Monthly Archives: October, 2012

Piracy trends off the coasts of Somalia and Nigeria

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released its Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships Report for the Period 1 January – 30 September 2012. I often find these reports helpful in tracking trends with regard piracy and armed robbery at sea, but it is important to read the reports with two things in mind. First, unlike IMB’s Annual Report, the Quarterly Reports only cover trends from the beginning of that calendar year to the end of Q1 (March), Q2 (June), or Q3 (September). Therefore, many of the facts and figures quoted in the media and here below may only be for the first 9 months of 2012. It is important to draw comparisons between these numbers and the corresponding time periods in previous years, as opposed to 2010 or 2011 as a whole. Second, these reports only account for reported incidents. Thus, it is possible that the scale of pirate attacks is underrepresented due to underreporting on the part of the targeted vessels for a variety of reasons (i.e., fears over spike in insurance rates, fears of scaring away other commercial activity from those waters, etc).

According to the report, global piracy incidents are decreasing – with 233 attacks worldwide, down from 352 for the corresponding time period in 2011. However, of the 233 attacks that took place between January and September 2012, 131 of these occurred in Africa. Of the 131 attacks that occurred in Africa, 70 took place off the coast of Somalia (to include the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Oman) and 34 took place in the vicinity of Nigeria (to include the area off the coasts of Benin and Togo).

Looking at these numbers compared with last year, there’s good news and some kind of bad news. The good news is that last year, there were 199 actual or attempted attacks off the coast of Somalia between January and September, compared with 70 for the corresponding time period in 2012. IMB attributes this drop to a combination of factors such as 1) multinational naval patrols, 2) employment of Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy (Version 4 – August 2011), 3) use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), and the effects of the SW monsoons.

The kind of bad news is that attacks off the coasts of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin (hereafter referred to collectively as the Gulf of Guinea) have increased – slightly – from 30 to 34. What’s important with regard to the Gulf of Guinea is not the numbers themselves, but the shifting locale of the attacks. Between January and September 2011:

  • there were 6 attacks off the coast of Nigeria, compared with 21 in 2012 (3x increase) 
  • there were 5 attacks off the coast of Togo, compared with 11 in 2012 (2x increase)
  • there were 19 attacks off the coast of Benin, compared with 2 in 2012 (9x decrease)

Notice that even as attacks in the Gulf of Guinea are increasing, attacks in Benin in particular have been drastically reduced. According to an Africa maritime security SME I spoke with recently (on an unrelated matter), Benin is apparently far ahead of its West African neighbors in developing a strategy to secure its maritime domain. This may be why, when faced with a sudden spike in attacks, Benin and Nigeria commenced joint counter-piracy patrols last fall. The IMB attributes the decreased number of attacks to these patrols. When compared with Nigeria, which has a 530 mile coastline, smaller countries like Benin and Togo which have coastlines of 75 miles and 35 miles respectively, have a relatively smaller area to monitor and patrol. So this may explain why these joint patrols have been successful for Benin, but not for Nigeria. Although I don’t know much about Togo’s maritime capabilities, I suspect that one reason pirates have expanded their range to Togo may be because Benin’s patrols pushed would-be pirates into Togolese waters, where the authorities may not be doing enough to counter these threats.

Anyway, if you have any interest in seeing the full 2012 IMB Q3 report, you can request it by filling out a form on IMB’s website. A few minutes later, you’ll get an email with a broken link, but if you email them back saying it doesn’t work, they’ll email you a PDF right away.

UN inches closer to approving ECOWAS intervention in Mali

Last week, the situation in Mali received some attention at the UN Security Council, which resulted in the council adopting Resolution 2071. However, if you look closely at the wording of the resolution, you’ll see that we’re still a ways from an ECOWAS-led military intervention in Mali.

You may recall that back in July, UNSC passed Resolution 2056 which expressed the council’s readiness to “further examine the request of ECOWAS once additional information has been provided regarding the objectives, means, and modalities of the envisaged deployment and other possible measures.” Later that month, the ECOWAS Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) that had been assembled to develop a roadmap for the restoration of Mali’s territorial integrity presented its findings to Mali’s Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra. ECOWAS Chiefs of Defense Staff (CHoDs) met in August and September – presumably to develop in greater detail a concept of operations (CONOPs) for an intervention in Mali, which according to Resolution 2056 would be a prerequisite for a UN resolution sanctioning such an intervention force. The CHoDs developed a three phase CONOPs for an ECOWAS Standby Force Mission in Mali (MICEMA) that would:

  1. Secure the transitional government institutions in Bamako;
  2. Train and reorganize the Malian Armed Forces; and
  3. Commence military operations to retake the north.

ECOWAS proposes that the force strength of MICEMA would be approximately 3,245 soldiers, of which, the majority would come from Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541), and Senegal (350). Unfortunately, I do not have visibility of the current status of the Malian Armed Forces, so I do not know how many troops might be available to work with the ECOWAS force for Phase III.

Like Resolution 2056 before it, Resolution 2071 again stops short of providing ECOWAS with a mandate for intervention. Instead, the Security Council asks the Secretary General to provide the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS with military planners to assist in efforts to respond to requests made by the transitional government in Mali for an intervention force, and asks the Secretary General to submit a report within 45 days that would include the “means and modalities of the envisaged deployment, in particular the concept of operations, force generation capabilities strength and support financial costs.”

Notice UNSC’s request for additional details on force generation capabilities and financial costs. If we, for a second, look across the continent at the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), in its recent resolution on Mali, the Security Council knowingly or unknowingly identified two key weaknesses that constrained AMISOM’s ability to be effective for the majority of the five and a half years it has been in Somalia. Thus, before it receives the blessing of a UN mandate, ECOWAS must provide not only a concept of operations, but must also demonstrate that it has incorporated future force generation and financial costs into its planning – especially if the intervention ends up being more complex than anticipated.

So, given what we know about the continuing development of plans for military intervention in Mali, here’s a few questions to consider:

  • How does an end to the transitional government and the return to constitutional rule fit into the equation? Clearly, national elections are impossible while the north remains outside of Bamako’s control, but there is simultaneous pressure for elections before military action. However, because the north is outside of Bamako’s control, it would not be able to participate in elections, which would then run the risk of making the de facto separation of the country more tangible. Talk about a Catch 22.
  • To what extent are the transitional government in Mali, the Malian Armed Forces, and ECOWAS on the same page vis-à-vis the three phase CONOPs for MICEMA? Although the transitional government requested foreign support to recapture the north, it has wanted that support to be restricted to the provision of equipment, intelligence, and logistics, and has resisted the deployment of foreign troops. (For a more thorough analysis of the government’s balancing act on foreign intervention, I refer you to a post by Alex Thurston)
  • Will Algeria and Mauritania play constructive, ambivalent, or spoiler roles in Mali? Algeria and Mauritania are not members of ECOWAS, but they are still key players in regional security. Algeria is in favor of a negotiated solution, in part because it is concerned about potential spillover from an ECOWAS intervention (See Peter Tinti’s excellent article on Algeria’s northern Mali policy). Meanwhile, Mauritania has ruled out military intervention in Mali because it’s too complex and they don’t have the solution. These countries may not sign on for an ECOWAS intervention, but they could play a constructive role by increasing surveillance and patrols of their own borders with Mali to cut off the supply of arms and manpower to the armed groups (Ansar Dine, MUJWA, AQIM, MNLA, etc) that currently occupy the northern part of the country.
  • What’s the timetable on intervention? This I am not sure of, although I doubt that ECOWAS would get boots on the ground in Mali before the end of 2012. A more important question to me, however, is how long might an intervention last, and is there a realistic chance that it may be taken over by the AU or UN? Your guess is as good as mine.

“Once I saw a lion right there between those huts”

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is a story about the first time I went on safari and realized that quite little stood between myself and nature:

I was shopping at Forever 21 a few months ago (don’t judge – it was a one-time thing and it didn’t mean anything) and I saw this pretty accurate depiction of Africa… which caused me to have a flashback about my first safari.

Africa – according to Forever 21

A few years ago, I had to travel to Kenya for a two-day conference, so I figured I’d extend my trip a few days and go on this safari thing people are always raving about when they talk about Africa. So I consulted some subject matter experts on the best park to visit with such limited time, and they recommended the Maasai Mara.

Kenya’s Rift Valley

I chose to drive (or rather be driven) to Maasai Mara because I was poor wanted to see the beauty of the Rift Valley and actually get a sense of a part of Kenya that wasn’t my hotel room in Nairobi or a safari lodge. Along the way, I saw some pretty cool landscapes, lots of cattle, and several groups of Maasai boys running to their circumcision ceremonies (Emuratta).

Once we reached Maasai Mara, we (I had attached myself to a Scottish mother and son safari) went on safari drives at dawn and dusk, where I saw lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, and hippos. It was low season and many animals had not yet made the Great Migration back from Tanzania, but I think I still saw enough to check “safari” off my bucket list.

Every night around 9 or 10, one of the kitchen staff would take leftovers from dinner and toss them to hyenas that would gather some distance below the patio where the tourists would gather to watch these beasts get fed. As the cameras flashed, all we could see were their beady little eyes, which added another level of mystique to the event.

After dinner, I’d make my way back to my hut in the dark. The safari lodge had these night watchmen who were armed only with batons and would offer to escort people back to their huts. Being a fiercely independent person, I scoffed at the weaklings that needed such assistance and made do with my LED flashlight.

On my last night there, I caught up with one of the guards and started to chat him up:

Me: So how do the hyenas get through the gate for food every night?

Him: What gate? It’s wide open.

Me: You mean, there’s nothing separating us from the wild animals you lure here with food every night?

Him: No. In fact, I once saw a lion right there between those huts. (points to an area further off the paths nestled between multiple huts where unsuspecting tourists slept)

Me: (taking all this in and realizing all that’s standing between me and becoming some wild animal’s dinner is this 150-pound guy and his baton) Huh. Let’s walk a little faster then.

And I am proud to say that I did not get eaten that night.

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