Gulf of Guinea: A Regional Solution to Piracy?
Gulf of Guinea: A Regional Solution to Piracy?
The Complexities of Calling a Coup a Coup
The Complexities of Calling a Coup a Coup
Commentary / Africa 4 minutes

Gulf of Guinea: A Regional Solution to Piracy?

Acts of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea represent more than a quarter of worldwide reported attacks. Steadily increasing since 2007, maritime insecurity in this region affects the trade of 455 million people. It affects the shipment of five million barrels of oil per day (Africa’s total is nine million), accounting for forty per cent of European and twenty-nine per cent of American imports. In its December 2012 report The Gulf of Guinea: The New Danger Zone, Crisis Group analysed the emergence of this problem and recommended a two-pronged, long-term response: building a regional maritime security architecture and improving the economic and security governance of the states in the region. While the region is working to develop the security architecture, it also needs to tackle the illicit economic dimensions of the overall situation. In addition, lessons learned from the securing of the Straits of Malacca (which inspired a similar effort in the Gulf of Aden) should be shared with African countries.

Setting Up a Maritime Security Architecture

Inter-regional Coordination Centre (ICC). CRISIS GROUP

Supported by the United Nations, a regional initiative was launched at the Yaoundé Summit in June 2013. Bringing together the gulf countries, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), the summit agreed to:

The summit established a clear division of labour between regional organisations (responsible for strategy) and the states (responsible for operations). Several follow-up conferences and meetings have since been held and the Yaoundé summit decisions are being implemented. The Regional Coordination Centre for Maritime Security in Central Africa (CRESMAC) has been set up in Pointe-Noire, Congo-Brazzaville, and the ICC in Yaoundé, Cameroon. All coastal states ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which legally defines piracy. Nigeria, which is expected to soon pass a law criminalising piracy, is engaged in anti-piracy operations and is beefing up its maritime surveillance and intervention capacities. However, much remains to be done to implement the maritime security architecture as defined in the Yaoundé road map, including:


implementing the maritime security strategy adopted on 25 March 2014 at the Yamoussoukro summit in Ivory Coast for the maritime cooperation zone (“Pilot zone E”) involving Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Togo, and for the F and G zones; and the creation of a Regional Coordination Centre for Maritime Security in West Africa (CRESMAO);


strengthening the surveillance and intervention capacities, as well as improving coordination between the countries of maritime cooperation zone D (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tomé and Principe); the development of cooperation in A and B zones; and CRESMAC operationalisation, which requires sustainable financial commitment;


operationalisation of the ICC centre with adequate funding and personnel; and

National Prosecution

adoption of national legal tools to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of piracy in compliance with international law and the development of judicial cooperation mechanisms between the regional countries (exchange of judicial information, extradition agreements, etc).

Obstacles to Effective regional cooperation

Combating piracy will most likely be a long process. The Gulf of Guinea is divided between two regional organisations: ECOWAS and ECCAS. (A third, the Gulf of Guinea Commission, has been an empty shell since its creation in 2001.) In terms of regional action, this institutional division means a duplication of efforts. Securing the Gulf of Guinea not only requires coastal states’ coordination but also that of regional organisations. It has also been difficult to obtain an agreement on how to share the financial burden. A specific tax has been discussed, but not yet finalised and this type of regional financial mechanism did not prove effective in the past. (For instance, the integrated tax system set up by the CEMAC is still a work in progress.) Outside nations, led by Japan, have contributed to the International Maritime Organisation’s West and Central Africa Maritime Security Trust Fund.

The emergence of a collective security system is hampered by leadership rivalries between presidents; general mistrust towards the regional hegemon, Nigeria; and border disputes (Ghana/Ivory Coast, Angola/Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon/Equatorial Guinea), even those that have been settled peacefully (Nigeria/Cameroon). Furthermore, the level of a state’s concern varies in proportion to the frequency of attacks within or near its territorial waters and its offshore economic interests.

Outside actors must also be careful. Western support can complicate the implementation of the regional strategy. If western support is not well coordinated, it will be limited to a policy of support to a single country and bilateral partnerships (U.S.-Nigeria, France-Cameroon, UK-Ghana, Portugal-Sao Tomé and Principe) and will increase competition for security resources from the foreign partners among the regional countries. Finally, the building of effective intervention capacities will require several years even with external support, since some of these countries have neither coast guards nor navies.

Tackling the roots rather than the symptoms

While efforts to implement the Yaoundé decisions continue, an effort that seems to tackle the symptoms rather than the roots of the problem is unlikely to end insecurity. The region must ask a number of additional questions. What are the lessons of regional cooperation to secure the Straits of Malacca? Is the private maritime sector sufficiently invested in current efforts? What is the role of prevention in the fight against maritime insecurity? Will it be addressed by the military or by police? Given the many similarities between the security configuration in the Straits of Malacca and in the Gulf of Guinea, Asian countries should share their experience with the African countries. However, regional maritime security should not be limited to tackling offshore transnational economic criminality; on-shore structural problems also need to be addressed. Indeed, behind maritime insecurity is a wide network of illegal activities, including smuggling, which have developed against the backdrop of bad maritime governance, extreme poverty and socio-political violence. Economic criminality started with the development of a regional oil contraband market that has contaminated many other business sectors and requires an approach that combines economic regulation and policing within a regional and international cooperation framework. The Yaoundé agreement ignored this reality, but as long as it is not frankly addressed, securing the Gulf of Guinea may be an elusive goal.


Former Senior Consultant, Central Africa
Violette Tournier
Former Consultant, Central Africa

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.