Tag Archives: Somalia

East Africa: A Historical Lack of Navies

PiratesChances are that, for all except the most wonky observers and those stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the issue of African naval affairs only came into popular consciousness alongside media-saturating images of Somali pirates menacing international freighters with rocket-propelled grenade launches from their little fishing dhows. To anyone who’s spent time in any Somali regions, there’s more than a little irony in this renewed interest, as up until the conception of Somali naval responses and responsibilities to the dangers in their sovereign waters conjured one into existence, the Horn of Africa proper had no navy to speak of.

The lack of naval forces in the Somali regions pre-piracy could easily be explained away by the anarchy into which Somalia descended in the late 1980s. But it’s actually more complicated than all that, since even after independence, while Djibouti and Ethiopia-then-Eritrea developed formidable naval forces to police the waters of the Red Sea, despite the size of its population and its massive coastline, post-colonial Somalia at its height boasted a navy of only about 20 ships, almost entirely small Soviet vessels put on patrol duties to police the waters against illegal fishing.

And even in the aftermath of the Civil War of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, despite the development of regional pockets of stability like Somaliland and Puntland, new navies, even patrols in dinghies, did not develop. That’d be less surprising if securing borders, establishing monopolies of violence, and creating formidable land forces to insulate the regions from the ravages befalling the rest of Somalia hadn’t been central to the rhetoric of Somaliland and Puntland for fifteen and ten years (respectively) before the advent of mass piracy.

It’d actually be fair to say (and here’s the meat of the irony) that the lack of a navy was directly complicit in the emergence of the piracy that’s refocused the world and local de facto governments onto naval affairs as an anti-piracy remedy. The absence of even a tiny naval presence on the Horn removed the last barrier to now-well-documented illegal fishing and waste dumping in coastal waters. In conversations with locals in coastal towns and with some individuals who seem to have credible ties to piracy themselves, it’s become clear that one of the major draws into piracy for many is the justification of a national vigilantism, in which despairing fishermen are told that they have the opportunity to harass foreign powers violating their sovereign waters, drive out the individuals who are degrading the viability of the traditional livelihoods, and make a fat stack of cash in the process. Those associated with piracy say that even when this self-justification quickly loses its validity as civilian and merchant ships are targeted, the economic needs of shattered communities and sense of hopelessness and insecurity along the coast drives people to continue their activities.

It’s hard to imagine that the development of Somali navies (the plural will be explained momentarily) will lessen this sense of insecurity, as the timing of their emergence and their provenance can send a conflicting message on the priorities of the state. Although the navy is popular with the clans in power in port cities like Bosaso and Berbera, the fact that maritime troops developed only in response to the demands and through the financial initiative of foreign powers can give off the sense that the navy exists primarily as a service provided for and to limited segments of society, and not necessarily to the bulk of the populations that rely on the sea for a livelihood. Reports that Somali navies encountering illegal fishers from Yemen have released the offenders so as not to damage relations between the two countries are feeding this image of a “national” army more focused on international pressures than on duties to all residents of the Somali state(s).

That holds true throughout “Somalia” despite the fact that multiple navies have developed piecemeal across the various de facto independent entities that make up Somalia on the map. The first force formed in 2009 in Somaliland, based in the port of Berbera and stocked with speed boats and radios by the British. This force consists of 600 men split across 12 bases (usually little more than a tent on the coast near a village) patrolling 530 miles of coastline and operating on (at most) $200,000 per year. Soon after, the government of Puntland started a partnership with the Saracen International and later received funding from the United Arab Emirates to train a 500-man force patrolling an even greater 1,000 miles of coastline. Mogadishu has made forays into the development of a navy as well, but the status of any such projects is opaque, as Puntland (which considers itself an autonomous federal state of the Somali government based in Baidoa/Mogadishu) is often lumped into considerations of military developments in Somalia as a whole.

While it would be fair to say that there is some difference between the Somaliland and Puntland forces, with Puntland engaging in more raids on what Somalis describe as “pirate bases” and Somaliland leading more constant patrols to deter activities within range of the ports and shipping lanes, it is fair to say that all Somali naval forces derive their deterrent capabilities and effectiveness at capturing pirates on a budget primarily from local intelligence gather. Behind every reported attack on a pirate base or capture of a pirate boat (although it is always highly questionable whether the “pirates” captured were actually just quasi-legal or illegal fishermen) is a tip-off from a local, making use of the exceptional telecoms coverage and penetration and low call rates in Somalia, notifying officials of strange boats plying the town’s waters.

More ships, more money, more men is the current cry and hue from officials in Somaliland and Puntland. But the lessons of the Somali navies thus far have been that the effectiveness of Somali naval forces derives not from manpower and equipment (as creating a sufficient naval force to cover Somalia’s massive coastline is impractical for the nation at present) but from intelligence gathering and the cascading effects of the economic benefits of re-securing of sovereign waters and subsequent decline in the justifications for and incentives to join in piracy. Thus the future of naval affairs in Somalia practically lies primarily in the development of local outreach along the coast, systematic and reliable reporting mechanisms, the disruption of lines of communication between those who plan and commission pirate strikes and those individuals on the coast who carry them out, and the investment of national resources in redeveloping fisheries and port resources in coastal towns. Perhaps that solution’s none to exciting to the officers in the Somali navies or to the wonks watching them, but it’s an efficient solution for a region with limited resources and an almost limitless coast—which may explain why it bares such a potential similarity to the barebones but sufficient naval forces and strategy of the post-colonial, pre-collapse Somali navy.”

Mark E. Hay is a sometimes-freelance writer, sometimes-blogger, and sometimes-graduate student at the University of Oxford. Academically, he focuses upon the history and theory of Islam in the Indian Ocean world. Outside of the academy, he writes more broadly about anything under the big tent of culture, faith, identity politics, and sexuality—basically anything human beings will fight over.

Balanced Public/Private Effort for West African Maritime Security

By Emil Maine and Charlotte Florance

Shifting Hot Spots

Over the past decade piracy off the coast of Somalia dominated the focus of international maritime security efforts. Recently, however, the frequency of pirate attacks in the region has dropped off—reaching their lowest point since 2006 according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB)’s global piracy report. Although attacks continue, no large commercial vessel has been seized in the region since 2012. Meanwhile piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is surging, threatening a vital shipping lifeline for a dozen countries and targeting vessels that carry nearly 30% of all U.S. oil imports. Given the Gulf of Guinea’s strategic value, it is little surprise that concerns over the region’s growing insecurity has quickly overshadowed international interest in piracy elsewhere.

International anxieties over piracy stem from: (1) national security implications, (2) structural threat to international trade, and (3) threat to local and regional stability.

West African Militants

Apples and Oranges

Despite parallels to Somali piracy, attacks in the Gulf of Guinea take place within a different operational and political context. Piracy counter-measures are not one-size fits all. Understanding these differences is critical when exploring policy prescriptions.

Pirate attacks originating off Somalia tend to be strategic, and involve seizing ships in passage and holding their crews for high ransom. In contrast, West Africans pirates primarily focus on stealing cargo and siphoning oil. This behavioral divergence allows West African pirates to operate in the littoral, making them less vulnerable to the navy-heavy strategy credited with stemming the tide of piracy in Somalia.

Pirates in West Africa are able to take advantage of a well-established illicit political economy.  They enjoy access to pre-existing international criminal networks and close ties to the shipping industries. These benefits, accompanied by lax maritime security in the area, create an ideal environment for piracy.

Many studies note four broad factors led to piracy reductions in Somalia, and recommend the same approach in West Africa. According to a July 2013 Chatham House report, the factors are:

  1. The presence of international naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, with the remit to disrupt and deter pirate activity.
  2. The implementation of best management practices (BMP) by the majority of commercial ship-owners with vessels passing through the high-risk area of the Indian Ocean.
  3. The presence of private armed security personnel aboard commercial ships.
  4. Regional capacity-building, particularly international support for improvements to the legal systems and prison capacities in east and southern Africa’s littoral states, allowing for increased prosecution and imprisonment of convicted pirates.

After all, these measures led to extraordinary reductions in attempted or actual hijackings in the Horn of Africa. However, distinct differences in West African political, legal, and criminal structure present new challenges that will require an adaptive approach to implementation.

Changing the Channel

In Somalia, piracy sprung from anarchy; in West Africa, it resulted from intentional efforts to expand criminal operations. Consequently, attacks are better coordinated, executed with precision, and oftentimes impossible to trace. West Africa contains several sophisticated criminal organizations with deep international ties. These networks provide pirates access to extensive intelligence–including ship schedules, cargo, and crew capability–and allows for the storage and black-market sales of pirated goods. Additionally, due to drug sales and trafficking, criminal networks wield financial leverage with local governments and militaries—undermining the rule of law. For example, earlier this year the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) reported that:

“In early April, Rear-Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, a former Chief of the Guinea-Bissau navy was caught in a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sting on board a yacht in international waters in the Atlantic. According to prosecutors, he planned to bring 3.5 tonnes of Colombian cocaine to the African country inside a shipment of military uniforms and then smuggle weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, back to Colombia’s FARC rebels.”

Rear-Admiral Tchuto was not the only example of criminal ties to West African governments. The RUSI report also notes trafficking-related charges brought against a Malian police commissioner, the former caretaker-president of Guinea Bissau, and other high-level officials.

There are certainly benefits to maritime security efforts, including the presence of private armed security personnel aboard ship, increased international naval patrols, and the implementation of BMP. These efforts are likely to reduce hijackings and attacks, and should be employed. However, in the long term effectively safeguarding maritime traffic requires a balanced public/private effort with the use of force limited to protecting commerce and maintaining freedom of the seas. Also required is an effective strategy to resolve West Africa’s troubles and establish and bolster the rule of law.

Emil Maine is a National Security Research Assistant at the Heritage Foundation, where he conducts independent research on U.S. defense posture. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.

Charlotte Florance is a research associate at Heritage Foundation.  She studies U.S. policy toward Africa and the Middle East, concentrating on economic freedom, democratic institutions, development and security cooperation. The views and opinions expressed in this article are her own.

East Africa: More Than Just Pirates

The challenges facing East African maritime security are many, and without viable measures taken to combat growing sea-born threats, the region is destined to remain in a state of instability and war. The absence of a formidable naval power in the area has allowed illicit smuggling activity to flourish in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, and has also allowed state and non-state actors to manipulate the lawlessness to their own advantage, leading to increased insecurity in the region.  Looking past East Africa’s most publicized maritime problem, piracy, I would like to discuss two equally threatening, but less well-known issues, currently inhibiting its stability.

Illicit Trafficking

The first major issue that arises due to inadequate regional naval capabilities is the widespread smuggling of illicit arms, drugs and people into, out of and throughout East African countries. The influx of drugs, munitions and other illicit goods, arm and fund terrorist organizations and militias not only on Africa’s Eastern coast but in the rest of the continent as well. Somalia’s al Shabaab, Kenya’s al Shabaab affiliate, al Hijra, and the Congolese rebel group M23, are all examples of groups sustained through illegal maritime smuggling.

Weapons enter the region not just through the vulnerable Gulf of Aden and the Somali coastline, but also through considerably more stable and peaceful countries like Kenya and Seychelles. Once ashore, illicit materials easily find their way through the hands of corrupt government officials to destabilizing, violent actors. New intelligence estimates point to growing cross continental smuggling networks between groups like al Shabaab and North Africa’s Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, heightening the importance for a secure Eastern shore.

Human trafficking, another dangerous issue, further highlights the permeable nature of the regions’ maritime borders. According to the International Organization for Migration, in the first four months of 2012, 43,000 migrants traveled from East Africa, through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, to Yemen. This constant flow of migrants in and out of the region allows for a massive human smuggling market.

In recent news, there have been reports of the success of the NATO fleet in reducing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. But under Operation Ocean Shield, NATO vessels are strictly tasked with counter-piracy measures and are unable to intervene in the practice of illicit trafficking occurring in those same bodies of water. While good work is being done to prevent piratical attacks, illegal smuggling of people, munitions, and other goods remains unchecked.

Kenya’s Unilateral Maritime Power and its Consequences

It's hard being best on the block.
It’s hard being best on the block.

The second problem that surfaces is due to an uneven balance of power. Kenya possesses the overwhelming naval advantage in the region, allowing it hegemonic rule over maritime boundaries. Kenya has 23 ships in its fleet, which were mainly acquired through Western allies such as the United States, France, Spain and Great Britain. Kenya’s offensive capabilities are limited and its fleet only has two amphibious assault vessels, which were most recently used to attack the terrorist-held Somali city of Kismayo in September 2012. While the Kenyan fleet is small when compared to international standards, it is far more powerful than any other East African country.

Kenya’s Southern neighbor, Tanzania, has a navy that consists of seven attack vessels and twelve patrol vessels obtained from the Chinese between 1969-1971. Tanzania’s navy is effectively untested and would likely be unable to engage in any meaningful military action to secure its coastline. To Kenya’s north, Somalia has no navy to speak of, and has been reliant on the Kenyan naval power in helping secure key al Shabaab stronghold’s along Somalia’s Southern coast.

The absence of another equal, or at least, threatening East African power in the Indian Ocean allows Kenya to exert undue control over its maritime neighbors. Kenya and Somalia are in the middle of a maritime border dispute that is currently leaning in favor of Kenya. The Somali government believes the border should be drawn perpendicular to the coastline, whereas the Kenyan government wants the border to be drawn along the line of latitude. Complicating the issue are potential underwater oil reserves and existing oil licenses granted by both countries for exploration in the disputed area. Kenya continues to push for exploration agreements with private companies, despite the inability of the two countries to delineate an agreeable maritime boundary, aggravating an already tense relationship.

Further irritating Kenyan and Somali border relations, are corrupt Kenyan Navy officials who have taken advantage of Somalia’s fledgling central government and have begun to encroach on its sovereignty. A UN report released in July 2013, asserted that following al Shabaab’s defeat in Kismayo, the Kenyan Navy took over control of the port. It now controls all goods coming into and going out of Kismayo, and corrupt Kenyan officials collect revenues from the port that should instead be managed by the Somali government. Kenyan Navy personnel even flouted the UN ban on charcoal exports from Kismayo, despite protestations from the Somali government and international organizations.

Kenya’s unilateral maritime power allows corrupt individuals to adhere to their own rules of engagement and many times disregard international norms, infringing on neighboring countries’ maritime, and land-based sovereignty. This severely threatens stability in the region as this manipulation of power creates tenuous and volatile relationships with other East African nations and the international community.

The First Steps

When thinking of possible solutions to help increase naval power and maritime security in East Africa, it is hard to imagine viable near-term options. Some governments have taken steps to try to address maritime vulnerabilities. Kenya passed a law in 2010 formerly recognizing human trafficking as a crime. Also in 2010, the semi-autonomous Somali state of Puntland established the Puntland Maritime Police Force. It was first created as an anti-piracy body but it has had some success in intercepting arms, drugs and human smugglers. These measures are good first steps, but broader, regionally agreed upon action must be taken.

It is hard, however, for these countries’ governments to justify spending money to secure their nations’ maritime borders, when the there is no certainty of peace on land. But of course, it is necessary to understand that without maritime stability, that peace cannot be assured.

Breuk previously worked at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and published articles on issues relating to security in the Horn of Africa. She received her B.A. in International and Comparative Politics from Brown University and is currently studying in North Africa.

African Navies Week: Al Shabaab Is Only the Beginning

On the Run, or Running Somewhere New?

After the massacre at Westgate, many American media outlets acted as if they were only hearing Al-Shabaab’s name for the first time. This is only the tip of the US Medias Fifth-Estate-Failure iceberg. While incidents may be reported in part and parcel, the staggering scale of militant Islam goes disturbingly unreported. While many of these movements remain separate to a point, the  geographic and communicative proximity provided by globalization serves as a catalyst for a horrifying potential collective even more monstrous than anything we could imagine in Afghanistan.

Globalization of De-development

Yellow: Attacks Red: Open Extremist Conflict Orange: Getting Close Skull: Who do you Think?
Yellow: Attacks
Red: Open Extremist Conflict
Orange: Getting Close
Skull: Who do you Think?

ADM Stravridis pegged this problem squarely on the head when he brought up convergence, that globalization is merely a tool. What can be used for to organize communities and build stable growing economies can also help coordinate civilization’s detractors. To spread our gaze further than the recent events in Libya and Somalia, Boko Haram fights a war against the Nigerian government; this is spreading into Niger, Camaroon, and Chad through a porous border. Its militants have also been found in in Mali, where they fought and trained with both Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM) (MOJWA’s former parent organization). There, they fight an open war with the government. MOJWA meanwhile is also fighting in Niger. In one case, even more  with al Mua’qi’oon Biddam in revenge for an AQIM leader killed by the French and Chadians in Mali. While the forces of globalization may allow nice things like the Star Alliance global airline network, it can also be harnessed to create this jihadist hydra.

With Somalia’s conflict spreading beyond its borders in the east and the coalition of chaos in the west, the center is not holding either. The Central Africa Republic sits in the middle, with potential militant Islamic rebels causing mayhem throughout the country after a successful coup… not that their neighbor is doing much better. Oh, did we mention Egypt too? No? Well… I’ll stop before I’ve totally crushed my own spirits. The tendrils of many different militant groups, often associated with, facilitated by, or directly franchised by Al Qaeda grow close together in a vast body of uncontrolled spaces.

Why the Navy?

So, it’s African Navies week, and I’ve yet to get to maritime security. You’d be correct to assume that, as with Somalia, these problems don’t have primarily naval solutions… but effective maritime security will help prevent the growth of the power vacuum and encourage shore-side virtuous cycles.

The critical importance of maritime security is both pushing back the lawlessness and increasing entry costs for illicit actors. Lawlessness builds vacuums of civil order or undergrounds paths for militant Islam to enter either the money or idea markets. Islamic Militancy isn’t just sporadic and spontaneous violence; it’s also a massive logistics and patronage system that funds militants and creates in-roads into local communities. Where al-Shabaab can utilize the Ivory trade along with the LRA (wouldn’t that be a lovely marriage of convenience), who is to say Boko-haram couldn’t find in-roads into the multi-billion dollar oil-theft market, cocaine trade, or the full-on theft of motor vessels for movement of arms, persons, or stolen goods, let alone the Nigerian piracy enterprise which now even exceeds that of Somalia. Law enforcement needs a “last line of defense.” As stolen ships, goods, and persons leave the shore, the maritime presence is that final check of a state’s strength of institutions. This not only sweeps back this vast illegal enterprise, but also makes it harder later to re-enter the market.

That strength has a virtuous effect, since a rising tide lifts all boats. The improvement of civil society is not completed one institution at a time. Professional courts require professional police require professional elected officials, etc… etc… etc… Improvements to navies and coast guards help improve other portions of military and law enforcement infrastructure. Especially as such lucrative opportunities arise as crime’s payout and connections increase, closing such temptations through capabilities and professionalism is important.

Bottom Line

Africa is critically important to future global security. Despite its great  economic growth, improving institutions, and growing innovation, the forces of terrorism so long reported “on the run” are growing and connecting at an alarming rate, even in places some thought secure. In such a vast countryside with at minimum half-dozen Afghanistan-sized poorly controlled areas, rolling back this development is of deadly importance. Maritime security, while not the primary arena, will help stay the spread of the lawless vacuum in which militancy thrives and help improve surrounding institutions to further minimize that vacuum ashore.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.