Community members on Patrol. Photo Credit: Majoreni BMU.

The Role of Coastal Kenya Communities in Maritime Security

The maritime zone includes the internal waters and from the baseline, the territorial sea (12 nm), the contiguous zone (24 nm), the EEZ (200 nm), high seas and deep ocean floor. The government of Kenya has exclusive rights to exploit resources up to the EEZ. However, the EEZ is governed by the international law (UNCLOS) while the territorial sea, inland waters and to some extent the contiguous zone is under national laws.

Institutional arrangements

Contrary to land, the sea is large (half the size of national landmass), porous and complex. Crimes in the sea include trafficking (humans and illicit goods), IUU, armed robbery, terrorism and pollution. Tackling these crimes requires a multi-agency approach.

On November 19th, 2018, the President of Kenya and the commander-in-chief of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), His Excellency Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, officially launched the Kenya Coast Guards Service (KCGS), a multi-agency unit. In his speech, he noted that Kenya was losing over Kes. 10 billion (about USD 100 million) from illegal economic activities on Kenya’s territorial waters. The unit is therefore tasked with the mandate of ensuring that such crimes are eliminated in order to save the country from such loses, guided by the Kenya Coast Guard Service Act No. 11 of 2018.

The KCGS comprises the Marine Police, Kenya Navy, Kenya Fisheries Service and other agencies involved in security matters in Kenya. However, mechanisms of engaging the Beach Management Units (BMUs) are conspicuously missing. BMUs are community-based institutions with the mandate of fisheries co-management, spread across the coastal strip and every beach including the Islands.

BMUs as stewards of the sea

Although the BMUs are limited in scope, power and instruments (By-laws), they are important in maritime security since their daily activities revolve around the sea (up to 5 km, about 2.7 nm). However, this limitation does not limit them from conducting their own patrols as prescribed in the BMU regulations 2007 (under review). They could possibly possess crucial information beyond the knowledge of enforcement agencies, including the use of illegal and destructive gears, illicit trade and drug trafficking since they are always present in the waters. BMUs have been effective in preventing and deterring illegal and destructive fishing within their fishing areas. For instance, in the transboundary Shimoni-Vanga seascape, after training of 80 community members in Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS), the seven BMUs within the seascape have been conducting regular patrols despite facing many challenges. This has resulted in reduction of fishing crimes and increase in compliance.

Community policing

The Kenya Police Service has embraced the idea of community policing[ii]. According to the Service, community policing approach recognises the independence and shared responsibility of the Police and the Community in ensuring a safe and secure environment for all citizens. This approach is widespread in high-risk security zones in Kenya, but curiously missing in the sea. Extending this approach to the sea could be equally beneficial to national security.


The extensive maritime zone of Kenya, other than providing national resources, forms an important gateway to Kenya and Eastern Africa. This comes with many security and safety challenges and there is no doubt a multi-agency approach is required. Coastal communities, due to their regular interaction with maritime zones have a role to play in maritime security. Having BMUs in the play, either as part of multi-agency team or through community policing is important in enhancing not only national and regional security but also that of their own.



Author: Nyaga Kanyange