A key principle of the USAID-funded West Africa Biodiversity Conservation (WA BiCC) Programme is to work in partnership with regional partner institutions to strengthen and enhance their capacity. This is to most effectively address those environmental issues that underpin their core mandates. The support provided through these partnerships is mutual, as it also enhances WA BiCC’s efforts to achieve its goal of improving conservation and a climate resilient, low-emissions growth in West Africa. Most importantly the partnerships add value to each other’s efforts and contribute to broader regional and global objectives as defined in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and other Multilateral Environmental Agreements relate to climate change, biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest and coastal resource management.
One of WA BiCC’s core regional partners is the Abidjan Convention, whose mandate is to foster regional cooperation for the sustainable protection, management and development of the marine and coastal environment of the Atlantic Coast, spanning from North Africa to Southern Africa. The Convention is a comprehensive umbrella agreement for the protection and management of the marine and coastal area and aims to address pollution from ships, dumping, land-based sources, exploration and exploitation of the seabed, and pollution from or through the atmosphere. By any measure, there have been significant accomplishments achieved since the engagement between the Abidjan Convention and WA BiCC began in 2015, most notably the development of two significant Protocols dealing with the sustainable management of mangroves and integrated coastal zone management. WA BiCC has also engaged a full-time Advisor to work with the Convention to assist implement mutually agreed activities, strategies and plans.
To better understand the impact of the ongoing partnership and capacity building efforts with the Convention, WA BiCC sat down with the Executive Secretary of the Abidjan Convention Secretariat, Mr. Abou Bamba, for a conversation.
The Abidjan Convention has become a key global player in ocean governance and marine and coastal biodiversity conservation. How has your partnership with the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) Programme influenced this achievement?
The partnership between the Abidjan Convention and WA BiCC has been very instrumental in helping us fulfil our core mission. This support has led to a strengthening of our collaboration with organisations who share similar mandates as us: the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) the Mano River Union, and the World Bank West Africa Coastal Areas Management (WACA) Programme. Further, this partnership has facilitated the implementation of several activities and helped put in place essential tools, such as a regional policy on integrated ocean management and additional protocols on Integrated Coastal Zone Management and the Sustainable Management of Mangrove Ecosystems, thereby strengthening our role as a major player and making us the go-to experts on ocean governance, fisheries management and fisheries issues, risks assessment and sustainable coastal development.
One key focus of the partnership is the development of protocols. What has been accomplished in terms of protocols, and what are the next steps?
The management of our ecosystems is one of the essential missions of the Abidjan Convention because of the important role they play in nature and the environment such as protecting against the harsh effects of climate change and providing livelihood and economic opportunities. This critical role necessitated the development – with the support of WA BiCC – of two additional protocols, on (i) Sustainable Management of Mangroves Ecosystems and (ii) Integrated Coastal Zone Management. These protocols represent effective tools which will enable the Parties to the Convention, or those Atlantic Coastal States that have ratified and are bound to its objectives, to better value, plan, and manage their rich coastal zones and mangrove ecosystems for the well-being of their populations. It is important to note that during the last Conference of the Parties to the Abidjan Convention (COP 12), held in Abidjan in 2017, the ratification of the protocols was at the centre of debates and were agreed by the Parties, who see them as essential additional tools to use in advancing sustainable ocean and coastal policies and practices. As a final policy formulation stage, we are currently planning a ministerial meeting, which will facilitate the final ratification of the two protocols and pave way for implementation.
You worked with WA BiCC to establish the Network of Parliamentarians. Why is this network important?
The role of lawmakers in conservation, although extremely crucial, is often overlooked. WA BiCC and the Abidjan Convention believe that parliamentarians should be involved in the conservation process in order to sensitize legislators toward taking full measures, define laws and policies, and push for the application of the laws. We have made significant progress so far and we are confident that parliamentarians will be key elements in the ratification, implementation and integration of the instruments of the Convention into national laws – including the two additional protocols. With the assistance of WA BiCC, we have been able to train and sensitize parliamentarians across the West African coastal landscape.
WA BiCC worked with the Convention on an Institutional Strengthening Plan. Can you share more on this plan and its impact?
To enhance efficiency in the implementation of our mandate and mission, there was a need to upgrade our internal capacities and establish an Institutional Strengthening Plan (ISP) with the assistance of WA BiCC. We jointly developed this Plan at the early stage of our partnership and produced a roadmap as part of a revitalisation process that the Convention had already initiated. With this very unique approach, we agreed to (i) set up a monitoring and evaluation system to measure the real impact of our activities and better plan them and (ii) improve the quality of our interventions using communications to reach out to people. This goes along with the development of a Resource Centre to collect, gather, centralise, and disseminate existing data and georeferenced databases in the 22 countries of the Abidjan Convention. In 2017, we met with a team from IBM (an US-based IT Company) in Dakar, Senegal to discuss and present a draft Plan on the Abidjan Convention Resource Centre Project. The resource centre, when created will provide information on marine and coastal issues. The trip to Senegal was also to see similar work in Senegal with the National Environmental Information System (SIENA), to understand the functioning and learn from their experience.
You have also revamped and ramped up your communications activities. How do you see that as helping you achieve your goals?
Communication is an essential tool for the achievement of efficient results of any project. This is even more relevant when it comes to an activity that directly impacts the environment and the lives of communities. Without the efficient implementation of a good communication strategy, the impact of interventions and activities may significantly be reduced. That is why we are favouring a well-targeted communication strategy to positively impact people and seek behavioural change for the preservation and conservation of marine biodiversity in the Convention’s focal area. A well-conceived and properly implemented communication strategy makes room for information sharing and can lead not only to the sensitization of legislators and decision-makers but also to the promotion of adequate policies and best practices. Fortunately, this communication plan has been developed and is being implemented in close collaboration with WA BiCC.
You mentioned the development of a Resource Centre which will disseminate resources that are not currently available. What motivated this decision?
The Convention has existed and been active for 37 years and has, over this period, accumulated invaluable resources that we wish to make available to experts, researchers, journalists, policymakers, and the public. Our objective is to make this Resource Centre a global reference point where all materials and knowledge related to the marine and coastal biodiversity will be available. The availability of quality scientific data is fundamental to help researchers, decision makers, and scientists better understand issues related to the marine and coastal ecosystems for adequate ocean policies in the region. It is our duty to remain a major player in the provision of scientific information in our marine and coastal areas.
Therefore, we needed to create a platform where we can make available, documentation which we have gathered or developed since our inception. The work done with WA BiCC through the support of IBM was a tremendous help in evaluating the importance and opportunities for the Resource Centre to enable easy access to information by countries of the Abidjan Convention.
How do you envision the future of your partnership with WA BiCC?
The main activities we are jointly planning with WA BiCC are related to the final adoption and domestication of the Protocols. It has been a long process, but we are now ready to present the Protocols, as well as related Action Plans to the Parties of the Convention to initiate their ratification and domestication processes at the national level. WA BiCC along with other partners will support us through this process and organise this ministerial meeting during which the various partners of the Convention will review the actions plans and pledge resources to support their implementation.
Another noteworthy initiative started with WA BiCC is the establishment of the Abidjan Aquatic Wildlife Partnership to combat the human consumption of what we call the “Aquatic Endangered, Threatened or Protected” (Aquatic ETP) species. Aquatic ETP species include marine mammals (such as the manatee), sea turtles, cetaceans, reptiles (such as crocodiles), seabirds, and sharks, among others. These species are usually left out of international discussions as efforts tend to focus on terrestrial wildlife. We recently worked with the members of this partnership, which includes government bodies, international organisations and civil society organisations to establish a joint action plan to combat the trade, direct consumption, illegal hunting and other uses of these marine species, most of which are illegal under national and international law. We are now looking forward to its adoption during the next Conference of the Parties to the Abidjan Convention, and its implementation, with the assistance of WA BiCC and other partners.
In truth, the WA BiCC Programme came at the perfect time and has been really pivotal in pushing the Convention to maximise our resources and capacities. The region and conservation work need more projects like WA BiCC which, at its most basic level, focuses on collaboration and complementing existing efforts rather than starting from scratch or operating in isolation. We look forward to a new year of reaching new heights with our esteemed partner.