Drawn to the ocean
Born in Kiffa, a town in the south of Mauritania, Ahmed Senhoury grew up a long way from the ocean but his journey to the edge of the Atlantic via research and teaching in Nouakchott, Morocco, and Europe, feels blessed, and his life’s purpose protecting marine life and supporting communities, as though it were always meant to be.
“Support for my Doctorate from the University of Caen in France was conditional on it benefitting my country, and when I applied my training in physics and engineering to researching the impacts of Nouakchott’s new harbour, and then to broader coastal change in Mauritania, I discovered my passion for conservation. West Africa has exploited its natural resources because, being poor, our livelihoods were at stake – but we must also think about the future, and find ways to manage our resources sustainably.”
Now Executive Director of the Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation in West Africa (PRCM), based in Dakar, Ahmed manages a coalition of more than 80 national and international organisations, and a budget of €20 million. Together with a team of nine at PRCM, he plays a critical role in orchestrating coastal conservation across seven West African countries – Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, and Sierra Leone – all of whose natural resources and ecosystems are under intense pressure from sectors such as fisheries, shipping, infrastructure, and oil and gas.
I joined PRCM in 2006, and I remember attending a MAVA Board meeting in Switzerland where PRCM’s future was in the balance. When Luc Hoffmann said it was a pioneering initiative that could serve as a model for other parts of the world, it encouraged and inspired me enormously – knowing people wanted to help us, and that we should do the same for ourselves here in West Africa.
Driving partnership, creating a movement
PRCM began as a coalition designed by MAVA to encourage better collaboration between a few international NGOs all working in West Africa to separate agendas. Today, it’s a wider partnership between many more organisations, and in 2018 became a Senegal-registered NGO in its own right. That PRCM is now recognised as the key partner in the region by donors, NGOs, and decision-makers alike, is down to Ahmed’s leadership, sense of diplomacy, and patience, together with the efforts of his dedicated team.
“We can’t deliver effective coastal conservation unless we work across the region. Each country faces the same challenges – we are one ecoregion. We work with the public and private sectors, academia, and civil society across West Africa. We try to add value by developing a common approach to avoid duplication of effort and increase impact.”
From mobilising funds, delivering training, capitalising on research, and working with communities to protect vulnerable species, to influencing national, regional and international policies, and shaping protocols under the Abidjan Convention on marine development and protection, PRCM coordinate MAVA Action Plans on oil and gas, coastal wetlands, and marine turtles.
Perhaps our biggest achievement is bringing people together and creating a movement for change. The PRCM Forum, which will gather for the tenth time in March 2022, has become the place where everyone working on marine conservation in West Africa – from donors and investors to researchers and ministers – comes to network, fundraise, strategise, advocate, and innovate. Its standing and credibility is a real measure of our success. And on the water, together with our partners, we’ve contributed to the creation of more than 20 MPAs across the region from just four or five when PRCM began in early 2000.
In pursuit of equity and justice
There is no doubt that West Africa still faces many challenges. Pressures on the natural environment such as climate change, overfishing, infrastructure development, coastal migration, and urbanisation continue to threaten ecosystems, while for much of the region’s people, having enough to eat is the primary concern.
“We need to invest in education, communities, and development, and take responsibility. We need to find ways of financing conservation that enable MPAs to flourish without having to rely on philanthropy. And we need to fight for equity and justice – between people, communities, countries, and generations. These are all fundamental if we’re going to succeed and prosper, and make better decisions about how we treat each other and how we use resources. I am aware that we can’t conserve everything but if we recognise the need to take care of nature and people, then we can have what I would call harmonious development.”
How is Ahmed contributing to MAVA's mission?
Ahmed and the PRCM team are helping deliver MAVA’s action plans in West Africa.