Djibouti Code of Conduct – Significance and Way Ahead

India recently joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct as an Observer, after a high-level meeting held virtually on August 26 this year. This has furthered India’s outreach at the Indian Ocean Region. This opportunity must be utilised, especially amid the current times of crisis to provide various assistances apart from maritime security to the littorals in the Western Indian Ocean Region, which holds global strategic significance.

Djibouti Code of Conduct

What is the Djibouti Code of Conduct?

  • The Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden or the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCOC) is a grouping set up with an aim to build capacity to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean Region.
  • The Code was signed on 29th January by 2009 by the representatives of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.
  • Since the signing, the membership has expanded to a total of 18 countries, which are adjoining the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, the east coast of Africa and island countries of Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

  • The Jeddah Amendment to DCOC, which came into effect following a high-level meeting in January 2017, helped in expanding the scope of the DCOC.
  • The Secretariat of this grouping is supported by the International Maritime Organisation.
  • The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the European Union, the Interpol and the Eastern Africa Standby Force are represented at the meetings.
  • Now, India, Japan, Norway, the UK and the US have joined as the Observers of the grouping.

What are the key highlights of the Jeddah Amendment?

  • The high-level meeting of the signatories to the Djibouti Code of Conduct was held at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in January 2017.
  • During this meeting, the Jeddah Amendment was adopted, which involved a revision of the code of conduct.
  • The amendment recognises the role of the ‘Blue Economy’ including shipping, fisheries, seafaring and tourism in supporting the sustainable economic growth, food security, employment and stability.
  • It also builds on the earlier 2009 code and encourages the signatories to cooperate to ensure repression of transnational organised crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism and IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing.
  • The code also calls on the participants to develop and implement a national strategy for the development of the maritime sector and a sustainable blue economy that generates revenue, employment and stability.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What is the Western Indian Ocean region?

  • The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) comprises of 10 countries.
  • These include Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius and the French overseas territory.
  • The region is of global geostrategic significance and remains a major geopolitical naval interaction between countries.
  • A major portion of global maritime trade passes through it, including a significant share of the world’s crude oil supplies.
  • The total natural assets of the region are estimated to be more than $333.8 billion.
  • Fisheries is the largest asset, estimated to be $135 billion, which is 40% of the region’s total natural assets.
  • The countries in this region are characterised by high population growth and coastal development.
  • The main drivers of the economic growth in WIO region littorals are the extractive, construction and service sectors, including the tourism industry.

What are India’s interests in WIO?

  • As the WIO region holds immense value, it provides many opportunities for all countries that depend on it for economic growth.
  • Littoral states in the WIO also assume greater importance due to their geostrategic location and abundant natural resources.
  • The resource-rich East African Littorals have a high dependence on the Indian Ocean for enabling sustainable growth and development.
  • Thus, India being part of the efforts in strengthening the region’s maritime security cooperation is vital for its own national interest.
  • India’s approach to maritime cooperation with Africa mostly focuses on security concerns in African waters.
  • It has reached out to the African countries through offers of military aid, capacity building and training assistance.
  • The strategy on this front is reflected on India’s 2015 Maritime Strategy document, where it declares its policy towards the countries in the WIO region via defence cooperation

What are the security challenges in the WIO region?

  • It is facing both traditional and non-traditional security threats.
  • The piracy in the region is on a decline since 2013, mainly due to the successful multinational efforts to patrol eastern African waters.
  • Yet, there persists the issue of radical terrorism from outfits like Al-Shabaab based in East Africa.
  • The Somalian pirates are of a significant threat to the region, given their targeting of vessels within the maritime boundaries of countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar and further off into the Indian Ocean.
  • The insecurities of terrorism, organised crime and piracy are closely interlinked to the political instabilities at the African subcontinent.
  • Majority of the efforts to counter these activities are provided not by African or regional actors but by international actors and stakeholders.

Why is India becoming an observer in the Djibouti Code of Conduct significant?

  • India became the observer of the Djibouti Code of Conduct amid the border standoff between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control in the eastern Ladakh.
  • Given that there is no term or duration laid for being an Observer, it provides India more opportunity to work alongside the members of DCOC to enhance the maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean region and increase its presence in one of the most strategically significant regions in the world.
  • Though India has been undertaking numerous measures to improve maritime security and safety in the IOR, joining DCOC will further enable the country to be a part of the coordinated maritime efforts through assistance, capacity building and information exchange.
  • The acceptance of India’s request for observer status to the DCOC in itself indicates New Delhi’s close bilateral ties with the DCOC member states along with its contribution in enhancing maritime security in the region.

Which are the other inter-regional groupings concerning Western Indian Ocean?

Indian Ocean Rim Association:

  • African countries like Kenya, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, Mozambique, Somalia, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania are the members of Indian Ocean Rime Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), which was established in March 1997.
  • The organisation is now known as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Indian Ocean Naval Symposium:

  • The Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was launched in 2008 in line with the Western Pacific Naval Symposium.
  • Its 24 members include 6 African nations – Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania and South Africa.
  • In this grouping, Madagascar is an observer state.
  • It is a series of biennial meetings among the littoral states.
  • The forum focuses on increasing maritime security cooperation, discussing regional maritime issues and improving bilateral ties among the member states.

Programme to Promote Regional Maritime Security (MASE):

  • The MASE Programme, adopted in 2010, is jointly run by the EU and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
  • It is entirely funded by the EU and is collectively implemented by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Indian Ocean Commission (IOC).
  • The objective of this programme is to strengthen the maritime security capacity of the Eastern and Southern African nations.

What are the factors limiting India’s Maritime Cooperation with African littorals?

  • Insufficient capital allocation: The Indian Navy, despite being more networked and technology-driven than in the past, is still facing budget constraints. The world’s fifth-largest Navy’s share of the defence budget decreased from 18% in 2012-13 to a mere 13% in 2019-20. Long-term assured budgetary support is necessary for increasing maritime capability of the country.
  • Lack of delivery of the promises: For India to be recognised as the ‘net security provider’ in the IOR, it needs to bridge the gap between the commitment and implementation. Most littorals do not have the necessary capacity to ensure the security of their declared maritime zones and perform their rights and duties. Therefore they rely on countries like India for providing these needs. However, India currently has a poor track record in converting capital into deliverables or influence. Defence diplomacy fund can help address these issues.
  • Poor coordination: Maritime security necessitates focus on both hard security aspects like protecting Exclusive Economic Zone, asset allocation and anti-piracy operations as well as other aspects like blue economy, climate change and coastal maritime infrastructure. To ensure coordination among various agencies involved, they can be coalesced under one umbrella agency, which can be either Indian National Security Council Secretariat or the proposed National Maritime Commission.
  • China: It has made massive inroads in advancing its strategic and economic interests in the Indian Ocean Region, especially gaining access to the strategic ports and military bases and deploying predatory economic practices. Much of the interests of India and China in the Indian Ocean are concentrated in the Western Indian Ocean waters and its littoral countries. Here, India failed to counter China’s BRI and the string of pearls initiative.

What can be the way ahead?

  • Given its strategic significance, increasing India’s presence at the Western Indian Ocean region must be made the top priority.
  • With the rising bilateral tensions with China, India can make use of its observer status in DCOC to ensure closer maritime cooperation with member states.
  • This can be done by enhancing its maritime partnership with African littorals.
  • The pan-African approach can be adopted in accordance with African needs and priorities. India must do away with its narrow-minded approach involving increasing ties and cooperation only when its own interests (security and energy) are threatened.
  • To gain upper hand in the growing competition in the Indian Ocean, India can increase budget allocation and develop necessary strategies on various domains from diplomacy, informational, military, maritime research, blue economy, industrial development, cultural and educational domain, energy, climate, among others.
  • These strategies should not only involve the armed forces and the Defence Ministry, but also a multitude of various other government agencies as in the case of China developing and improving the diplomatic relations with the littorals by ensuring supportive and accommodative relationships.
  • As most of these countries are unwilling to choose sides between India and China, New Delhi can do well in accepting their neutrality and providing better services and relationship than Beijing.
  • Since the blue economy holds immense value for both India and the African nations, it is necessary to improve cooperation in this front.
  • In the 2015 Delhi Declaration, India and African countries reiterated their desire to collaborate more closely on the blue economy, with the African island countries in WIO being the main proponents.
  • India can increase support and collaboration in developing appropriate, affordable and adaptable innovative technologies in WIO in areas like water reuse, wastewater recycling, saltwater to freshwater conversion, marine-based renewable energy production, including wave and tidal energy and management of the health of ocean environment for increasing nutrient-rich food sources.
  • Multilateral security architecture for the Western Indian Ocean can be developed by strengthening existing frameworks like DCOC and increasing international cooperation to serve the interests of the region.
  • India, which has maintained a presence in the region for a long time, is well-placed to play a greater role and shape the maritime security architecture in the region.
  • New Delhi can offer greater capacity-building assistance, training and skilling of professionals in the maritime domain and sharing operational experience to countries in the WIO.
  • India’s vision for the overall Indian Ocean is summarised by the concept of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) vision.
  • This vision focuses on:
  1. Deepening economic and security cooperation in the littorals
  2. Enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories
  3. Working towards sustainable regional development
  4. Blue Economy
  5. Promoting collective action to deal with non-traditional threats like natural disasters, piracy, terrorism etc.
  • The initiatives under this framework have improved India’s presence in the WIO region.
  • Though each of these elements of SAGAR requires equal attention, increased focus is given to the Indian Navy’s humanitarian response in the event of disasters outside Indian boundaries.
  • Other elements can also play a critical role in improving India’s presence in the WIO if the government provides necessary funding and assistance.


India becoming an observer of the Djibouti Code of Conduct comes at a time when there is an increased need for countering China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean region. New Delhi can make use of this opportunity to realise its interests in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

Practice question for mains:

Critically examine the strategic significance of India becoming the observer of Djibouti Code of Conduct. (250 words)

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