ACSS Senior Leaders Seminar: “African Maritime Interests”

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 07/06/2012

(Editor’s Note: With frequent reports of Somali piracy, Nigerian oil bunkering, and West African narco-trafficking, African maritime security has taken a major place on the world stage. While all are global threats, nowhere are the resulting harms felt more profoundly than Africa itself. Thus, “African Maritime Interests” was the featured topic of a June 27, 2012, plenary session for the 14th annual Senior Leaders Seminar sponsored June 18-29 by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The seminar took place in Arlington, Virginia, and was attended by 70 security sector professionals and other government leaders from 40 Africa nations.  Academic discussions at the Africa Center are conducted under a strict policy of non-attribution to allow free and open discussion. However, several presenters agree to allow portions of their presentations to appear on the record in order to promote broader discussion.)

The 13th plenary session of the 2012 Senior Leaders featured Mr. Christopher Pommerer, foreign affairs officer with the U.S. Department of State; Mr. Phillip Heyl, chief of Air and Maritime Security Programs at U.S. Africa Command; and Lieutenant Colonel Abdourahmane Dieng of Senegal, head of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Regional Security Division.

Mr. Pommerer began by describing maritime security as the detection, deterrence, and interdiction of illicit actors. Maritime insecurity, meanwhile, is a threat to regional security, stability, and economic growth. It is a concern to all countries, even those that are land-locked, as their well-being depends on coastal states’ access to the sea. Illicit sea operations also must begin or end on land, and that could include land in interior countries.

Mr. Pommerer stressed that what has been lacking is a coherent approach to maritime security. Potentially useful in developing that approach is the Maritime Security Sector Reform guide created by USAID, a tool for countries to assess the current state of their maritime security sectors. The situation is already improving; he noted the African Union’s ongoing task force to develop an integrated maritime strategy, as well as work being done between ECOWAS and ECCAS to establish security in the Gulf of Guinea. The United States is also working to assist African countries in enhancing their maritime capability.

Mr. Heyl then presented a map of the many littoral threats that face Africa. The list comprised weapons smuggling, human trafficking, oil theft, narcotics trafficking, illegal fishing, piracy, toxic dumping, and even uncollected customs fees that reduce government revenues. He clarified a distinction which he said is often lost on the media, that “piracy” occurs outside 12 nautical miles of a coast, whereas sea robbery is within the 12-mile international limit.

Mr. Heyl added to Mr. Pommerer’s remarks that the United States is currently assisting to enhance African maritime security capacity with slides on approaches being taken by U.S. Africa Command. For example, the use of Africa Partnership Station, a program of mostly sea-based maritime security training platforms that may make use of a variety of craft, including ships, planes, and submarines in the form of periodic ship visits. The program, crucially, has been used not only with individual countries, but also for a number of regional training exercises involving multinational crews off the coasts of Eastern, Northern and Central/Western Africa.

Other AFRICOM approaches include the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership, which trains African law enforcement through boarding exercises. (No easy task according to Mr. Heyl, considering that boarding often occurs in difficult conditions, such as on a vessel 200 miles from land, in 6-10 foot seas, at night. The U.S. Coast Guard Port Security Partnership, a program to help countries worldwide improve their port security, has now visited every coastal African country except Eritrea and Somalia. Information-sharing and legal programs also exist.

Lt. Col. Dieng offered the ECOWAS perspective on maritime security. The Gulf of Guinea being the regional organization’s main concern, he proposed that the Gulf’s area be considered as stretching from Cape Verde to Angola and said it is critical to every country in between because of its abundant fish, oil, and usefulness as a transportation corridor. Lt. Col. Dieng described how Nigeria and Benin have been bilaterally coordinating on maritime security through Operation Prosperity. For its part, Nigeria was spurred to act after realizing its imports had fallen by 70 percent in 2010 due to piracy.

ECOWAS ultimately has a vision for three operational zones of maritime security. The first zone is scheduled to launch in September of this year, comprising Nigeria, Togo, and Benin, and building off of Operation Prosperity. There are, however, still many questions to be answered regarding these zones—concerning funding, staffing, protocol, etc. Recognizing the breadth of countries along the Gulf of Guinea, ECOWAS is also coordinating with ECCAS (the Economic Community of Central African States) on issues of security.

For those interested in learning more, recent UN Security Council Resolutions concerning security in the Gulf of Guinea are available here and here.

Summary prepared by Elizabeth Casano, economics major at Northwestern University. Ms. Casano is a 2012 summer intern at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

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