Dr. Vishal Surbun joins the program to discuss the African Union’s 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy, the proposed Combined Exclusive Zone and more! This episode was edited and produced by Taylor Fairless.
“If not China, who?” was a question asked during a class on foreign investment in Africa. The speaker was an African naval officer. The class was equally composed of American and African military officers, and the place was the United States Naval War College (NWC). The African officers all seemed to nod in agreement while the rest of the room shrugged. The author has heard this comment several times before by other exasperated African officers. They were tired of being reminded that China was only interested in the natural resources of their homelands, or that China was building ports, bases, and infrastructure on loans their nations could hardly repay. They were also acutely aware that China’s “no strings attached” development targeted their weak governments and “big man” regimes. It was sometimes difficult for this particular officer to express himself, as English was his third language after Bantu and French. But on this day he made himself very clear, stating:
“All Africans want democracy. We all want to be like the United States. We need help with roads and infrastructure, but our governments cannot work with USAID and the World Bank. Who can the people get help from? If not China, who?”
In his mind, China was helping exactly where it mattered. The question of whether the U.S. or China invests more in Africa was irrelevant. This was a matter of sentiments and perceptions. If competition for the Indian Ocean during peacetime requires building partnerships with African nations, the U.S. will be best served by focusing on people rather than ports or platforms. But as it now trends, an entire side of the Indian Ocean in the form of east African nations is poised to embrace deeper strategic partnership with China.
Chinese Solutions to African Problems?
Like every other continent, Africa has problems. Africa has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world. By 2035, nearly half of all Africans will inhabit urban areas with poor infrastructure. These cities will struggle to provide their citizens with food, water, shelter, and employment. Africa’s GDP exponentially increased over the past decade due to the international scramble for its rich national resources. Yet with this remarkable rise in GDP, there has not been a corresponding rise in youth employment. Often when foreign investors come to Africa with a need for technical expertise they do not end up hiring African firms. This feeds a cycle of “brain drain” where Africans with scientific and technical degrees leave the continent for better employment elsewhere.
Climate change will also test urban infrastructure. Africa is warming at 1.5 times the global average. Flooding and rising sea level will continually impact the quarter of the continental population that lives within 60 miles of a coast. Climate change is estimated to cost Africa $50 billion per year by 2040. These struggling cities will also have to contend with the burden of displaced peoples.
Civil wars and ethnic struggles continue to foster Boko Haram in the West, Al Shabab in the East, and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. In their wake, “populations of concern” whether they be refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced persons, have greatly multiplied in the past decade. Porous land and maritime borders, along with government corruption, facilitate criminal activity. These extremist groups can then draw on public anger at government corruption to recruit and radicalize disenfranchised youth. This resentment is only made worse when police and military forces abuse local populations in their hunt for extremists.
Many of Africa’s woes are symptoms of government inability to react to the changing African environment. Managing the impact of foreign actors, population, climate change, violence, and economic growth will all depend on governance. According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, overall governance across the continent is on a marginally upward trend. The past decade has also seen a wave of democratic reform, in which six nations have voted to limit presidential terms along with improving decentralized governance. Yet, more than a quarter of Africa’s population has never seen a change in leadership. Coincident with this upward trend, African governments show increasing divergence in performance. Some governments are getting better, while others are getting worse.
The realization of the importance of “good governance” in Africa has created a dilemma for donor nations. Traditional sources of development such as the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have safeguards built into their aid that are meant to stop or slow funding should the ruling governments use the aid for patrimonial purposes or in the violation of human rights. For many African nations, World Bank aid only comes with guarantees of democratic reform. Corrupt and oppressive regimes eventually refuse aid or refuse to change in order to qualify for aid. These same regimes often rule where infrastructure and other development projects are needed most. Should good governance or development come first? This chicken and egg dilemma is the topic of much current debate concerning international aid. And into this environment, China steps in.
As China’s need for commodities grows so does its involvement in Africa. China has invested heavily in Africa through the One belt, One Road initiative, and the Forum on Chinese-African Cooperation. With a policy of “noninterference,” Chinese development supposedly comes with “no strings attached,” meaning that China is ready and willing to work with corrupt African governments.
China is very effectively providing a counter-narrative to “western” international institutions. These ideas have most recently manifested in BRICS, the union of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. BRICS members see themselves as leaders of the developing world and have their own agenda and development funds, liberated from restrictions placed on aid by the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), and United States. This has worked very well for China. African nations are lining up to receive aid, and for their efforts, many Africans view China favorably.
But it would be unfair to say that Africans do not understand who they are dealing with. African civil society has criticized China for failing to promote good governance and human rights. For the African officers in certain war college classes, while they don’t necessarily like China, they don’t see development through the lens of great power competition. They see infrastructure projects increasing the quality of life within their nations. These projects just happen to be Chinese and not of some other foreign actor.
If not China, who will help? China wins over public opinion when they develop in nations with corrupt or weak governments. But Africa must have governments and societies able to resist both Chinese and U.S. influence, should that influence be malign. Capable democratic governments would be better equipped to handle their own problems and keep foreign actors in check. That is what the U.S. must strive for. To counter China in Africa, the U.S. must promote resilient, prosperous African states and not spheres of influence.
A Role for Foreign Military Education
In the parlance of Multi-Domain Operations, how does the U.S. compete with China for access to the East African coast? If the problem is governance, what role can the U.S. military possibly play? While debating these questions and government policies, international officers must ponder of the heated debates that occur in American war college classrooms. Americans often speak critically of the U.S. government, but could African officers speak critically of their own governments? Could these conversations ever occur in a Chinese war college?
The U.S. military can best compete with China for influence in Africa through foreign military education. Influence will come when African leaders see that good governance, respect for human rights, and abiding by international law is worth working toward. U.S. military leaders can work directly with African military leadership, specifically in war college settings where uniformed service meets free speech and critical thinking. More African officers training side-by-side with bright U.S. military officers and civilian professors is where the U.S. can reconcile ground truth with strategic aspirations.
Foreign military education focused on governance, accountability, and human rights is a small sliver of Defense Institution Building (DIB). DIB nests within Security Sector Reform (SSR), which falls under Security Sector Assistance (SSA). DIB, SSR, and SSA spheres overlap and funding for subordinate programs is held by both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State (DoS). Education of this sort currently falls under DoS’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. Among other objectives, IMET espouses a “respect for…democracy and…internationally recognized human rights.” IMET receives the least funding of all DoS global SSA efforts, and sub-Saharan Africa only receives 14 percent of funds allocated to Africa. IMET is also susceptible to only going to nations the DoS and DoD can agree on, rather than where it may do the most good. While the DoD is charged with administering IMET, DoS determines the recipients, and Congress controls the funding. DoD must be in “lockstep” with the DoS throughout the annual budget request process to ensure both departments needs are met.
DoD “Regional Centers for Security” (RC) can fulfill functions similar to IMET. The DoD budget for SSA significantly trumps that of DoS, but most of those funds are focused on the tactical training and equipping of partner militaries in their efforts to defeat transnational threats. RCs are the exception as they are DoD funded education tools serving regional combatant commanders. RC roles have expanded from “strengthening civil-military relations in democratic society” to “the promotion of democratic accountability” and “respect for human rights.” In a given year the DoD can train over twice as many foreign military personnel through RCs than DoS can through IMET. These programs are different, yet overlap toward the same objectives, and therein lies opportunity.
If more funding for education is untenable, the Gordian knot of SSA can be solved by more efficiently coordinating the education efforts of DoD and DoS. The DoD Inspector General summarized the situation well in reporting that “Without DIB policy that distinguished the DIB roles of…the Regional Centers or any other office or command conducting DIB-related efforts, a potential for duplication and inefficiency existed.” With the end goal of educating an entire military on international norms and good governance, RCs don’t necessarily target the required audience. IMET is intended for a wide audience of relatively young foreign officials. Conversely, RCs cater to a more selective group of senior foreign officers. However, as DoD initiatives, RCs are less vulnerable than IMET to political leveraging. IMET may be turned off due to political instability or coup attempts within the partner nation, which brings it back to the good governance versus development dilemma.
Foreign military education is of far greater importance and strategic potential than is currently realized, but these are often among the first types of programs to be cut from budgets. If for no other reason, the U.S. must address international military education because China is competing in this space as well.
China’s College of Defense Studies
The author would not have been aware of China’s competition in this space if it weren’t for African counterparts. Their story went something like this, “China has an international program too, but in China they teach us in our languages, we get a diploma, and a considerable stipend.” Every international student the author ever interacted with was extremely grateful for their opportunity to study at a U.S. war college, but this note about language is very important. Most African students at the Naval War College did not arrive with the requisite mastery of English to complete a master’s degree.
When they arrive in the U.S., the first stop for most international students is Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. Here they attend the English language course at the Defense Language Institute. They are put through a rigorous program, but at least for certain African colleagues, most did not meet the standards of the language and writing screener when they checked into the Naval War College. Failing this test ensured that these students would only receive a certificate of completion and not the diploma that most other students received. Even a 25-week course in English may fail to prepare a Swahili speaker for an English-only graduate school accredited by the same source as nearby Harvard and Yale. However, if given enough time to communicate, most of these students had as much if not more to contribute to any conversation about global politics than U.S. students. As most classes were held in a fast-paced seminar setting, one could only wonder if they felt their statements could impact discussions.
Since 2012, China’s College of Defense Studies (CDS) has awarded war college master’s degrees to international students. CDS is a program within the Peoples Liberation Army National Defense University (PLA NDU) that provides a strategic and operational level defense education to international students. It caters to most officer ranks and just like the U.S. war colleges it is a year-long program that ends with a master’s degree. CDS specifically targets sub-Saharan Africa for potential enrollments, and courses are available in Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. And, just like the international programs at the U.S. war colleges, there are cultural tours and spouses clubs. But not everything is the same.
Unlike the U.S. war colleges, the international students are not well integrated with the greater PLA NDU student body. Alumni of CDS have been critical of the physical location of their school, which is in a completely different part of Beijing from the PLA NDU. This distance made interaction with Chinese counterparts very difficult. Alumni also report that much of the course incorporates China’s official view of the U.S. as a “neo-imperialist,” especially in Africa, and there is very little deviation from this official position in their discussion. The relative strength of U.S. international programs is found in these differences since international students in the U.S. are invited to explore the good and bad of American society. Compared to the U.S. system, China’s methods of physical separation and imposed ideology do not offer value when it comes to attracting favorable foreign sentiment.
Through enhanced professional military education, the U.S. can empower future African military leaders. Much like China’s College of Defense Studies, this U.S. program must also deliver an official party line and never deviate from that line, but that line must be democratic, open-minded, and inclusive.
To counter China in Africa the world needs resilient and empowered African states, not spheres of influence. Resilience is achieved when the African people believe in their governments, and in turn their governments are fair, accountable, and effective. So when an international student asks at an American War College, “If not China, who?” the answer must always be, “you.”
Lieutenant Commander Matthew Quintero, USN, is a Naval Flight Officer, E-2D Mission Commander, and recent graduate of the U.S. Naval War College. His views are his own.
Adams, Gordon, and Shoon Murray, editors. Mission Creep. Georgetown University Press, 2014.
“China in Africa.” Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed July 15, 2019. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-africa.
“College of Defence Studies – Home.” National Defence University PLA China. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.cdsndu.org.
“Defense Language Institute English Language Center – Course Catalog.” DLIELC.edu – Home. Accessed July 15, 2019. http://www.dlielc.edu/prod/Catalog.pdf.
Hanauer, Larry, Christopher J. Springer, Chaoling Feng, Michael Joseph McNerney, Stuart E. Johnson, Stéphanie Pézard, and Shira Efron. Evaluating the Impact of the Department of Defense Regional Centers for Security Studies. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2014.
McNerney, Michael J., Stuart E. Johnson, Stéphanie Pézard, David Stebbins, Renanah Miles, Angela O’Mahony, Chaoling Feng, and Tim Oliver. Defense Institution Building in Africa: An Assessment. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2016.
Piombo, Jessica, editor. The US Military in Africa: Enhancing Security and Development?. Boulder: First Forum Press, 2015.
Van Oudenaren, John S., and Benjamin E. Fisher. “Foreign Military Education as PLA Soft Power.” Parameters 46, no. 4 (Winter 2017), 105-118.
“Whole of Government Security Cooperation Planning.” Defense Institute of Security Cooperation Studies. Accessed October 10, 2018. http://www.discs.dsca.mil/documents/greenbook/19_Chapter.pdf.
Featured Image: A Chinese paratrooper coaches his South African peers to use Chinese rifles during a recent tactical training exercise at a military training base in central China’s Hubei Province. (Photo courtesy chinamil.com.cn)
By Dr. Ian Ralby, Dr. David Soud, and Rohini Ralby
Few regions of the world have seen more improvement in maritime security institutions over the last five years than the Gulf of Guinea. At the same time, however, maritime security threats across West and Central Africa have continued to evolve and are increasingly difficult to address. Ironically, the region is becoming a victim of its own success: improved maritime law enforcement drove criminals to become both more brazen and more innovative in how they pursue illicit profit. These heightened challenges, however, are no longer as insurmountable as even basic ones were a decade ago. Having built one of the most sophisticated and promising sets of maritime security architecture in the world, the Gulf of Guinea is actually well-placed to take on the new challenges it faces.
To maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of this architecture in confronting these threats, a new element has to enter the conversation: technology. States, zones, regions, and the wider interregional mechanisms must all explore ways of leveraging technology to realize their respective mandates in the most cost effective way. Five years ago, discussing maritime technology would have been of limited value, as the state and cooperative mechanisms across West and Central Africa were too nascent to take advantage of it. Now, however, the Gulf of Guinea is primed to make better use of maritime security technology.
The Gulf of Guinea Has Momentum
While progress in developing functional maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea may not have been as fast as some would prefer, it is now moving rapidly, and its trajectory is unmistakable. The signing of the 2013 Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships, and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa – known informally as the Yaoundé Code of Conduct – catalyzed an intensive process of national, zonal, regional, and interregional improvement that continues to gain momentum. As Article 2 of the Code states, “the Signatories intend to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of transnational organized crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism, IUU fishing, and other illegal activities at sea.” This initiative has given rise to a multi-tiered effort.
At the national level, states are working to establish interagency processes for maritime governance, and to develop and implement national maritime strategies. States will remain the fundamental building blocks of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. Only through the national laws of the regional states can maritime crimes be effectively prosecuted. Beyond these national efforts, however, the states are engaging in an increasingly integrated, multilateral architecture that facilitates seamless cooperation.
The states, including the landlocked signatories to the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, are grouped by their respective Regional Economic Communities (REC) into maritime Zones. The Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS) has Zones A and D (there is neither a B nor a C) and the Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS) has Zones E, F, and G. The national groupings are as follows, with an asterisk indicating each country that hosts a Zonal Multinational Coordination Center (MCC):
Zone A: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo
Zone D: Cameroon*, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe
Zone E: Nigeria, Benin*, Togo, Niger
Zone F: Ghana*, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea
Zone G: Cabo Verde*, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali
Each REC also has a corresponding Regional Coordination Center – CRESMAC for ECCAS based in Pointe Noir, Congo, and CRESMAO for ECOWAS based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The two regional centers interact and share information with the MCCs to ensure operational cooperation across their respective areas of responsibility.
At the apex of the architecture is the Inter-regional Coordination Center (CIC) in Yaoundé – the intersection of the operational, strategic, and political aspects of maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea. CIC both coordinates and supports the work of the two regional centers, the five zones, and the 25 member states. At the same time, it has the important role of engaging both with international partners and national governments to build political will and ensure the Gulf of Guinea’s momentum continues.
Importantly, the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Safety and Security (YAMSS), as the institutional framework is often called, is not merely a nice idea on paper; it is increasingly producing real results on the water. Furthermore, the community of maritime professionals involved in implementing this architectural design are increasingly connected with each other and working collectively to make maritime safety and security a reality in the Gulf of Guinea. As perhaps the most notable example, Zone D already serves as a leading example of how to conduct systematic combined operations at sea for maritime security, not just in Africa but around the world. CRESMAC and CRESMAO are becoming increasingly operational in sharing information across their regions and with each other. And CIC is beginning to garner the attention needed to be successful. At every level, there are encouraging signs of growing momentum and increased community among the maritime professionals in West and Central Africa.
Most technology for maritime law enforcement is procured at the national level. Given the extent of the integration within the Yaoundé architecture, however, there is also an opportunity for technology to be procured at the zonal, regional or inter-regional levels to ensure harmonization, to streamline access to common, inherently interoperable systems and provide a uniform operating picture.
Technology, some procured within the Gulf of Guinea and some provided by international partners, has been a part of this process from the start. Most of it has involved enhancing visibility to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA). But with the growing coordination across states and regions, and the problem-solving and advance thinking that expansion has generated, key stakeholders have crossed a threshold: they can now discern with confidence what technologies will actually help maximize the impact of maritime operations. The lessons learned along the way merit careful attention from anyone seeking to leverage technology for improved maritime security. What follows are some of those insights.1
Avoiding Information Overload
Improving MDA has been a major focus for years in Africa. But there is a balance to strike: being aware of everything is almost as challenging as being aware of nothing. Efficiency and effectiveness therefore begin with how information is selected and packaged for use on and off the water. Operators from across different maritime agencies share a keen interest in technology that highlights useful, actionable information, and not only collects but also filters input, helping them focus on key areas of concern rather than providing blanket visibility of all maritime activity. Given the region’s limited human as well as financial resources, such technology could guide them toward confidently engaging in targeted interdiction. This holds true for maritime criminal activity as well as fisheries protection.
But to be used consistently and effectively, the technology must be user-friendly as well. Simplicity is an important differentiator between technology that would improve general maritime domain awareness and technology that would actually help operations in law enforcement, fisheries protection, or search and rescue. For instance, artificial intelligence has now made it possible to have an MDA platform that not only shows ship positions and makes recent AIS anomalies visible, but also aggregates a wide range of real-time and historic data and filters them according to selected parameters, providing instant alerts to suspected illegal activity. That array of functions would allow for both launching decisive interdictions and detecting patterns of illicit activity.
Technology Can Facilitate Inter-Regional Harmonization
When any one state or even zone is perceived to be weaker than its neighbors, in terms of either its laws or its capacity for law enforcement, that state or zone becomes a magnet for criminality. Consequently, a major focus of the YAMSS is on harmonization to ensure consistency in deterring and addressing maritime crime throughout the Gulf of Guinea. Depending on how it is chosen, distributed and applied, technology could either exacerbate the problem or help resolve it.
When one state has a significant technological advantage over its neighbors, the neighboring states are likely to suffer. Conversely, when shared technologies are deployed across neighboring zones and regions, new possibilities arise for communication, coordination, interoperability, and even harmonization of legal and regulatory frameworks. Some technologies, for example, could provide insight across the region as to where IUU fishing and illicit transshipment most frequently occur, or call attention to ships on erratic or otherwise suspicious courses. This could in turn inform legislative or regulatory action as well as operational decision-making at the national or zonal levels to help address maritime problems where they are most acute. Such an approach can therefore help CIC with building the political will to harmonize, as well as help the operators in their planning and execution of law enforcement activities. The more seamlessly technology is deployed across a region, the more difficult it becomes for criminals to find venues for illicit activity. As the name suggests, transnational crime is borderless; a common operating picture across the regions is therefore vital to identifying that illicit activity.
Not only have the maritime institutions evolved in recent years, the available maritime technology has developed greatly. Surveillance systems to identify illicit activity on the water – from illegal fishing to illicit transshipment to trafficking and smuggling – have improved dramatically. Employing this technology means that operators are not merely patrolling on the off chance they encounter illicit activity. The confidence of law enforcement agencies that they will not be wasting fuel and other resources is greatly enhanced by engaging in targeted interdiction of vessels reasonably certain to be committing offenses based on real-time information.
If law enforcement agencies can show that their efficiency is such that they have successful interdictions nearly every time they deploy assets, that success can become contagious. It can help energize the maritime agencies, deter criminal actors, and at the same time build the political will to ensure the longer-term safety and security of the maritime domain. Politicians are persuaded by success, and technology can greatly increase the odds of operational success.
Culprits Do Not Have to be Caught Red-Handed
In addition to facilitating targeted interdiction, advanced surveillance technologies can offer a further benefit. Just as a robber could be arrested at home for a heist caught on closed caption television (CCTV), it is now possible for vessels to be arrested in port for illicit actions committed at sea and recorded using sophisticated maritime surveillance platforms. Though CCTV is not a possibility on the water, other technologies including the use of the vessels’ Automated Information System (AIS), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and Electro Optical Imaging (EO) can produce high degrees of certainty regarding illicit activity. While states must ensure that their rules of evidence allow for such electronic and digital data to be used in court, this leveraging of historic surveillance data is another way the technology available today can greatly amplify the impact of limited maritime law enforcement resources.
Technology that helps counter smuggling will inherently benefit two states simultaneously – the state that is losing the smuggled good, and the state that is losing the tax on the importation of that smuggled product. If implemented effectively, technology could disincentivize the smuggling of certain goods. One crucial example of this is fuel: the cost of doing business in illicit fuel could, with effective law enforcement, become higher than that of selling it legally, thereby making it an unattractive business proposition. A suite of technologies such as molecular marking, GPS tracking of shipments, digital documentation, and state-of-the-art metering, strategically implemented across the Gulf of Guinea, would alter the risk-reward calculus and help West and Central Africa eradicate most cross-border smuggling of fuel. These and related technologies could also appreciably mitigate other modalities of illicit trade, including counterfeit tobacco and pharmaceuticals.
Technology that Pays for Itself Sells Itself
For states and multinational bodies working to secure and govern vast maritime spaces that seldom command the political attention they deserve, investments in technology have to bring returns that justify initial and ongoing expenditure. Technologies that enable more streamlined and cost-effective operations, that combat activities that lead to substantial economic losses, or that actively generate revenue in the form of taxes, fees or various kinds of penalties are preferable to those that run at ongoing cost.
Countering IUU fishing, prosecuting environmental crimes, and combating fuel smuggling are three efforts that could hold precisely this kind of appeal. Acquiring new technology that can stem economic losses from depleted fisheries and degraded marine spaces, elicit substantial financial penalties for illegal fishing or environmental, dumping, recover revenues previously lost to fuel smuggling or prevent subsidies fraud may well find more support among decision-makers than procuring more patrol vessels that need to be crewed, fueled, and maintained. And when the technology begins to pay for itself and lead to more success on the water, investing in new patrol vessels that can amplify that success also begins to look more attractive.
If the political classes can see financial return on investment as well as improved maritime safety, security, and sustainability, wider adoption of the technology becomes more likely. Furthermore, if the procurement approach does not put all the economic burden on the purchaser, but rather balances investment and return, the Gulf of Guinea states are more likely to proceed.
Maritime Safety, Security and Resource Protection Can Share Technology
The Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct not only laid the groundwork for an inter-regional security architecture, it also established IUU fishing as a crime coequal with piracy, trafficking, oil theft, and other illicit activities. This move made it possible to establish far more effective legal deterrents than the administrative penalties that often accompany fisheries-related crimes. It also allows for more sharing of technology and information across agencies that combat the full range of illicit maritime activities. In light of how such criminal enterprises as IUU fishing, trafficking, and oil theft often overlap, sharing technology in this fashion can close gaps in law enforcement that criminals have all too often exploited.
Given that limited resources become even more limited when they are divided among multiple agencies trying to accomplish similar tasks, this sort of integration could have an immediate impact on maritime safety, fisheries protection and maritime security. Such sharing of resources, however, necessitates a functional interagency mechanism for maritime governance. Thus the state-level work on both whole-of-government approaches to maritime security and integrated maritime strategy development and implementation go hand-in-hand with the prospects for effective use of such technology.
Technology Can Both Help and Complicate Legal Finish
One of the most difficult challenges for the Gulf of Guinea, and indeed for any region, is translating operational successes into legal finish. If no prosecutorial or regulatory action is taken to penalize illicit activity, maritime law enforcement becomes a matter of catch and release. Technology can play an important role in assisting with maritime interdiction, but it also has an essential role to play in effectuating legal finish.
That said, a challenge must first be overcome. Not all legal systems have provisions for technological, digital, or electronic evidence. In order to be able to use the evidence provided by the MDA and monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) technologies now emerging, the state’s evidentiary rules must be amended to ensure that technology can be used in court. If those evidentiary rules are more permissive, however, there is another possibility for assisting law enforcement.
Traditionally, in the maritime space, perpetrators have to be caught in the act. But, as noted above, technology that provides evidence of illicit activity at sea could potentially be used to arrest vessels at the pier and on their return from a voyage that involved a breach of the law. In other words, limited vessels or a lack of fuel would not be a barrier to arrest and prosecution. Furthermore, regardless of where a vessel was caught, historical data could be used to increase the charges and penalties for prior offenses as indicated by the technology.
The Gulf of Guinea is ready to more effectively use technology to enhance the work done to develop and operationalize the cooperative maritime security architecture in West and Central Africa. Cost-neutral or even revenue generating technology is most likely to garner the necessary political will, but from an operator’s standpoint, simplicity is also key. In addition to aiding targeted interdiction, technology can help provide the evidence for pier-side arrests and even enhance charges and penalties based on prior illicit activity. That said, legal systems must account for such technological evidence in court. Harmonized legal finish across the Gulf of Guinea must be a central focus, as that is the only way to change the risk-reward calculus and ensure that no state or zone becomes a magnet for crime.
In a larger, more strategic sense, the individual states and regional bodies pursuing greater maritime security and development in the Gulf of Guinea must also work together to harmonize their more foundational approaches to the challenges facing the region. Too often stakeholders presented with the chance to cooperate or collaborate in confronting such issues fall into the trap of viewing that effort in terms of false dichotomies. They may rightly be keen to exercise autonomy in light of a history in which their sovereignty has been compromised. But they may also unhelpfully misinterpret the cooperative and collaborative harmonization of approaches as being a threat to sovereignty. In an effort to maintain their autonomy, they may therefore isolate themselves, and consequently become more of a magnet to the highly cooperative, transnational criminals they face.
Cooperating and collaborating
This diagram reveals how the terms of a dichotomy are never simply binary, but actually part of a cluster of related terms that are often conflated, or defined in varying ways.2 Failing to get outside the “box” formed by these choices can narrow vision and obstruct communication, and thus frustrate efforts at progress. The stakeholders in the Gulf of Guinea must clarify for themselves and each other the difference between exercising autonomy and isolating themselves, and between cooperating or collaborating and losing sovereignty. If everyone can achieve this “outside-the-box” clarity, progress can happen quickly and effectively. While many of the maritime operators recognize these nuanced dynamics, they have a challenge to overcome in convincing their political leadership to move past a limiting dichotomy centered on autonomy, and instead embrace cooperation and recognize the value in sharing resources and technology to secure, govern, and develop the maritime space in the Gulf of Guinea.
The work of maritime professionals in West and Central Africa to pursue safety, security, and sustainability in the maritime domain has already led to some notable successes. Now it is in a position to begin realizing the ambitious vision of successfully securing, governing, and developing the region’s maritime domain. This is where new, better, and more effectively used technology can play a pivotal role by enabling individual states and regional bodies to make far more effective use of their resources to control the maritime space. Stakeholders must now select the right tools for the job – those that provide the necessary precision, simplicity of use, cost-effectiveness, and ability to link efforts across both agencies and maritime boundaries.
Ian Ralby is a recognized expert in maritime law and security, serving as Adjunct Professor of Maritime Law and Security at the US Department of Defense’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies; a Maritime Crime Expert for UNODC; and as CEO of I.R. Consilium, a family business that works matters of security, governance and development.
David Soud is Head of Research and Analysis at I.R. Consilium and works on issues at the intersection of fisheries governance and transnational organized crime.
Rohini Ralby is Managing Director of I.R. Consilium and works on strategy development and implementation.
1. A recent public-private conference organized by the US firm I.R. Consilium, LLC in Freetown, Sierra Leone explored this topic and served as the basis for the key points of this article.
2. The diagram is an example of the “fourchotomy,” a strategic tool devised by Rohini Ralby.
Featured Image: GULF OF GUINEA (April 2, 2014) A U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement detachment member and a Ghanaian navy sailor inspect a fishing vessel suspected of illegal fishing during the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership. The partnership is the operational phase of Africa Partnership Station and brings together U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and respective Africa partner maritime forces to actively patrol that partner’s territorial waters and economic exclusion zone with the goal of intercepting vessels that may have been involved in illicit activity. (U.S. Navy photo by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng/Released)
Technology adoption moves in fits and starts. The developing world cannot be forced into accepting new technology, but it can be enabled, and often in a surprising manner. A recent example is the leap in communications technology. During the 20th Century most of the world developed a robust network of terrestrial-based telecommunications based primarily on the ubiquitous land-line telephone system. Without this infrastructure in place Sub-Saharan African countries were largely left behind at the start of the information revolution. But at the turn of the new century something interesting happened. Rather than retroactively building an archaic phone system Africans embraced mobile phone technology. From 1999 through 2004 the number of mobile subscribers in Africa eclipsed those of other continents, increasing at a rate of 58 percent annually. Asia, the second fastest area of saturation, grew at only 34 percent during that time. The explosive growth of mobile phones and more recently smart phones across practically every African city and village has liberated economies and facilitated the free flow of information. This technology also enabled Africans to lead the world in mobile money payment solutions, bypassing increasingly obsolete banking systems.
Today, Africans have another opportunity to leap ahead in technology to protect one of their most important areas of commerce – their coastal seas. Africa’s maritime economy is absolutely critical to the continent’s growth and prosperity during the next few decades. On the edge of the Eastern Atlantic the Gulf of Guinea is bordered by eight West African nations, and is an extremely important economic driver. More than 450 million Africans derive commercial benefit from this body of water. The region contains 50.4 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves and has produced up to 5.5 million barrels of oil per day. Additionally, over 90 percent of foreign imports and exports cross the Gulf of Guinea making it the region’s key connector to the global economy.
Favorable demographics and industrious populations put coastal Africans in a position to prosper, but an increase in illegal fishing activities and piracy since the early 2000s has severely impeded this potential. The growth in acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea from 2000 onward points to the challenges faced by West African states.
According to Quartz Africa, illegal fishing activities in the region have a negative economic impact of $2-3 billion annually. “Fish stocks are not restricted to national boundaries, and that is why the solutions to end the overfishing of West Africa’s waters can only come from joint efforts between the countries of the region,” Ahmed Diame, Greenpeace’s Africa Oceans campaigner, said in a statement. Marine pollution, human, and narcotics trafficking are also major issues facing the region.
Due to the economic impact of illicit activities in and around West Africa a Summit of the Gulf of Guinea heads of state and government was held in 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon. This resulted in the adoption of the Yaoundé Declaration on Gulf of Guinea Security. Two key resolutions contained in the Declaration were the creation of an inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, headquartered in Yaoundé, and the implementation of a new Code of Conduct Concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa. Adoption of this agreement has laid the foundation for critical information sharing and resource cooperation that can be used to combat piracy, illegal fishing, and other illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea.
Though the Code of Conduct established an architecture for maritime security in the region, without enforcement on the water, diplomatic efforts are largely impotent. Key to enforcement is the ability to identify, track, and prosecute nefarious actors on the high seas and in coastal areas. So-called maritime domain awareness is gradually improving in the area, but current options for maritime surveillance are limited. The largest local navies have offshore patrol vessels capable of multi-day over-the-horizon operations, but even these vessels have limited enforcement capacity. Patrol vessels face maintenance issues and fuel scarcity. Shore-based radar systems at best reach out 30 or 40 nautical miles, but are plagued by power and maintenance issues. Moreover, a shore-based radar, even with signals correlated from vessels transmitting on the Automatic Identification System, only provides knowledge that a contact is afloat, not necessarily any evidence to illicit actions.
Latin American navies face similar maritime challenges to those in Africa and have learned that airborne surveillance is simply the best way to locate, track, identify, and classify surface maritime targets involved in illicit or illegal activity. A retired senior naval officer from the region related a study in the Caribbean narcotics transit zone to one of the authors that compared different surveillance mechanisms for the 11,000 square nautical mile area. The probability of detecting a surface target within six hours rose from only five percent with a surface asset to 95 percent when maritime patrol aircraft were included. Only a handful of coastal African countries have fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters, but these aircraft face similar issues to surface assets with fuel costs and mechanical readiness resulting in limited flight time on station.
Drone Solutions to African Maritime Insecurity
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, as they are known colloquially, provide a way for African navies and coast guards to greatly enhance maritime security in a relatively inexpensive manner, similar to the ways mobile telephony revolutionized communications on the continent. Similar to the evolution of computing power outlined by Moore’s law tactical UAS are rapidly growing in capabilities while decreasing in cost. Improvements in sensors, endurance, and payload are advancing quickly. For any solution, acquisition cost, maintainability, and infrastructure required are key factors to be considered. The cost per flying hour of most UAS is negligible compared to their manned counterparts. Today’s fixed and rotary-wing systems, whether specifically designed for military use or for commercial applications, can be adapted for surveillance in a maritime environment without much additional cost.
Because each country has unique requirements and budgets no single UAS solution is appropriate. Maritime drones can be based ashore or on coastal patrol vessels. One viable option for countries with limited resources involves services contracted by Western Partners, a model which has already been proven in the region for other applications. Alternatively, the Yaoundé Code of Conduct provides a framework for a possible shared model. This agreement can provide the timely sharing of critical information ascertained by maritime surveillance and reconnaissance systems to aid in the enforcement of the maritime laws and agreements in the region. Contractor-operated drones could be allocated across countries by leadership in the five Zones delineated by the Code. Multinational cooperation on maritime security has already been tested in the annual Obangame Express exercise and during real-world counterpiracy operations. Understanding that not all countries have the investment capability to purchase their own stand-alone systems, consideration could be given to sharing the initial investment costs between countries. The logistics of system placement and asset availability would have to be determined by the participating countries themselves but the benefit of such a program would positively impact the entire region economically, enhance interoperability, and assist in regional stability.
Drones are already being operated across Africa by Africans. Zambia recently purchased Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles for counter-poaching operations. There are also African unmanned systems flying surveillance missions over areas plagued by violent extremists groups. UAS are even being used to transport blood and medical supplies across the continent’s vast rural landscapes. Shifting these assets over water is a natural progression. One concern about using UAS is airspace deconfliction. However, this problem is minimized because there is little to no civil aviation in most parts of Africa. Additionally, most maritime UAS would be flying primarily at low altitudes over water from coastal bases.
The leap-ahead capabilities that unmanned surveillance aircraft could provide to coastal security around Africa are clearly evident. African navies with adequate resources should make acquisition of unmanned air systems a priority. Likewise, western foreign military assistance programs should focus on providing contracted or organic unmanned aircraft capabilities.
Captain Rawley, a surface warfare officer, and Lieutenant Commander Patmon, a naval aviator, are assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet’s Maritime Partnership Program detachment responsible for helping West African countries enhance their maritime security. The opinions in this article are those of the authors alone and do not officially represent the U.S. Navy or any other organization
Featured Image: GULF OF GUINEA (March 26, 2018) A visit board search and seizure team member from the Ghanaian special boat service communicates with his team during a search aboard a target vessel during exercise Obangame Express 2018, March 26. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)