Most African governments do not know what is moving across their borders, because they lack the funds to properly patrol their borders, waters and territory, and to monitor their air space.
“The problem is that one cannot control what one does not patrol,” military analyst and author Helmoed-Römer Heitman told defenceWeb’s Border Control Africa conference this morning at Gallagher Estate in Midrand.
He said borders offers plenty of scope smuggling and other illegal cross-border activities. “One need only think a little about the aircraft, fast boats and submarines that are used to move cocaine into the United States to realise that. Equally, it is not for nothing that several European countries have set up a joint narcotics interdiction staff in Lisbon to coordinate the intercept of ships that are carrying cocaine to Europe.
“It is perhaps also worth noting that Brazil has invested more than US$1.6 billion to build its Amazon Basin Protection System (SIPAM in Portuguese), which includes airborne radar systems and electronic reconnaissance aircraft as well as more than ninety light attack aircraft, in large part to suppress the narcotics trade and illegal mining and logging. That gives a good idea of the scale to which such problems can grow.”
In Africa, Nigeria loses almost 10% of its annual oil production to ‘bunkering’, the theft and illegal export of oil. “That business venture has to a large extent merged with the insurgency in the Niger River delta area, and is linked with the nascent guerrilla movement in Cameroon’s Bakassi Peninsula,” Heitman adds. “Illegal coltan, diamond and gold mining and illegal logging are rife in the eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] and fund the continued violence there. The profits are such that much of the material is flown to neighbouring countries for onward shipment. Illegal charcoal exports are being used to fund guerrilla operations in Somalia. Illegal mining and export of diamonds was a key factor in the savage civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and is a factor in the continued insurgency in eastern Guinea.
“Cocaine smuggling from South America through West Africa to Europe has over the past few years become a destabilising factor in Guinea and Guinea Bissau, and is affecting other countries in the region. Heroin is now also being moved from Afghanistan into West Africa for onward shipment to Europe by air and sea. One route may lead around the Cape; others are via Cape Verde and overland to the Mediterranean coast and across that sea by large, fast RIBs [rubber inflatable boats].
“The cocaine smuggling has recently become intermingled with arms smuggling in West Africa, further fueling instability in the region,” Heitman said. “Cattle rustling is a major problem along the borders between Uganda and Kenya and their northern neighbours, and is hardly unknown on the SA-Lesotho border. Smugglers and some bandits cross borders in the Sahel at will, and are often better equipped and armed than the local security forces. Some have allied themselves with guerrillas and terrorists for mutual convenience. At a much more sinister level, dozens of people have died after being thrown overboard or dumped on barren stretches of coast by people traffickers operating out of Somalia.” Meanwhile, further south, off Tanzania, the Association of East African Chiefs of Police had to report some years ago that clove [a type of spice] smuggling had become a serious problem.”
“There is also, of course, the routine smuggling of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol over most borders. … Looking forward, one must expect these smuggling routes to be used by terrorists of all kinds.”
Heitman added that border security is a team sport.” Border protection, he said, unless taken to the extent of the heavily fortified, electrified and mined Cold War ‘inner German frontier’, will always be imperfect. “Borders, certainly in Africa, are too long and difficult to seal physically,” he avered.
“The implication of this is that effective border protection must depend on intelligence. In turn, sound and timely intelligence for border protection and, indeed, for border control, is unlikely to be achieved without close co-operation with the relevant forces and agencies on the other side of the border. That co-operation will be to the immense benefit of both countries.
“The near-term target should be to implement ‘hot line’ systems for each border, with the level moving downward as quickly as practicable, finally down to the individual base commander or even patrol leader. That will facilitate the co-ordination of border patrols and other measures, and allow a quick check with the ‘opposite number’, to ensure that no mistake is being made. For instance to confirm that border crossers that have been spotted are not, perhaps, a patrol that has inadvertently crossed in a poorly demarcated area.
“Looking further forward, one could look to joint border control agencies or at least jointly manned operations centres. Still further into the future one might envisage the SADC without internal borders, but that is going to demand considerable economic development to be practicable.
“Co-operation can, of course, be taken further where the political/strategic situation allows: One could, for instance, envisage countries jointly operating a fleet of border surveillance or maritime surveillance aircraft, much as NATO operates its AWACS fleet, or at least cooperating to the extent of acquiring the same type and establishing a joint support structure. That would hold considerable potential for operational synergy and for logistic and training savings. The same case can be made for patrol vessels, be they for offshore or lake patrols.
“Co-operation and co-ordination will bring greater effectiveness and efficiency. That is the way forward. Technology can only assist,” Heitman said.
Pic: Zimbabwe- South Africa border