that are economically sustainable and that respect the sovereignty of the States in terms of debt. Connectivity is the first pillar of the economic strategy to be developed for the region.

This triple priority should enable the IOC to respond to the challenges of sustainable development in the region. Of course, this prioritisation cannot ignore the cross-cutting challenges that must create the conditions for the emergence of sustainable cities, or rather sustainable islands: green energy, agroecology, education and training, health, equality, empowerment of women and youth and, at the beginning of everything, peace and stability.

Reconciling economy and ecology

The IOC has a unique voice in this region of the world, on an African scale. It carries an island voice, determined to reconcile the ecological and economic agendas. This makes it a fully political organisation, in the etymological sense.

With the IOC, we must seal a pact for the future with women and men who are bearers of a strong identity open to the world, women and men concerned about their future and capable of reconciling continents. We must have this ambition for our youth, for the generations to come. This is a political ambition for the IOC. It is a strategic axis. It is a daily responsibility against risks, against relegation. In other words, for our development.