Piracy and armed robbery at sea are costing Gulf of Guinea States $1.94 billion annually, with an additional $1.4 billion being lost in port fees and import tariffs, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, as the 15-member organ explored ways to address recent security challenges in West Africa and the Sahel.
“These billions represent lost potential, and funds that could otherwise be invested in licit economies and in developing coastal communities — funds that are needed now more than ever in the continuing COVID-19 crisis,” said Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
She pointed out that the incidents in the Gulf of Guinea account for the majority of kidnappings of seafarers for ransom around the world, adding that those crimes are carried out by pirate groups gaining in sophistication and increasingly able to conduct attacks against international vessels in deeper waters.
More broadly, she pointed out, organized crime is perpetuating instability, violence and poverty across the region, with the attendant lack of opportunities and frustration driving more young people to piracy and crime and making them more receptive to radicalization narratives.
Such desperate conditions render more people vulnerable to human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and more women and girls at greater risk of exploitation and sexual violence, she said, noting that 59 per cent of detected trafficking victims in West and Central Africa are children, and 27 per cent are women.
Expressing concern over a marked uptick in drug trafficking and related insecurity in the region in recent years, she said that West Africa has become a manufacturing hub for methamphetamine, mainly destined for markets in East and South-East Asia, while cocaine trafficking poses a security threat, with the region serving as a major transit area for onward shipments to Western and Central Europe, as well as cannabis resin trafficking.
To address such threats, she called for enhanced political will and international support to strengthen comprehensive and cooperative crime responses. Outlining such action, she pointed to her office’s Global Maritime Crime Programme and the Strategic Vision for Africa, launched in 2021, as well as technical assistance extended to Togo and Nigeria, which recently achieved the “landmark step” of the first-ever successful prosecutions of piracy in the region.
UNODC will also continue to strengthen partnerships with regional organizations, and with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), with which it co-leads the Peace and Security Pillar of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.
Khatir Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative and head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), presented an overview of the Secretary-General’s related report (document S/2021/1091), covering between 18 June and 21 December in 2021. Applauding the successful holding of elections in Cabo Verde and the Gambia, he said these examples confirm the appeal of democracy as the surest way of building the future for communities within a republic.
He said the increase of coups d’état in West Africa is often the consequence of political practices totally disconnected with what people want, he pointed out. In this context, he applauded ECOWAS for its commitment to resolve the crises in Mali and Guinea. UNOWAS supports and accompanies these efforts to restore constitutional order, he said, welcoming the decision of ECOWAS to revise the 2001 Additional Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
Also briefing the Council was Cécile Thiombiano Yougbare, lawyer and public policy analyst at Médecins du Monde, who spoke on behalf of the People’s Coalition for the Sahel, an alliance of civil society organizations. She warned that in 2021, more than 800 civilians were killed in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, in attacks attributed to non-State armed groups. Other civilians died as a result of abuses attributed to defence and security forces.
Speaking out against the military approach by the national authorities and the presence of foreign military forces, she said that the current situation was created because the priorities have not been placed in the right order. “The entire security strategy failed,” she said, proposing a new approach based on the citizen-centred four pillars — the protection of civilians, measures to address the root causes of insecurity, increased humanitarian assistance and ending impunity.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed their support for UNOWAS, welcomed the elections in Cabo Verde and the Gambia, and condemned military coups in some regional States, while also noting the ongoing consultations on a resolution on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.
Ghana’s representative, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, stressed the importance of preventive diplomacy in the UNOWAS mandate, as such engagement in West Africa and the Sahel would achieve better outcomes. Noting with concern the Secretary-General’s assessment of rollbacks of democratic values and constitutional culture in the region — as demonstrated in two recent unconstitutional changes of Government in Mali and Guinea — he said those events run counter to the governance architecture of ECOWAS. Expressing concern over delays in Mali’s transition and the absence of electoral plans in Guinea, he urged the Council to extend its full support for sanctions announced at a 9 January meeting of ECOWAS.
France’s delegate said the security situation in the region requires a response, calling for concerned States to be equipped to fight terrorism. The Group of Five for the Sahel joint force must be supported in a predictable and sustainable manner, he said, adding that a United Nations Support Office is the best mechanism to achieve this. He called for enhanced cooperation between coastal and Sahel countries, noting that the Accra Initiative is promising. France will continue to extend security support to Sahel countries, in coordination with European partners, several of whom are participating in the Takuba Task Force, which is a long-term commitment with clearly set-out objectives.
Norway’s representative, Council President for January, speaking in her national capacity, welcomed increased cooperation between UNOWAS, the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and ECOWAS, declaring: “Cooperation is the master key to solutions.” Also advocating for the Council to unite around its first resolution on the topic of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea in a decade, she emphasized that 2022 should be a “year for action” towards ending the spiral of violence in the region.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Ireland, Albania, Brazil, China, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, United States, Russian Federation and India.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:58 a.m.