By Captain Saio S. Marrah (Rtd) Expert in International Relations and Security Studies
According to the UN International Maritime Organisation’s 2010 annual report,the Gulf of Guinea leapfrogged to second position in Africa and sixth place in the world’s top piracy hotspots. This is a serious security implication for West Africa that is recovering from intra-state conflicts but still confronted with threats posed by drug cartels, terrorists, proliferation of small arms and porous borders.The growth in piracy off the West African Coast is even alarming when analytically contrasted with the declining number of incidents in other notorious piracy hotspots, such as the Bay of Bengal near Bangladesh and the Strait of Malacca, a stretch of water between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Even Somalia which is the world’s most prolific source of piracy attacks has also seen incidents of decline.According to the European Union Naval Force, which patrols the Indian Ocean, piracy incidents in Somalia fell from 176 in 2011 to 33 in the first eight months of 2012.
According to a 2010 UN report on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea alone, 45 incidents were reported, followed by 58 attacks in 2011. Of those, 21 were reported off the coast of Benin, 14 off the coast of Nigeria, seven off the coast of Togo, four each off the coasts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea, two off the coast of Ghana and one¬†¬†each off the coasts of Angola and C√¥te d’Ivoire. In essence, about 49 recorded incidents took place in West Africa alone. This is a scary fact!
Such recorded incident underpins the Denmark-based security firm Risk Intelligence report which posit;‚Ä¶‚Ä¶‚Ä¶. piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijacking and cargo thefts. Albeit, piracy in the Horn of Africa being convoluted and protracted due to state failure, terrorist activities and a seemingly perennial civil conflict in Somalia, some analysts have concluded that West Africa will suffer the same fate as the Horn of Africa.
As a result of this surge in piracy in West Africa, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and maintained that it threatens international navigation, security and the economic development (of states) in the region. The council emphasised the importance of finding a comprehensive solution to the problem and welcomed the intention of regional leaders to hold a summit.
It encouraged the leaders to develop a regional framework to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea that includes adopting new laws to criminalize these acts, information-sharing, and co-ordinating operations. The resolution encouraged international assistance to support national and regional efforts to tackle piracy and welcomed contributions already made by some countries and international organisations.
Drawing on lessons learnt from pirate activities in Somalia, it is apt to argue that resolutions alone can’t deter pirates from their heinous acts. It is therefore the view of many security experts that the UN’s inaction (in West Africa) against pirates might worsen the situation in the near future. To underscore this assertion, US Rear Admiral Kenneth Norton maintains that, ‘we are nearly at a crisis here (West Africa), and if it’s a crisis there has to be action. It is thus necessary for the UN to take prompt actions in combating piracy at this incubating but highly volatile stage.
It is therefore no marvel that Nigeria, Benin and nearby waters have been listed in the same risk category as Somalia by the London-based Insurers Lloyd’s Market Association. Notwithstanding, the recent increase in piracy incident in the Gulf of Guinea, I can authoritatively argue that the two are diametrically apart in terms of precariousness and volatility posed.
“Judging from an objective approach, it can be said that lawlessness and “lack of governance” in Somalia allow pirates to keep vessels on the coast for several months. In Nigeria and other neighbouring states, there are stable central governments and maritime capacities which attempt to deter pirates from keeping ships for a long period of time. And as Somalia is archetypically characterised as the number one failed state in the world, issues such as the intra-state conflict, irredentism, Islamic fundamentalism, Terrorism and Clan Politics have posed an insurmountable challenge to the international community in bringing serenity. It therefore apt to maintain that, although piracy in the Gulf of Guinea poses a threat, nevertheless listing it within the same threat level as the Horn of Africa is overly naive and exaggerating”.¬†
Nevertheless, the US and other Western Nations have an anti-piracy Armada patrolling the waters off East Africa, but there is no West African counterpart – leaving Nigeria and its neighbours to combat the growing attacks on their own. It is however commonsensical to deduce the reasons why the West is not deploying its powerful naval fleet in West African waters. The Horn of Africa’s geographical proximity (to Europe and the Middle East) and geopolitical factors embedded in hegemonic stability theory better explains the biases of the West.
In the next publication, I will attempt to portray the implications of piracy in West Africa and recommend possible ways of tackling this menace.