Piracy and Governance In the Gulf of Guinea

Good governance is a key element to effectively combating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

By Florian Decludt
Contributor
September 8, 2013

Piracy has been a growing problem in recent years in the Gulf of Guinea. However, unlike Somalia and Southeast Asia, this issue fails to attract much attention from the outside world. The region is now the second most exposed to pirate attacks according to the International Maritime Organization. The number of attacks increased by nearly 50% between 2011 and 2012 and is set to be even higher in 2013.

The Gulf of Guinea is well known for its abundant oil and gas deposits, which allow surrounding countries such as Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to generate significant wealth. However, governance issues and widespread corruption have led to an unfair distribution of energy income (as well as other negative externalities such as pollution), and have hampered development and fueled piracy.

Those issues constitute the basis of the pirate problem in the region. Pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea are primarily based out of the Niger Delta, an area that constitutes ideal grounds for the development of pirate groups. The Delta has been suffering since the Biafra War from neglect by the Nigerian Federal Government and from severe environmental damage caused by oil extraction, which has put thousands of fishermen and farmers out of work. Those issues encouraged the formation of insurgent groups, such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The Delta’s geographical characteristics also explain its use as a pirate base. Its proximity to the notoriously congested Port Harcourt harbor and the large number of mangrove-hidden waterways make it an ideal location from which to launch attacks on anchored and passing ships.

While pirates are mostly based in Nigeria, they conduct attacks throughout the Gulf. Only 70% of attacks reported between 2006 and 2012 took place off the coast of Nigeria - in both Nigerian and international waters. Increased reach by the pirates means that fewer areas in the Gulf are safe for maritime shipping. Consequently, insurance and shipping costs are rising, which makes countries in the region less attractive to foreign investment, thereby worsening economic problems and reinforcing pirate groups. This has serious implications for global security, as growing insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea would make it difficult for Nigeria to export oil, which would, in turn, reduce its ability to effectively fight against terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram.

Hence, the international community should assist Gulf of Guinea with their fight against piracy. The best way to do so is by improving overall state strength via enhanced governance. As previously mentioned, most countries possess vast potential wealth due to their large hydrocarbon reserves. However, all of them are plagued by varying degrees of corruption. Corruption in developing countries like those surrounding the Gulf of Guinea has hampered political, social and economic progress due to the inefficient allocation of meager public resources; it has also been problematic for foreign aid. The most telling example of the squandering of public resources is that since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has received approximately $400 billion of foreign aid, of which an estimated $360 billion was lost to corruption.

The region should focus on cracking down on corruption and the international community must assist by providing low-level human expertise. The best way to eradicate piracy is to promote the establishment of the rule of law in Gulf of Guinea countries by ensuring that the judicial and law enforcement systems become free of corruption. This could be done by the dispatch of law enforcement and judicial advisors from developed countries that possess expertise in investigating and prosecuting corruption cases. Those two entities, the judiciary and law enforcement, need to be corruption-free in order to better be able to chase corrupt officials and politicians, who are responsible for the dilapidation of hydrocarbon wealth. While this plan will be difficult to implement in highly corrupt countries with centralized power (such as Equatorial Guinea), others, such as Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, could successfully implement it due to their democratic systems.

The Gulf of Guinea deserves more attention than it is receiving from the international community. Letting piracy thrive there could have disastrous consequences for global security. The international community should provide humanitarian assistance to Gulf of Guinea countries in order to help them enforce the rule of law. This would allow them to effectively combat the corruption that has been plaguing the area since its independence. Doing so would not only accelerate the development of the Gulf of Guinea, but also improve the global security climate by ensuring stable revenue flows, particularly to exposed states like Nigeria.

Florian Decludt is a M.A. Candidate in International Affairs with a concentration in Security & Development at the Elliott School of International Affairs. He previously studied and worked overseas in France, Australia, the Dominican Republic and Singapore. His areas of focus are maritime security and Southeast Asian & Pacific Affairs.

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