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Guinea Needs Consensus on Poll Position if Election Race is to Pass Peacefully
Guinea Needs Consensus on Poll Position if Election Race is to Pass Peacefully
Report 195 / Africa

The Gulf of Guinea: The New Danger Zone

Rising piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which supplies around 40 per cent of Europe’s oil and 29 per cent of the U.S.’s, demands effective regional security cooperation and better economic governance to prevent the region becoming another Gulf of Aden. The full report is currently only available in French.

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Executive Summary

Within a decade, the Gulf of Guinea has become one of the most dangerous maritime areas in the world. Maritime insecurity is a major regional problem that is compromising the development of this strategic economic area and threatening maritime trade in the short term and the stability of coastal states in the long term. Initially taken by surprise, the region’s governments are now aware of the problem and the UN is organising a summit meeting on the issue. In order to avoid violent transnational crime destabilising the maritime economy and coastal states, as it has done on the East African coast, these states must fill the security vacuum in their territorial waters and provide a collective response to this danger. Gulf of Guinea countries must press for dynamic cooperation between the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), take the initiative in promoting security and adopt a new approach based on improving not only security but also economic governance.

The recent discovery of offshore hydrocarbon deposits has increased the geostrategic importance of the Gulf of Guinea. After long neglecting their maritime zones, Gulf of Guinea states are now aware of their weakness. On the international front, renewed Western interest in the region is accompanied by similar interest from emerging nations. In this context, the rise in maritime crime has increased collective concern in a region where, for decades, the problems of sovereignty and territorial control have only been posed on dry land.

The Niger delta region in Nigeria was the initial epicentre of maritime crime. For decades, oil production has paradoxically created poverty. As social tensions and environmental pollution increased, oil income has, in large part, only benefited central government, oil companies and local elites. Those excluded from the system turned to violent opposition. Forced to bypass the state to gain access to even a fraction of this wealth, they have organised illegal activities, including siphoning off crude oil, clandestine refining and illegal trade in fuel. The constant increase in the value of the industry has allowed these activities to prosper and economic crime to spread.

The weakness and general inadequacy of the maritime policies of Gulf of Guinea states and the lack of cooperation between them have allowed criminal networks to diversify their activities and gradually extend them away from the Nigerian coast and out on to the high seas. Crime does not affect only the oil industry; it has diversified to include piracy and increasingly audacious and well-planned sea-borne raids. Criminal groups have learned quickly and appeared along the coasts of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipé, Benin and Togo, taking advantage of troubled socio-political situations.

Having recovered from the initial surprise, Gulf of Guinea states and Western countries are exploring how best to deal with the problem before it causes wider instability. States and regional organisations have launched specific operations and are formulating strategies to improve security. Those states most affected aim to build navies and increase resources for coastal policing in the hope of deterring criminals.

At the regional level, within the framework of its peace and security polices, ECCAS has created a regional maritime security centre and organised joint training exercises. However, states do not find it straightforward to organise joint funding or coordinate their efforts. Maritime policies are embryonic and symbolic and states are unable to maintain a continuous presence at sea. In the case of ECOWAS, maritime cooperation is still in its infancy and is hampered by political tensions and distrust of neighbouring states toward Nigeria.

At the inter-regional level, cooperation between ECCAS and ECOWAS would allow regional patrols to exercise the right of pursuit beyond maritime borders. However, inter-regional discussions have only just begun and political tensions hamper efforts to promote practical cooperation. Meanwhile, Western powers (U.S., France, U.K.) and emerging nations (Brazil, China, India, South Africa) with economic interests in the region are providing financial support and security expertise to assist local initiatives. 

The institutionalisation of regional cooperation and the increase in the number of international initiatives must not obscure the fact that rising crime in the Gulf of Guinea is mainly due to poor governance. Most states in the region have been unable to control economic activities in their maritime zones and in international waters and ensure the development of their coasts. This collective failure has created a major opportunity for criminal networks that feed on the needs and resentments of local communities. A range of urgent measures is needed to reverse this trend: reforms to improve governance of the economy and security sector, comprehensive and effective maritime public policies and practical regional cooperation beyond declarations of intent. A long-term response is needed because, although piracy is a recent phenomenon in the region, its root causes are much deeper.

Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels, 12 December 2012

Op-Ed / Africa

Guinea Needs Consensus on Poll Position if Election Race is to Pass Peacefully

Originally published in The Guardian

Guinea’s history of electoral violence may not be over. Tension is building around the presidential poll scheduled for this October and the local elections planned for early next year. The opposition – principally Cellou Dalein Diallo's Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea and Sidya Touré’s Union of Republican Forces – is concerned about possible fraud. Threatened protests should be taken seriously: in 2013, about 100 people died during electoral unrest.

To set the stage for a comprehensive dialogue about the voting system, the local elections should be rescheduled for this year, so that they take place before the presidential ballot. International actors, in particular the UN Office for West Africa and the EU, would then need to support that dialogue and ensure its results are implemented.

Unlike other African countries with contentious electoral processes, Guinea’s problem is not one of an incumbent president delaying a vote or trying for an unconstitutional new term. The opposition's quarrel is with the order of the two elections. They are convinced that the local authorities, whose mandate formally expired in 2010, are completely under the president’s control.

These local officials, some of whom have been replaced by administrative appointees in constituencies where the opposition has weight, are said to have been responsible for a variety of disenfranchisement schemes in pro-opposition areas during the 2013 legislative elections. They have also been accused of massaging the vote in pro-government areas.

The opposition fears a repeat in the presidential contest unless earlier local polls give them a better chance to get fair play.

Before agreeing to the 2013 legislative elections, the opposition had insisted that the next round of local elections be held well before the presidential ballot, in early 2014. This was written into an annex of an agreement resulting from the 2013 political dialogue, but the government did not sign the document and now disputes the commitment.

Pro-government politicians do not support the schedule change (and possible delay of the presidential vote), fearing the opposition would claim there was a constitutional vacuum, as some opposition figures have threatened. But contemporary Guinea has experienced many exceptional situations – three- and five-year delays for the legislative and local elections respectively, for example. This would not cause it to crumble. In informal discussions, some opposition leaders said they would agree to a reasonable delay in the presidential election were it necessary in order to hold the local vote first.

The controversy, however, goes well beyond the calendar. The opposition has also repeatedly challenged the electoral registry, the map of constituencies, the composition and functioning of the electoral commission and the constitutional court. Not to mention the conditions for diaspora voting, the neutrality of prefects and governors, and much more. Even the recent population census is disputed: the opposition says the authorities inflated results in pro-government areas, in order to prepare to justify a forthcoming increase in pro-government voters there.

Reliable observation missions (particularly the EU’s) noted a long list of problems in the 2010 and 2013 elections. In 2013, for instance, the number of 18-year-old voters registered was unusually high in some pro-government areas, as was the level of participation and the number of voting stations. The number of polling stations and votes invalidated on procedural grounds was correspondingly low. In the closely disputed swing state of Guinée Forestière, the results from more than 180 polling stations were cancelled without explanation.

Some or all of the opposition claims may be false or exaggerated, but why take the chance over a few months’ change in the electoral calendar? As Crisis Group wrote in December 2014, a consensus on arrangements would offer the best chance to avoid an escalation from local incidents fuelled by political affiliations that function largely along ethnic lines.

Such a consensus would be all the more valuable because worrying rumours and suspicions are being fed by other matters, including the Ebola epidemic and a handful of assassinations and attempted assassinations of politicians and administrators. The opposition’s spokesperson, Aboubacar Sylla, claims he was shot at on 4 April, for example. While President Alpha Condé has done a good job of reining in the military and other security forces, sustained troubles could put these important achievements at risk and further poison relations between the country’s communities.

The government called for dialogue on 26 March. The opposition responded that there had been two such dialogues in 2013-14; the authorities simply needed to implement the conclusions reached then. It is up to the government to take the first step by asking the electoral commission to schedule the local elections before the presidential (with a reasonable three- to six-month interval between them). This would build confidence and could pave the way for a dialogue covering the other pending electoral issues. In turn, the opposition should commit to that dialogue and produce a detailed, realistic and time-sensitive assessment of what it considers essential.

In all this, international engagement is essential. In 2013, European observers stayed several nights at a key tallying centre in Conakry to guarantee results would not be tampered with. That is how tense the situation has been, and why an international presence is so essential.

President Condé initially excluded such missions for this year, but he has changed his position: the authorities have approached the EU for observers, and the UN is due to dispatch a mission this month to review electoral preparations. The new secretary general of the International Organisation of la Francophonie has visited Conakry. These are welcome moves. International partners will need to develop a solid coordinating mechanism, however, to prevent Guinean actors playing them off against each other.