As international navies alone have failed to put a stop to Somali piracy in the waters of the Red Sea region and in the Indian Ocean, one expert argues for US and EU partnerships with African nations to end the menace.
International Affairs Fellow in Residence at the Council on Foreign Relations, Michael L. Baker, wrote an article on the CFR’s webpage calling for partnerships between major powers and African countries. Digital Journal wanted to know whether Somali perceptions of western nations plundering their waters could be changed. Baker said in an e-mail:
I do think it’s terribly important that we change the perception of well-meaning Somalis. It is difficult to prove a negative, but I’ve not seen good, solid information that unequivocally shows that illegal fishing and illegal dumping is still a problem in Somali waters. In fact, last month the Somali Minster of Fisheries made a statement that illegal fishing is not currently a problem in Somali waters. Nevertheless, I think it is still important to engage Africans in maritime governance (and by that I mean in improving maritime laws, enhancing maritime law enforcement, improving maritime security, and creating maritime industries that provide local jobs and attract investment) and one way to do that is through partnerships with advanced maritime states. A partnership operates in two directions: I help you and you help me as we move towards a common goal. International actors certainly need the help of African states in countering piracy; conversely, if illegal fishing, illegal dumping or, say, narcotics trafficking are important issues to Africans then international actors should give serious consideration to addressing those issues with Africans. It’s important for perceptions, but it’s also important for building trust. That’s partnership and it is a key tenet of President Obama’s guidance to the U.S. government.
In the interview, I mentioned that funding was a key problem for African countries. I asked Baker whether First World nations could help: He wrote:
First of all let me say that I am very impressed by the South African initiative with Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya. I cannot speak for any government with regard to funding operations such as (South African Navy anti-crime patrol, Operation) PROSPER; but I can say that the United States and the European Union have shown a willingness to partner with countries along these lines. Finally, I know that some actors in the U.S. have tried to get African maritime security on the agenda at the G8. I’m not aware of any success, unfortunately. That’s not to say, however, that African states couldn’t make it their own agenda item during their “outreach” discussions with the G8; that would be a preferred route in my mind, and one completely within the control of African statesmen.
I mentioned that some African nations did have at least an inshore naval capability and whether that could help?
Indeed, a number of African countries can employ small-medium-sized coastal patrol craft to counter piracy in their inland territorial seas; notably on the east coast Kenya, Mauritius, and South Africa stand at the forefront in this regard. Few African countries, however, have the ability to patrol their entire Exclusive Economic Zone or to efficiently react to distress calls across the EEZ. That doesn’t mean that Africans cannot play a meaningful role in counter-piracy operations. African countries do have boarding teams, seamen, and naval officers that could participate in counter-piracy operations from the deck of another country’s ship. We have seen this model work successfully in West Africa. I believe that this is a good idea as it offers greater legitimacy to the operations, offers operational experience for African sailors, and helps African countries to meet their commitments of the Djibouti Code of Conduct.
This was new to me, and I asked Baker to describe what this new legal framework for countries in Africa and around the Indian Ocean meant:
The Djibouti Code of Conduct was adopted during a meeting led by the (International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in Djibouti on 26 January 2009. The signatories of the Djibouti Code of Conduct essentially agree to cooperate on the investigation, arrest, and seizure of those people reasonably suspected of piracy and to conduct shared operations. Fifteen countries have signed the code: The Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, and Egypt. The signatories also pledged to review their national maritime laws to ensure they are adequate for criminalizing piracy. In October 2009 the IMO led a sub-regional meeting in the Seychelles where working groups identified the need for technical assistance in creating national laws and establishing steering committees to monitor progress of the implementation of the Djibouti Code. The various delegations at the Seychelles meeting agreed that it was important to ensure adequate training at all levels of maritime administration and law enforcement but also stressed that it was important to obtain naval coast guard assets to conduct law enforcement operations.
So, in short, the signatories of the Djibouti Code of Conduct agreed to tackle piracy through operations and through legal processes. It remains to be seen how well they will follow through, but they have made official commitments to participate along these two lines.
African nations have shown an ambiguous attitude towards fighting Somali piracy, which reflects on their feelings about Colonialism. At the same time, they have obligations to the UN and other international organisations, so African statesmen are pulled in two directions. The future will show whether they have the will to tackle human trafficking, the drug trade, poaching and Somali piracy.