NAI putting Indian Ocean in focus
The African island states in the Indian Ocean have become of great economic and military-strategic importance to the world powers. How does this affect the sovereignty of these small island states? Can the African Union (AU) act as a counterweight?
The region consists of a disparate group of islands: the independent nations Madagascar, Mauritius, The Seychelles and Comoros, the French departments Mayotte and Reunion, as well as the semi-autonomous Zanzibar outside the coast of Tanzania.
The region has in the past been neglected within the Africa-research in the Nordic countries. NAI researcher Tor Sellström, with long experience from working in the region, is now leading an ambitious and long-term venture to strengthen the Institute’s research about the Indian Ocean. The goal is to establish a high quality research program in collaboration with local universities and organizations. For this purpose Tor Sellström will travel across the region to establish contacts throughout the month of October.
– Mainly we would like to look deeper into the questions of sovereignty and the role of the AU. The African region of the Indian Ocean unfortunately is an illustration of the inequalities in world that we live in. Here you find examples of flagrant violations of the sovereignty of independent countries and the AU is quite ineffectual against the military world powers, says Tor Sellström who belongs to the research cluster “Conflict, Security and Democratic Transformation” at NAI. His research is currently dedicated to a project entitled “African Island States in Peace and Conflict: Rising Tides in the Indian Ocean”.
The increasing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean is driven by the rapid economic development in China and India. This is where their major trade routes for import of oil and export of industrial products are located. Meanwhile the naval fleets of the world powers are active in the area to make strategic claims. The widely reported piracy in the region is, in other words, not the only reason for their military presence. Several countries also have important military bases in the Indian Ocean, such as the US’ Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago and the French marine bases in Mayotte and Reunion. It should be noted that Mauritius have claims on Chagos and the Comoros have claims on Mayotte, which France unilaterally proclaimed a French department in 2011.