The Indian Ocean Commission (COI), recently, granted observer status to India.
The COI offers a good platform for India to expand its presence in the Western Indian Ocean.
Many countries involved with COI are potential partners in India’s SAGAR doctrine.
What is the Indian Ocean Commission (COI)?
The Indian Ocean Commission (French: Commission de l’Océan Indien, COI) is an intergovernmental organization that links five African Indian Ocean nations: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (an overseas region of France), and Seychelles.
Created by the Port Louis Declaration in 1982, the IOC was institutionalized in Seychelles in 1984 by the General Cooperation Agreement, better known as the “Victoria Agreement“.
COI’s principal mission is to strengthen the ties of friendship between the countries and to be a platform of solidarity for the entire population of the African Indian Ocean region.
COI’s mission also includes development, through projects related to sustainability for the region, aimed at protecting the region, improving the living conditions of the populations, and preserving the various natural resources that the countries depend on.
It has China, Malta, European Union, International Organization of La Francophonie(OIF), India, Japan, and the United Nations as observers.
Significance of COI
- COI is the only regional organization in Africa composed exclusively of islands.
- It defends the interests of its member states on the continental and international arena.
- It has projects covering a wide range of sectors like preservation of ecosystems, sustainable management of natural resources, maritime security, entrepreneurship, public health, renewable energies, and culture.
- This experience and expertise make the COI a key player for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
- The COI also implements projects which go beyond the geographic framework of its member states to cover the countries of eastern and southern Africa and the island countries of the western front of the continent.
- The anti-piracy unit of the Indian Ocean Commission launched many initiatives for maritime security in Africa under the MASE program. Under this program, COI established a mechanism for surveillance and control of the Western Indian Ocean with two regional centres.
- The COI has funded several regional and national conservation and alternative livelihood projects through ReCoMAP, Regional Programme for the Sustainable Management of the Coastal Zones of the Countries of the Indian Ocean (PROGECO in French).
Benefits for India with Observer status
- Presence in Western Indian Ocean
- India will get an official foothold in a premier regional institution in the western Indian Ocean.
- It will create opportunities for more engagement with islands in this part of the Indian Ocean.
- Presence in a strategic location which connects Eastern Africa to the Indian Ocean.
- Influence over the use of Mozambique Channel
- Part of the Indian Ocean located between the African countries of Madagascar and Mozambique.
- Considered as a choke-point in the Indian Ocean.
- The channel is likely to regain its relevance if the hostilities surrounding the Strait of Hormuz escalate in the future.
- Geo-political reasons
- India’s pivot to Africa is a geopolitical and strategic necessity considering China’s influence in the region. The observer status will help India to increase influence in the Western Indian Ocean.
- As observer India can play a crucial role in combating piracy emanating from the East African coast.
- France is an important partner in the COI. India as an observer will have the opportunity to boost cooperation with France and its overseas regions.
- SAGAR Policy:
- It will help to extend India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) policy in the region.
- SAGAR aims for enhancement of capacities to safeguard territories, economic and security cooperation in the littoral nations, co-operation to deal with natural disasters and maritime threats like piracy and terrorism.
How can India contribute as an Observer?
- India can help in the capacity building of the members of COI in the following areas:
- Joint action with the India Navy for anti-piracy operations.
- Patrolling the coastal areas.
- Anti-terrorism training.
- Safeguarding their Exclusive Economic Zones.
- Providing technical expertise in maritime monitoring & surveillance.
- Realize the potential of the COI member-countries in the sector of the blue economy.
- Help the countries to tap the potential of oceans and marine areas for economic development.
- Use the expertise of state-owned enterprises such as ONGC to identify and develop natural gas resources.
- Help the countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals that include a Goal on Oceans and resource management.
- Help in adapting to Climate Change
- Develop regional and sub-regional climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
- Build the resilience of people dependent on the oceans for livelihoods.
- Extending India’s satellite services for the benefit of the members covering areas like
- Satellite aided search and rescue
- Navigation requirements
- Training and development communications
India can genuinely contribute as an observer to COI without being a ‘big brother’.
The COI offers a good platform for India to expand its presence in the Western Indian Ocean. Many countries involved with COI are potential partners in India’s SAGAR doctrine.
Both India and COI are to gain from this relationship.