Navigating security challenges in West Africa

West Africa

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Ebunoluwa George Ojo-Ami, a young professional in maritime security and unmanned technology, shares his insights with ISJ.

Overview of the security landscape in West Africa (Gulf of Guinea)

The security landscape in West Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, presents a multitude of challenges and threats, with terrorism and piracy emerging as prominent concerns.

The prevalence of piracy in the region is influenced by various factors and it is closely connected to other maritime threats.

While there has been a decrease in piracy since April 2021, and progress in countering criminal groups, maritime traffic in the region continues to face threats, as noted by Martha Pobee, UN Assistant Secretary-General in the UN report briefing last year.

In addition to piracy, criminal groups engage in cargo theft, perceiving it as a relatively low risk, high profit activity compared to other maritime crimes.

Within the Gulf of Guinea, other maritime threats include kidnapping, smuggling and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The reduction in piracy incidents over the past year has likely contributed to an increase in sea robbery, kidnapping, smuggling, theft and criminal oil bunkering, as warned by the United Nations.

It is important to differentiate between piracy and sea robbery, as these two elements are misused and misunderstood.

Piracy refers to acts committed on the high seas (within a country exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and beyond) by individuals or groups with the intent to seize a ship, its cargo or its crew for private gain.

On the other hand, sea robbery refers to acts committed in territorial waters.

Sea robbers target vessels in port, at anchor or in coastal areas, taking advantage of the vessel’s proximity to the shore.

This distinction is crucial as it determines the jurisdiction under which these acts are prosecuted and the legal frameworks that apply.

Piracy is considered an international crime and prosecution falls under international law.

Sea robbery, being a crime within a specific country’s jurisdiction, is subject to domestic laws and the legal systems of that particular nation.

To combat these challenges, West African countries must invest in counter-piracy operations while simultaneously addressing other forms of maritime crime.

Moreover, nations in the Gulf of Guinea should prioritise inward-looking approaches and utilise resources to tackle economic hardships, poverty, unemployment and corruption.

Recognising that sea threats often originate from land, addressing internal security challenges becomes imperative.

Combating piracy requires an intelligence-driven approach that comprehends the underlying causes and considers the social, cultural, economic and security factors influencing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

To effectively combat piracy, it is essential to gain a deep understanding of the root causes driving individuals to engage in such illicit activities.

Efforts should be diligently directed towards addressing these underlying factors while mitigating the consequences of piracy.

Coastal communities, for instance, may find the financial incentives of piracy more alluring than engaging in legitimate trades such as fishing.

Therefore, Gulf of Guinea nations must establish robust outreach and capacity development programs to fully comprehend the drivers of piracy.

Additionally, major industries, particularly the energy sector, should invest in comprehensive social development programs to mitigate negative impacts and contribute positively to affected communities.

By addressing these security challenges comprehensively and implementing strategic measures, West Africa can enhance maritime security, safeguard interests and promote regional stability.

Role of maritime security and unmanned technology

Maritime security plays a pivotal role in ensuring regional stability, fostering economic growth and safeguarding maritime activities in West Africa.

With vast coastal areas and extensive maritime trade routes in the region, effective maritime security measures are of utmost importance to combat various threats.

Unmanned technology, encompassing UAVs and USVs, plays a crucial and transformative role in enhancing maritime security.

These advanced technologies revolutionise surveillance capabilities in the maritime domain, facilitating enhanced situational awareness, real time monitoring and prompt responses to security incidents.

UAVs equipped with payloads like high resolution cameras and sensors conduct aerial surveillance, promptly identify suspicious vessels and gather invaluable intelligence.

USVs diligently patrol coastal waters, perform remote inspections and intercept unauthorised vessels.

By integrating unmanned technology with existing security infrastructure, resources can be optimally utilised, costs can be reduced and a proactive approach can be embraced.

This comprehensive utilisation of unmanned technology enables broader coverage of areas, rapid response to incidents and enhanced operational efficiency.

Although unmanned technology can be expensive depending on the capacity and capability required, unmanned vehicles are relatively cost effective compared to manned assets.

Unmanned technology ensures the safety of maritime personnel by reducing risks associated with hazardous operations.

These systems operate effectively in challenging environments where a human presence may be impractical or unsafe.

Beyond surveillance, unmanned technology provides extensive support in search and rescue missions, environmental monitoring and resource management, offering remarkable versatility and the potential to address emerging security challenges while promoting sustainable development in the maritime domain.

Research and intelligence analysis

Research and intelligence analysis plays a vital role in understanding and addressing security challenges in West Africa, especially in the field of maritime security.

They provide valuable insights into evolving threats, emerging trends and vulnerabilities within the region.

Maritime security research involves gathering and analysing data from various sources such as academic studies, government reports, industry publications and intelligence agencies.

This data is carefully processed and assessed to identify patterns, evaluate risks and develop well-informed strategies.

Intelligence analysis complements research by collecting, evaluating and interpreting intelligence data specific to maritime security.

Analysts use various techniques and tools to extract meaningful information from raw data, generating actionable intelligence.

This includes analysing open source information, conducting rigorous risk assessments, closely monitoring maritime activities and proactively detecting potential security incidents.

Research and intelligence analysis is crucial in identifying emerging security trends in West Africa.

Through careful monitoring and analysis of data, patterns and incidents, these methods enable the early detection of changes in criminal networks’ tactics, shifts in piracy hotspots and the emergence of threats; this information empowers the adaptation and refinement of security strategies.

Additionally, research and intelligence analysis facilitates information sharing and collaboration among regional and international stakeholders.

Timely and accurate dissemination of intelligence encourages collaboration, leading to enhanced information-sharing, joint operations and coordinated efforts.

Overall, research and intelligence analysis serve as indispensable tools in understanding, responding to and mitigating security challenges in West Africa’s maritime domain.

Emerging security trends

Emerging security trends in West Africa require a comprehensive approach to address the region’s multifaceted challenges.

Alongside piracy, several significant trends pose risks that demand the attention and concerted efforts of regional governments, international partners and stakeholders.

Organised crime is increasing in West Africa, involving activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms smuggling and illegal resource exploitation.

Combating organised crime necessitates coordinated efforts, including collaboration among law enforcement agencies, intelligence sharing, capacity-building programs and targeted operations against criminal networks.

Persistent conflicts driven by ethno-political tensions, religious extremism and resource competition in countries like Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Sudan contribute significantly to the region’s security challenges.

Resolving these conflicts requires political dialogue, effective conflict resolution mechanisms, peacebuilding efforts and the establishment of inclusive governance structures.

The region also faces a growing threat of cyber-crime, with criminals exploiting vulnerabilities in digital infrastructure.

Strengthening cybersecurity measures, enhancing legislation, promoting awareness and building robust cybersecurity capabilities are vital components of addressing this challenge.

Foreign intervention or interference is a concern, necessitating diplomatic engagement, regional cooperation and proactive measures to safeguard West Africa’s sovereignty and interests.

Additionally, climate change and environmental degradation have profound security implications, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion, resource depletion and community displacement.

Addressing the environmental dimension of security requires implementing sustainable development practices, resilient infrastructure and proactive measures to mitigate and adapt.

Collaborative efforts and future prospects

Collaborative efforts and future prospects are instrumental in addressing security challenges in West Africa.

Regional cooperation, international partnerships and the active engagement of young professionals constitute essential components of an effective security strategy.

Embracing technology and innovation further enhances the region’s capabilities.

Through collective action, West Africa can achieve sustainable security, promote economic growth and ensure the wellbeing of its people.

Ebunoluwa George Ojo-Ami

Ebunoluwa George Ojo-Ami is a dynamic and passionate young professional with expertise in maritime security, research analysis, intelligence analysis and unmanned technology.

As a graduate of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, he focuses on security in West Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea.

1-ISJ- Navigating security challenges in West Africa
Ebunoluwa George Ojo-Ami
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