Theft of the fish belonging to coastal fishing communities
In South Africa, as in many other African countries, the rights of traditional, small scale fishers are not yet recognised and fishing communities have been marginalised by policies that favour the large, industrial fishing sector who have enjoyed significantly greater political influence. If we look north across the continent, the small scale fishing communities face the added challenge of overexploitation of fishery resources by foreign fishing fleets operating illegally or under questionable access agreements. Despite these challenges, up until now there has been very little collaboration between the organisations that represent small scale fishing communities on the continent.
We must work in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the continent
Here at home Coastal Links has had tremendous success in winning back the rights of the small scale fishers by organising and mobilising fishing communities to make themselves heard. The political power of speaking in a cohesive collective voice is undeniable and it is this approach, the approach of Coastal Links, that Masifundise feels should be shared with our African neighbours to their benefit. In turn, there is an opportunity for Masifundise and Coastal Links to also learn what other organisations from around the continent are doing, how they are facing up to both common and unique challenges faced by them and their community.
Our plan of action – mobilise and organise
With this in mind Masifundise took a strategic decision to develop a Pan-African Programme aimed at strengthening the work being done by community-based organisations to organise and mobilise fishing communities across Africa. The two main goals for the programme are 1) to facilitate dialogue and knowledge sharing among African small-scale fisher organisations via networking; and 2) to support African partner organisations in their fight to mobilise and organise small-scale fishing communities. Ultimately, this will lead to the empowerment of African small scale fishing communities so that they can participate in policy making and fight for their political, social and economic rights – in the same way that Coastal Links has done here in South Africa.
As a key first step Masifundise organised a Pan African workshop on small-scale fisheries, hosted in Durban at the end of 2011. The purpose of the workshop was for partner organisations to share information and experiences of what is happening in the fishing communities in their region and what challenges they face. Secondly, the workshop provided an opportunity for us to begin to conceptualise how the programme might best ensure the ongoing sharing of information, facilitate increased mobilisation of fishing communities and develop common positions on issues relating to fisheries governance so as to influence decision-making taking place at a regional and continental level.
There were two important outcomes from the workshop. Firstly, it was agreed that “conversations” within this informal network should continue on the themes of “Gender in fisheries”, “Illegal fishing and foreign access agreements” and “Community mobilisation and political representation”. These conversations were to take place via email, telephone calls, social media and newsletters and three theme coordinators were appointed from amongst the partner organisations. Secondly, it was agreed that a follow-up workshop is necessary, with a greater number of participants (only 7 organisations were represented at this initial meeting), to further conceptualise the programme and its activities. It also emerged from the discussions that there is a great need for capacity building within fisher organisations specifically on this issue of organising and mobilising communities.
From Somalia to Mauritania and Uganda to Malawi, the challenges facing the more than 10 million small scale fishers in Africa are significant. However, they are not insurmountable. Let’s work together in solidarity. Let’s learn from each other. And let’s turn the tide on policies and practises in Africa that threaten our livelihood as fisher peoples.