West Africa: The Gulf of Guinea - the New Danger Zone

Photo: Daniel Hayduck/IRIN
Crew members leave a tanker in the anchorage. (file photo)

Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels — 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 Gulf of Guinea: The New Danger Zone, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines efforts taken by regional organisations and international actors to curb maritime crime, which started off the coast of Nigeria but has now expanded to include operations off Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Togo and Benin. Maritime insecurity compromises the development of this strategic economic area and threatens trade in the short term and the stability of coastal states in the long term. The governments of Gulf of Guinea states need to improve their economic governance and their security systems to ensure lasting stability in the region.

"The weakness -- and sometimes general inadequacy -- of maritime policies in 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 coast and out on the high seas, from the Niger delta to Côte d'Ivoire", says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group's Central Africa Project Director.

Oil production has been part of the region's economy for decades, but revenues have tended to benefit the central governments, oil companies and local elites rather than the population as a whole. Poverty is widespread, and frequently leads those excluded to turn to violent opposition and banditry. The recent rise of piracy is the latest development in the longstanding criminalisation of the regional economy.

Gulf of Guinea states are now exploring options to tackle the problem before it causes wider instability. Preparations are ongoing for a summit on piracy and regional organisations are formulating strategies to improve security. Those states most affected, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, Gabon and Togo, aim to build navies and increase resources for coastal policing, with the assistance of the private sector, Western powers and emerging nations, including Brazil, China, India and South Africa.

Stepping up security will not be enough, however. Rising crime in the Gulf of Guinea is mainly due to poor governance, which hinders development, prevents regulation and management of economic activities in maritime zones and creates opportunities for criminal networks. It should be met by economic and security reform, comprehensive and effective maritime public policies, and practical regional cooperation.

"As piracy has dropped in the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea is becoming the new dangerous maritime area in Africa", says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "A comprehensive security approach by states in the region would help, but that must be complemented by improvements in governance. Although piracy is a recent phenomenon in the region, its root causes are deep".

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Crew members leave a tanker in the anchorage. (file photo)

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