Heads of State and governments from 25 West and Central African countries flanking the Gulf of Guinea are converging in Yaoundé, to hatch a united front against escalating piracy, multiform trafficking and other soaring illicit activities in the strategic region.
The high-level safety and security summit will span June 24-25. It holds amid inadequate individual country anti-piracy efforts, which experts say leaves of the Gulf of Guinea vulnerable to criminals, jeopardizing the region’s peace and security.
“It is a part of the African continent exposed to multiple yearnings as well as rising insecurity. Numerous attacks are, therefore, perpetrated offshore and on-land. This alarming insecurity could at term become a source of instability and an obstacle to development,” said Communication Minister, IssaTchiroma Bakary.
In recent years, pirates have successfully raided banks and killed government officials and soldiers in Cameroon, stormed the presidential palace in Malabo and hijacked oil vessels, sometimes killing crew members. Nigeria has reported an oil production slowdown, while Benin has declared ship anchorage revenue slumps.
The International Maritime Bureau, IMB, indicates the prevalence of illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea currently exceeds the scale seen a few years ago off the Horn of Africa. It says 55 piracy incidents were reported in West Africa last year, against 38 in 2010. It adds that in 2012 pirates in the region attacked 966 sailors, killing 5 of 206 hostages, compared with 851 attacks off the Somali coast.
Elsewhere, the region is steadily sticking out as a passageway for illicit drugs from South America. “Since the US administration got tough on traffickers from Latin America, Africa is increasingly becoming a transit hub for Latin American drugs destined for Europe and the US, with the Gulf of Guinea playing a key role,” said Tchrioma.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, 18 tons of Latin American cocaine with an estimated cost of US$1.25 million transited through the Gulf of Guinea and South Africa in 2010 for Central Europe. Country reports mention rising numbers of seizures.
“Cameroon is increasingly becoming a transit for drugs because in reality our countries pay very little attention to the sea where the transactions are done,” said one-time Cameroonian minister and economist, Dr. Patrick Mandeng Ambassa. The Yaoundé conclave, organized with support from the UN and AU, thus sets out to adopt antidotes aimed at curbing piracy.
The decision to convene the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit was reached by defense and foreign affairs ministers from both economic blocs in Cotonou, Benin in March. It followed a 2012 UN Security Council resolution 2039 urging both regions to join forces against piracy and terror in the Gulf.
The summit is expected to adopt a Memorandum of Understanding and a Code of Conduct for ECOWAS, ECCAS and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) on maritime safety and security regarding the fight against piracy; trafficking in drugs, humans and wildlife; armed robbery, illicit weapons transactions and fisheries looting among others.
The documents were validated at the Cotonou meeting and are designed to establish a concrete basis for strategic and operational policy interactions, as well as legal frameworks for joint operations against the maritime criminals from Senegal to Angola. The UN Security Council alongside various US think-tanks have warned that left unchecked, the expanding insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea risks significantly endangering global trade, regional development and stability.
“Western industrial and commercial powers are interested in the Gulf of Guinea for two major reasons. The US is interested because it wants to curb its oil dependence in the Persian Gulf. Also, for Europeans and Americans, the geographic location of the Gulf of Guinea provides a direct maritime route for the exploitation and exportation of its resources,” noted Prof. Michael Kounou, Lecturer and the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the University of Yaoundé II.
Experts in Washington suggest the region will supply about a quarter of U.S. oil by 2015. The Gulf of Guinea countries currently produce over 3 million barrels of oil per day.That’s about 4 percent of total global output, destined mainly for European and American markets. Nigeria leads the pack with 2.2 million barrels per day and new oilfields are coming online in various countries including Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad and Ghana.
Alongside its rich biodiversity that has been attracting ivory-seeking poachers in recent years, the region is said to hold oil reserves estimated at 24 billion barrels. That’s about 4.5 percent of the global stock. “And then there’s natural gas and vast mineral deposits which remain largely unexploited, to which should be added fisheries reserves estimated today at over 1 million tons with a yearly production of about 600,000 tons,” Tchiroma stated.
Gradually, the emerging Asian powers – China and India – are also showing growing interest in the region’s resources and securing oil and gas exploration deals. Experts warn the swelling presence of foreign powers is another potential source of danger as their presence and commercial activities could stir uprisings from indigenes feeling sidelined by their governments from revenue fallout.
“Security concerns are not limited to spectacular terrorist attacks. There’re also internal forces within the Gulf of Guinea countries, including pauperised groups of people and the possibility of their rising against their governments and finding funds for their opposition from illegal maritime activities as in Nigeria,” explained Kounou. “So the massive presence of foreign powers in these waters, despite their assistance to local governments to combat terrorism is not entirely good news.”
Nonetheless, the Yaoundé summit appears to many observers as an important milestone in efforts towards averting an explosion of insecurity and instability in the region. Experts from donor countries including Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the USA are attending the deliberations.
By Ntaryike Divine Jr
The Post Newspaper