The imperative to save the Gulf of Guinea – Blueprint Newspapers Limited
The Gulf of Guinea is a vast maritime area of approximately 2.3 million square kilometers and spanning over 5,700 kilometers of coastline with tremendous economic opportunities that cannot be ignored.
The zone includes 17 countries from Senegal to Angola, besides the fact that this zone has considerable deposits of natural resources, in particular of hydrocarbons, it is also an important fishing zone and remains an important navigation route representing more 25 percent of African maritime traffic.
However, the Gulf of Guinea is beset by crime, especially the activities of pirates who have made this important economic center one of the most dangerous places in the world.
While Europe and the United States have been engaged in the region for many years, the deteriorating security situation in the Gulf of Guinea requires a renewed commitment, in particular the involvement of China whose economic interest and Policy for the Gulf of Guinea has grown enormously in recent years, in particular with the launch of the Belt and Road initiative in 2013.
With many investment flows from China via the BRI vehicle, greater Chinese involvement is needed at this time to maintain peace, stability and positive economic development in the Gulf of Guinea. This is obvious because most of the countries that make up the Gulf of Guinea are part of the BRI network.
These countries are rich in opportunities but lack capacity. The provision of development finance that takes into account the security of the region, through the instrument of the BRI is very necessary to secure trade in the Gulf of Guinea.
According to a report from the University of Colorado, China’s investments in the Gulf of Guinea in 2020 are estimated at more than US $ 100 billion. With such massive investments, it is only natural that China will engage more in the security of this important trade route.
In addition, Chinese investments in the countries of the Gulf of Guinea have experienced an upward trend in recent years.
For example, the trade volume between China and the 15 ECOWAS countries was $ 34.55 billion in 2020, during the same period, China’s exports to ECOWAS were $ 27.61 billion. dollars. Returning to Nigeria, trade between Nigeria and China reached $ 13.66 billion in 2020, the largest in Africa.
The countries of the Gulf of Guinea are important trading partners of China. Any security problem in the Gulf of Guinea would therefore have a negative impact on regional peace and security.
China should also view increased involvement in Gulf of Guinea security as an important step towards addressing the overfishing problem in the region.
In recent decades, the Gulf of Guinea has been besieged by industrial trawlers owned by European companies, but ironically, China is often blamed.
Truth be told, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly on the West African coast, have resulted in a massive decline in fish stocks.
This has raised many environmental concerns, mainly focused on saving marine ecosystems and protecting the lives of local farmers and fishing industries.
Over the past 50 years, it is estimated that Africa has lost over $ 200 billion to illegal fishing by vessels linked to foreign countries.
Illegal fishing is said to be so widespread that a UN report estimates it accounts for between 40 and 65 percent of legally reported catches in West Africa alone.
Compared to the economic cost of piracy, illegal fishing is also a huge problem.
While many Western countries say they invest millions in the fight against piracy, they are also investing billions to allow their fishing vessels to plunder and deplete fish stocks in Africa. Therefore, the piracy debate must also take into account IUU fishing.
It is necessary to provide the same coordinated and comprehensive responses to IUU fishing while addressing the issue of maritime safety and security.
IUU fishing has been a major disruption of life in the Gulf of Guinea, but with China’s commitment to the region’s growth through the BRI, this should also fall within its purview as a means of strengthen confidence between it and the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
National and regional efforts in the past have not yielded the expected results, nor has the Yaoundé Summit of June 2013, which was convened to formulate a coordinated response to the growing maritime threat in the Gulf of Guinea. Therefore, more must be done to protect this important trade route.
Experts believe that China through the BRI can become more involved in providing the necessary mix of development and security to Gulf of Guinea countries. This is without prejudice to the efforts of China in the past especially in the provision of boats, monitoring platforms and financial donations.
Although there have been security interventions in the region over the years, they have been largely uncoordinated and the outcome is not very encouraging.
Although China has been involved in the security of the Gulf of Guinea, it has been limited due to its no-interference policy.
China has played an important role on the bilateral front by collaborating against piracy and providing essential and much-needed military assistance to poor and hard-pressed countries in the Gulf of Guinea countries.
The Chinese Navy’s involvement in the Gulf of Guinea dates back to 2013, when it first visited four countries in the region. The countries are: Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Angola.
In 2014, China organized its first joint anti-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Guinea in collaboration with the navies of Nigeria and Cameroon.
China has also been involved in providing diverse assistance to Gulf of Guinea countries through military assistance and capacity building.
China donated patrol boats to Sierra Leone and gave the Republic of Benin a grant of $ 4.8 million to purchase a patrol boat in 2013.
The Gulf of Guinea is becoming an increasingly important destination for the commercial transfer of warships through China.
Reports indicate that 5 of the 20 countries receiving Chinese ships between 2000 and 2013 are from the Gulf of Guinea. The countries are: Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
In 2014, Nigeria approved the purchase of two 1,800 tonne Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) from China, and the first was officially delivered in November 2014, making Nigeria the first African country in Africa. West to operate Chinese warships.
Ghana also ordered in 2012 four patrol vessels built by Chinese defense manufacturing company Poly Technologies.
The patrol vessels were designed to combat piracy, improve fisheries governance and increase maritime security in the country’s territorial waters.
In light of these developments, a major area that China can help is to increase its support for building the capacity of Gulf of Guinea states’ navies to provide maritime security in their territorial waters and beyond.
China should be able to step up support to the region, including providing more training, assistance and collaborations and providing the necessary monitoring platforms and technology that would expand the reach and capacity of states. from the Gulf of Guinea.
China must not slip into this objective of securing the Gulf of Guinea, it must be integrated into the “Belt and Road” initiative to promote its objectives in a sustainable manner.
Writer Dr Austin Maho is an international affairs analyst and editor of the Daybreak newspaper. He can be reached on, [email protected]