A senior advisor with US Africa Command (Africom) recommends African security sector leaders increase inter-agency, multi-national, and industry co-ordination to improve African responses to maritime security challenges.
Dr Jun Bando, Africom Commander’s Action Group director, was addressing a gathering of 60 African military and civilian leaders attending the Next Generation of African Security Sector Leaders programme this week in Alexandria, Virginia.
Bando and Dr Assis Malaquias, African Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) Defence Economics Academic chairman, stressed the importance of regional approaches to addressing maritime security challenges and emphasised the connection between the lack of security and development on land and insecurity at sea.
“Comprehensive, inter-agency, and multi-national approaches and collaboration with industry are key for African maritime security,” Bando said with support from Malaquias who noted: “Key areas of strategic importance include human trafficking, narcotics smuggling and piracy. Illegal fishing is another growing problem”.
“Fish exports are a major source of foreign revenue for many African nations and as stocks become depleted, food prices will increase and undermine the sustainability of African fisheries. Africa loses more than a billion dollars annually in stolen fish,” she said.
Bando pointed out that while piracy and armed robbery at sea have been decreasing in the Western Indian Ocean and other regions, incidents are increasing in waters off west and central Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. Patterns of criminal activity are a key difference between eastern and western African maritime threats she said.
“Piracy and armed robbery at sea in West Africa are not based, typically, on the kidnap-for-ransom model that has been characteristic of the problem in East Africa,” Bando said.
Rather, it is often focused on the theft and resale of cargo, including oil bunkering. Much of the piracy occurs in territorial waters, making bilateral and regional agreements essential. Bando told her audience that 23 West African states in the Gulf of Guinea signed a Code of Conduct in June 2013 in response to UN Security Council Resolutions calling for the development of a regional framework to address maritime threats.
While this code is similar to the Djibouti Code of Conduct in East Africa, it is more expansive encompassing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and various forms of trafficking.
The role of the Africom in African maritime security is to support maritime security forces through capacity-building exercises, combined operations, and tailored maritime security strategies. In 2011 and 2012, for example, the United States conducted combined maritime law enforcement operations with Sierra Leone, Senegal, Gambia, and Cape Verde through the employment of US Coast Guard assets, resulting in the seizure of 75 tons of illegally harvested fish.
Such models of collaboration between US and African maritime forces will go a long way in developing much needed African capacity, she said. The Next Generation of African Security Leaders programme started on October 21 and is scheduled to run through to November 8.
ACSS is the pre -eminent US Department of Defence (DOD) institution for strategic security studies, research and outreach in Africa. The Africa Centre engages African partner states and institutions through rigorous academic and outreach programmes to build strategic capacity and foster long term, collaborative relationships.
Over the past 14 years, more than 6 000 African and international leaders have participated in over 200 ACSS programmes.