Currently, the lack of Maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea has had a negative impact on stability, human security, and economic development in the region. Countries in the sub-region continue to lose millions of dollars to fish poachers, rampant criminal activity, drugs, arms, trafficking in persons, inadequate safety, pollution that degrades the environment, and oil theft that plagues petroleum-producing nations.
Through maritime security, African countries can better manage the natural resources for the benefit of both present and future generations. African countries’ collaborating on issues related to their shared coastal waters will have a significant impact on future prosperity and job growth on the continent.
For example, seafood is a major issue for Africa’s coastal communities. Illegal fishing costs the region significant revenue every year. Stability in the fishery sector will enhance food security, and provide income-earning opportunities to millions of individuals in the Gulf.
Let us consider oil. If African governments cooperate to protect their oil reserves and shipping lanes, they will significantly reduce the risk of doing business in the Gulf, and encourage investment by multinational corporations.
Experts estimate that over the next 10 years, oil production in the Gulf of Guinea will grow by 40%. By 2020, the Gulf of Guinea is expected to be one of the world’s top oil-producing regions. Yet, private companies are the vast majority of operations in the Gulf of Guinea. If kidnapping of their workers and attacks on their facilities continue, they are unlikely to make the necessary investments to increase production, or even maintain current levels.
Lastly, there is the troubling issue of trafficking. There is a need to develop an efficient system to monitor, deter, and punish such illicit activities on a regional as well as a national basis. Illegal drugs, armaments, and human traffickers are constantly moving through the Gulf of Guinea’s waters and often make their way onto shore. Another criminal trend worth noting is the transshipment of narcotics. The Gulf of Guinea is becoming a major narco-trafficking hub. A significant amount of high-grade cocaine seized in what Spanish authorities have dubbed “the new drug triangle between Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Madeira” was routed via the Gulf of Guinea, in vessels manned by crews from the sub-region.
Disputed Boundaries. Enduring disagreements over maritime boundaries could precipitate armed conflict, particularly when the disputed areas have significant economic potential or are strategic transportation hubs.
These disputes also make it much more difficult for countries in the sub-region to address shared security challenges in a collaborative manner. Examples of maritime disputes in the Gulf of Guinea include those between: Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula; Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon over an island at the mouth of the Ntem River; and Gabon and Equatorial Guinea over the Mbane Island and Corisco Bay boundaries.
Environmental degradation. Pollution and environmental degradation are relatively unchecked in the Gulf of Guinea. The 2005 Abuja Declaration reiterates issues highlighted in analysis by the Food and Agricultural Organization, which indicates that a mismanagement of fisheries resources in the sub-region has led to stock depletion, distorted ecological balance and environmental degradation. Less than 25 percent of the countries in this sub-region have ratified the 1990 Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA)—the oil industry’s focal point for communication—are working with African governments to encourage the ratification and implementation of relevant conventions. Their objectives in the Gulf of Guinea are articulated in the Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (WACAF or Abidjan Convention). Although the petroleum industry has been singled out as a major polluter in a lot of literature, improper domestic and industrial waste disposal also poses a significant threat.
Making it clear,that political will is needed to address maritime safety and security as a trans-boundary challenge. It also requires interagency collaboration in order to improve regional capacities to conduct maritime surveillance, reporting, and interdiction. We understand that accomplishing these goals will take time just as it did in the United States. Our Navy and Coast Guard operations did not spring up overnight. It will take time and we are therefore committed for the long term to work with Africa to realize this era of improved maritime security. What we hope is that everyone here will be galvanized to return home and impress upon your government the importance of Maritime safety and security, including the economic and governance issues that are at its very foundation. What concretely will the United States do as a partner?
Developing a Strategic Approach for Enhanced Maritime Governance
A strategic approach for the Gulf of Guinea requires consistency between domestic and partner-initiated programs, as well as significant regional collaboration given the trans-national character of most threats and vulnerabilities. Thus, an effective strategy must incorporate national, regional and global realities. While the precise configuration would largely be country-specific, effective strategies would broadly adhere to a four-fold framework encompassing: demonstrable political commitment, increased operational efficiency, transparent regulatory systems, and heightened public awareness.
1. Demonstrable Political CommitmentStrong political will and national ownership are a vital part of an effective strategy. Leaders and citizens must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to address corruption and implement comprehensive strategies. An unwavering political will (which is central to any successful strategy) is currently lacking because (a) vestiges of a land-centric approach still persist, (b) some authorities are complicit, and (c) other authorities are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. Given the trans-national character of maritime security threats, this political will must also be expressed regionally. In this vein, countries in the sub-region must be willing to cede sovereignty concerns to advance regional solutions in this regard.
The success of political and policy pronouncements is contingent upon long-term engagement and an inclusive and participatory political process. Gulf of Guinea states have already taken tangible steps to elevate maritime security issues. The November 2006 communiqué adopted at the Maritime Safety and Security Ministerial Conference in Benin clearly articulates sub-regional commitment to demonstrate sustained political will. National governments are also making progress.