The Gulf of Guinea (GoG) is a vital sea lane stretching across the West African coast. The actual area constituting the GoG has evolved over time. The Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) founded in 2001 reaches from Nigeria to Angola and presents a small GoG. However, more recently the United Nations Security Council has stretched this, defining the GoG as the coastal states of both the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as those in the GCC (UNSC, 2011). This broader definition has since been adopted by the countries that made up the original GGC as well as ECOWAS and ECCAS. This definition was further embedded through the Yaoundé Code of Conduct adopted these countries (Yaounde Code of Conduct, 2013).
This piece will be examining transnational efforts to fight crime at sea in the GoG since the Yaounde Code of Conduct as this act seemed to represent a massive re-structuring of maritime security in the region. Of particular importance was the introduction of the Yaounde Architecture that enabled greater regional and transnational cooperation in tackling blue crime. This piece will critically analyse the measures taken since 2013 in regard to fighting blue crime. This will be followed by evaluating their success and issues that have been ignored despite their critical importance to security in the region.
Given the links between both the types of blue crime and their transnational nature, any solution to blue crime in the GoG needs to take a comprehensive and regional approach. The 2013 Yaoundé Agreement was an attempt to achieve this. The Yaoundé Agreement brought all ECOWAS, ECCAS and GCC countries together to set up an interregional maritime security structure known as the Yaoundé Architecture. This was designed to maximise cooperation and communication across the GoG, both between countries and across regional blocs. Map 1 shows the geographic extent and zones that the Architecture operates across while Figure 1 outlines the structure of the Architecture and the various links between its bodies. The Inter-regional Coordination Centre (ICC) works to foster cooperation between the Regional Maritime Security Centres (CRESMs). CRESMAO (CRESM West Africa) represents ECOWAS and CRESMAC (CRESM Central Africa) ECCAS. Each CRESM in turn is designed to coordinate between the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centres (MMCCs) that are responsible for coordinating the national Maritime Operations Centres (MOCs) of each zone. The MOCs are the part of the Architecture responsible for the actual day-to-day maritime security operations of each nation (Yücel, 2021, p. 149).
The idea behind this architecture was to create a system whereby nations are not subordinated to regional bodies, instead through the MMCCs and higher bodies, those responsible for national level maritime enforcement were provided channels to allow for rapid coordination between nations. This has been deemed necessary for interdicting criminals crossing or operating around maritime boundaries.
Unfortunately, the Architecture has many problems, both in implementation and formation. Chiefly there has been a failure to clearly define what the CRESMs and ICC should actually produce, and for whom (Okafor-Yarwood, et al., 2020, p. 79). The ICC lays out its own objectives clearly on its website, stating it
“looks to build the capacities of the civilian and military personnel of the regions in maritime law enforcement; coordinate training and practices; facilitate information exchange among the navies of the Member States; promote the harmonization of texts on maritime law enforcement including those relating to the fight against piracy, armed robbery, other illicit acts committed at sea, sea pollution and ensure the protection of the environment.” (Interregional Coordination Centre, 2021).
The CRESMs lack a similar clear articulation of their own roles despite the similarity in purpose they should have. The reality has been that neither the CRESMs nor ICC have been systematically fulfilling their roles, even 8 years on from the introduction of the Yaounde Architecture (Okafor-Yarwood, et al., 2020, p. 79). Part of the reason for these failures may relate to issues of funding and implementing multinational staffs for the various bodies within the Architecture. Zones E and D MMCCS, the ICC and CRESMAC have multinational staffs, but CRESMAO and the other MMCCS do not. Multinational staffing is key in fostering cross-national cooperation between different national enforcement agencies and even for simple translation across the myriad of languages spoken in the GoG (Yücel, 2021, p. 154). Similarly, only Zone D has organised systematic multinational patrols (Okafor-Yarwood, et al., 2020, p. 78). These issues likely come from an unwillingness among many GoG nations to undertake actions which they view as challenging their sovereignty. Allowing for multinational staffs or undertaking joint patrols with multinational command chains all are deemed to undermine sovereignty and therefore there is a degree of unwillingness for many to fund multinational branches (Okafor-Yarwood, et al., 2020, p. 86). The Architecture is not legally binding to its signatories (Yaounde Code of Conduct, 2013, Article 19) further limiting the pressure on GoG states to properly fund and staff the various bodies in the Architecture.
Sovereignty also provides further issues, as several countries in the GoG have disputes over maritime borders, exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and undersea resource exploitation rights (Ali & Tsamenyi, 2013, pp. 99-100). In areas of conflicting boundary claims, coordination in tackling blue crime is unlikely to occur as nations with competing jurisdictions will be unwilling to work together, potentially both asserting sole jurisdiction in the contested area. In a similar manner, forces operating in disputed territory may wish to avoid sharing information as it may involve admitting to a presence in the contested waters. While efforts have been made to solve disputes in the GoG, many still remain, particularly around Ghana and its neighbours where recent oil discoveries have led to complicated boundary discussions (Boamah, 2021). It is notable that Zone F, despite close proximity to the blue crime epicentre and significant blue criminal activity has made very little progress in effectively implementing the Architecture (Okafor-Yarwood, et al., 2020, p. 80). This may well result from the competing interests over maritime territory and the resources to be extracted in the area. These issues of sovereignty were likely taken into account as Article 9 of the Code of Conduct prevents hot pursuit from the waters of one state into another, without officers from both states being present (Yaounde Code of Conduct, 2013, Article 9). While this protects national sovereignty and made the Code of Conduct palatable to GoG nations, it severely limits the ability of maritime enforcement to interdict criminals.
As well as sovereignty conflicts undermining the ability of GoG nations to work together, many of these states simply lack the ability to effectively secure their own maritime domains. For many GoG states investment in naval capabilities has historically been given a low priority, due to their damage generally impacting international shipping, or being viewed as not a threat the regimes themselves (Adibe, et al., 2019, p. 337). This has left many GoG nations’ navies and coast guards incapable of interdicting increasingly sophisticated and well-armed pirates (capable of launching attacks over 200nm from the coast) (Jacobsen, 2021, p. 25). Even in Nigeria, with the largest economy in Africa and $2bn in spending on the navy in 2016-17, 50% of its fleet was non-functional due to negligence (Daxecker & Prins, 2021, pp. 149-150). Without some type of agreement to ensure nations pull their weight in maritime security this situation may well continue, leaving vast swathes of the GoG vulnerable to blue crime.
Michael has an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from University of Edinburgh, he is currently a post-graduate student on the International Masterin Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies program led by the University of Glasgow. His research focus is violent non-state actors such as insurgents, militias and pirates. He has produced several whitepapers for ARX covering piracy in Africa and South East Asia.