Top Priorities for African Continent in 2014: Dealing with Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and in Gulf of Guinea

Employment ,Piracy, The International Criminal ,  Capital Markets , Post-2015 Development Agenda, Genetically Modified Crops, Internationally Supported Peace Interventions, Financing Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Growth, Africa’s Emerging Partnerships and, African Industry. The Africa Initiative of the reputable US Brooking Institute as usual every year has solicited prominent scholars to indicate the main top priorities for the African content in 2014. Here is a review of these top priorities.

For several years, Africa has surpassed Southeast Asia as the world’s number one hotspot of maritime piracy. Approximately one-half of the world’s reported pirate attacks now take place either off the coast of Somalia or in the Gulf of Guinea, principally off the coast of Nigeria. Although during 2012 and 2013 the incidence of piracy off of the Horn of Africa declined considerably compared to the peak years of 2009 and 2010, the incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has continued to grow. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of Somali pirate attacks has dropped by 80 percent, with 851 seafarers fired upon in 2013, compared to 4,185 in 2010; and 1,090 taken hostage in 2010, with many fewer—349—taken hostage in 2012.

Nonetheless, Somali pirates have extended their reach beyond the Gulf of Aden and Somalia into the southern part of the Red Sea, the east coast of Oman, the Bab el Mandeb Straits, and increasingly deep into the Indian Ocean.

Moreover, incidences of piracy off the Somali coast have merely been suppressed, but the root causes of piracy— poor state control of land, the lack of legal economic opportunities and the absence of the rule of law—have not been resolved. Thus, piracy off the coast of Somalia could easily escalate again should the naval patrolling lessen.

Meanwhile, the incidence of piracy has been visibly increasing in the waters off of West Africa over the past three years. In 2012, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea attacked 966 sailors. As of August 2013, 28 reported armed incidents took place off the coast of Nigeria, including two hijackings, compared with 10 armed incidents with two hijackings off the coast of Somalia (ICC 2013). Although often underreported, piracy in the waters of West Africa is now capturing attention and piracy in this region dates back decades. It exists in the context of widespread criminality, including oil theft on land in which poor local populations, militants, law enforcement and top-level politicians all participate.
Indeed, the expansion of maritime piracy off the coasts of West Africa and the Horn of Africa has been enabled by profound governance deficiencies on land. Although most West African countries have not experienced as profound a collapse of the central government as Somalia, the presence of the state in most coastal areas has been inadequate, failing to achieve a monopoly of violence. Local populations often experience state presence only as repression. For decades, governing elites in West Africa have under-funded, and systematically politicized and corrupted land and maritime law enforcement. Widespread corruption, deep involvement of elites in many criminal enterprises and illicit economies, and a general attitude that running a government is a key mechanism for personal enrichment rather than a public service have created a pervasive culture of the lack of rule of law.
Marginalization of large segments of the population, deep and persisting poverty and unemployment, lack of legal options for social mobility, social alienation, and threats to personal safety from rival tribal and clan groups, criminal gangs, and the state itself have produced great social acceptance of criminality and illicit economies, and widespread participation by both well-positioned elites and the marginalized population. To the extent that powerful actors have mobilized against piracy—such as some tribal elders in Puntland, Somalia—it is often only when young pirates wield enough economic and political power in their bases of operation on land that they threaten the preeminence of clan elders. Often, however, clan elders have been implicated in and often support and benefit from maritime piracy. At the same time, local populations often embrace the pirates who bring in otherwise-lacking money, increase consumption, grow local economic activity and even create job opportunities.

Why Is It Important?

Maritime piracy poses multiple threats to global and state security and human safety. The maritime domain—which includes defense, commerce, fishing, seabed mineral resources, laws governing navigation and sea-based transportation constitutes—is the backbone of the globalized world. Disruption of maritime transportation and access can reduce economic investment in particular regions, constrict energy flows, global trade, critical infrastructure, and the protection of marine resources as well as hamper security, law enforcement and humanitarian operations. Both the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea lay on crucial energy transportation routes and the Gulf of Guinea is not only a large source of fossil fuels, but also the region’s major consumer market. Via the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa also exports minerals (such as diamonds), timber and agricultural products (such as cacao and sorghum), which underlie its economic output. Crises in the maritime realm can also hamper access to undersea domains and resources, such as fiber optic cables, and energy and mineral reserves such as oil and gas.

Conceivably, profits from maritime piracy can also increase the physical resources of militant groups, international terrorists, and highly destabilizing and potent criminal groups. Although the extent to which Somalia’s jihadist al-Shabab or Nigeria’s Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, an insurgent group based in the south, have benefited from maritime piracy is frequently exaggerated, in both cases connections and linkages between pirates and militants appear to be somewhat on the increase. Not least, pirate attacks also critically endanger the human security of seafarers and cause psychological distress to their families.
By Alula Berhe Kidani


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