Sub-Saharan Africa is persistently vulnerable to maritime threats, even without naval wars in adjoining waters. Reasons include an inability to optimize maritime resources for economic growth, ongoing distractions arising from continental political instabilities, and a general aversion to the development of maritime power. Such a cultural orientation has significant disadvantages for Africa.
An increase in international maritime economic activities has further exposed the limitations of safety and security in waters adjacent to Africa. In the Gulf of Guinea during the past decade, increasing piracy, theft of crude oil, and militancy have threatened more than $50 billion of exploration investment by local and foreign companies.1 A recent estimate puts the annual loss due to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in African waters at about $1 billion.2
Approximately 50 tons of cocaine transit West African coastal countries every year, with another 25 tons of heroin traveling through East Africa, both destined for European markets. The exploitation of maritime fronts for terrorist actions is another danger, bringing to mind the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole (DDG-67).
With the upsurge in piracy in and around Somalia’s waters, these scenarios are but a few examples of the undesirable consequences of African states’ maritime-security inadequacies. British naval historian Eric Grove predicted the need for international cooperation in maritime policing. In line with this, the Africa Partnership Station (APS) was conceived in 2007. Managed by the headquarters staff of U.S. Naval Forces, Europe; U.S. Naval Forces, Africa; and the U.S. 6th Fleet, under the U.S. Africa Command, the APS as envisioned will develop self-sustaining, cooperative capabilities among willing African navies and coast guards to combat maritime crimes.
The mission presents an opportunity for remodeling Africa’s maritime-security agencies in terms of individual and cooperative capabilities. However, introspection on its relevance and long-term efficacy is essential. Specifically:
• What are the needs of sub-Saharan African navies and coast guards to provide effective maritime security?
• How relevant is APS in addressing such needs?
• What are the challenges of APS in meeting those needs?
Because North African navies are normally integrated in Mediterranean partnership initiatives, the concern here is limited to sub-Saharan maritime services.
Recapitalizing Navies and Coast Guards
Growing maritime insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa mirrors the limited capabilities of its navies and coast guards, with common inadequacies in platforms and maritime domain awareness (MDA). Typically, this situation limits maritime security forces to territorial waters. While attributing equipment shortcomings to lean funding, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, South Africa’s chief of navy, noted that resource constraints were “aggravated by lack of understanding within governments of what navies are supposed to do . . . [which] results in under-funding of the navies.”3 Coupled with this is the challenge of technology, which Nigeria’s retired Rear Admiral John Jonah attributed to a poor local industrial base.4
On 17 August 2009, a Taiwanese vessel engaged in illegal fishing in Sierra Leone waters was arrested with the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Legare (WMEC-912), which deployed with the Sierra Leone Navy. The successful prosecution netted the state hundreds of thousand of dollars. This demonstrates the benefits of effective maritime presence through adequacy of platforms and MDA.
An estimated $1.5 billion is lost annually to crude-oil theft in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, but about $100 million would be required to provide effective MDA in the area. Providing those capabilities is, thus, cost-effective.
But the political will must be developed to recapitalize African navies and coast guards. The proper use of limited funds in equipping a maritime service can result in improved security as well as government revenue. Apart from MDA infrastructure’s cost-effectiveness, the platform requirement for policing operations by African partners does not extend beyond 700- to 1,000-ton vessels with long endurance and minimal weapons.
However, the operational effectiveness of existing fleets has often been constrained by maintenance deficiencies. Thus it is imperative to improve local ship-maintenance capability while also acquiring new assets. Addressing these recapitalization dynamics requires commitment from African partners and support from others. The ways in which these needs are met will define the future of APS.
Regional Cooperative Efforts
Another limiting factor is inadequate cooperation. In many states, national maritime-security responsibilities are shared among conventional navies, armies, and air forces as well as coast guards, marine police, and customs and immigration agencies. However, many of these report to different authorities, with attendant limitations on information sharing.
The recently initiated combined maritime-security operational organization of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe stands as a novel cooperative effort. Elsewhere, similar agencies largely operate under the veil of sovereignty limits, with restricted operational information-exchange common procedures.
This situation contrasts with the functional Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia. The November 2009 inter-navy cooperation between Nigeria and Ghana that led the arrest of a tanker suspected of carrying stolen crude oil emphasizes the necessity of such collaboration. Therefore, from the APS perspective, it is critical to promote and implement an effective cooperation and information-sharing mechanism.
The APS mission is channeled along four main lines of capacity development: maritime manpower, MDA, response, and infrastructure. Deployments have generated more than 2,300 trained personnel in various aspects of maritime-policing operations; a number of MDA facilities and patrol boats have also been supplied.
Another APS program on fisheries management, hydrography, and oceanography has provided a novel approach linking development with security through science-based activities aimed at promoting maritime environmental protection and safety.
The APS purpose has its roots in the U.S. Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower and the Global Fleet Station strategy. A major ingredient of both is the recognition of international maritime-security cooperation as a key tool for securing U.S. interests, particularly in far-flung places. Globally, other programs that reflect this recognition include Pacific Partnership, Southern Partnership, Phoenix Express, and Continuous Promise.
In Africa, the first step was the 2004 U.S. Navy hosting of navy leaders, with subsequent gatherings in 2005 and 2006 at the Heads of Navies Seapower for Africa Symposium. These efforts led to the 2006 Cotonou Inter-Ministerial conference on the Gulf of Guinea, which produced a strategic-level commitment among coastal states to improve MDA, regional cooperation and partnership, and legal and regulatory capacities.
The inaugural APS deployment with the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) was greeted with skepticism in some African states, but with succeeding deployments in 2009 and 2010 came increased understanding and participation. The growing buy-in is reflected in recent enthusiasm for multinational sea exercises, particularly with navies from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Senegal. The 2009 activation of APS East with the USS Nicholas (FFG-47) and Swift (HSV-2) in East African waters also underlines the concept’s acceptance.
Visibility and Appeal on the Rise
The interest of European navies such as those of the United Kingdom, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy is further encouraging, especially considering the potential utility of their bilateral affinity with African navies. If sustained, the APS concept thus represents an important mechanism for meeting the needs of African navies and coast guards.
The widening voluntary embrace of APS by both Afri-can and non-African partners signifies its relevance to their maritime-security interests. A 2009 U.S. Naval War College workshop on combating piracy off Somalia recognized the viability of shifting responsibilities to local states through training, MDA facilities, and patrol vessels.5 Such a strategy, even though APS is not involved with Somali piracy, is consistent with the APS goal of developing self-sustaining African maritime capabilities.
The relevance of APS to African navies and coast guards derives from the availability of international collaboration. Through this, identified deficiencies in operational assets and cooperation can be addressed.
The effectiveness can be assessed by the degree of improvement seen in the response capabilities of African navies and coast guards through their enhanced presence, situational awareness, and inter-agency cooperation. Additionally, research-based efforts pertaining to environmental safety under the APS link development with greater maritime security and growing local capacities.
While the APS mechanism has had positive effects on manpower and MDA development, significant constraints persist in terms of platform availability. This is an essential response tool for African partners. From the perspective of the Cotonou agreement, promoting maritime legal and regulatory reforms under the APS banner is an ongoing task that is far from complete. With significant initiative and assistance provided by non-African partners, geopolitical factors must not be allowed to impair the objective.
To think through how APS can successfully contribute to developing maritime safety and security in Africa, and to meet the challenges involved in accomplishing this overarching goal, we must address the following questions:
• What is the mechanism for ensuring implementation continuity and effectiveness?
• How can APS stakeholders’ commitment be sustained?
• How can the civil maritime sector contribute to APS objectives?
• What geopolitical constraints could impair effectiveness?
Continuity and Effectiveness: The APS mission needs to progress beyond the cycle of annual planning and deployment. It needs an overarching medium- or long-term strategy to support its objectives, including a milestone program to register progress in self-sustaining capabilities. It has been difficult to maintain a stable planning staff among African maritime partners, but this needs to change. Otherwise, mission continuity and effectiveness could be eroded, especially if APS-trained African partners are deployed in an uncoordinated manner.
Similarly, apart from the 2006 Cotonou agreement that has yet to be revisited, it appears that no regional apparatus guarantees local states’ obligations, commitments, and contributions. Without such an organization, it may be difficult to sustain mission continuity and effectiveness among African navies and coast guards.
Stakeholders’ Commitment: Regarding non-African commitment to APS, some nations may remain interested only as long as threats exist to their strategic interests in the area. Further, funding constraints at home, along with frustration about poor commitment from African partners, could, unfortunately, tip the balance against APS.
What is more, this initiative coincides with the era of increased democratic governance in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. With democratic values of fundamental importance in the foreign policy of Western countries, it is easy to imagine negative consequences to APS should African states become misaligned with Western policy because of political and human-rights issues. As exemplified by Somalia, this undesirable scenario presents a lose-lose situation that has the potential to impair the future of APS.
Civil Maritime Sector: Merchant shipping and other civil maritime-resource-exploitation industries around Africa are the major beneficiaries of improvements in APS-generated security. The civil judicial sector remains a critical component of the prosecution mechanism in maritime law enforcement; APS is largely a military/paramilitary arrangement that has yet to involve commercial and legal factors in its activities.
However, these can be critical to maritime security, as illustrated by the inability to prosecute pirates the U.S. Navy arrested in February 2010 after an attack on a Tanzania-flagged North Korean vessel. Unfortunately, Tanzanian law permits prosecution only when its citizens or vessels are affected. In drawing attention to this scenario, Alfonso Lenhardt, U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, further observed: “Right now, Kenya and Seychelles are the only two countries in Africa that are prosecuting pirates.”6 Because maritime law in Africa is weak, it can significantly undermine APS effectiveness. To achieve maritime security, the APS needs to integrate a mechanism for drawing useful input from the civil sector, including the encouragement of maritime-law reforms.
Geopolitical Factors: While APS has attracted increased support, the mission is still largely a U.S. Africa Command initiative. At the same time, growing influence of China and other non-Western powers often includes attractive support to African navies and coast guards through sale and donation of boats and equipment. A projected 50 percent increase in China’s consumption of oil by 2020 will likely cause significant competition with Western nations for hydrocarbon supply.
Other non-Western powers could be invited to join APS and enhance mission capability through contributing resources, but their potentially adversarial relationship or nonconcordant activities could be problematic. While retaining their commitment to APS, African partners will probably also court patronage of other nonparticipating powers, especially if support and donations, including boats and matériel, can be more easily obtained.
Importantly, Western reaction to the activities of China and other powers will expose whether the purpose of APS is truly to improve maritime security in Africa, or whether it has more to do with solely geopolitical influence. The former case helps to validate the sincere goodwill of U.S. global maritime strategies. By contrast, a Cold War–like confrontation will prove Africa Command skeptics right. If mismanaged, geopolitical conflict of interests among foreign powers has the potential to impair the attainment of APS objectives.
The Way Forward
To sustain the APS concept as a tool for remodeling African navies and coast guards, these challenges must be addressed. For a successful outcome, attendant factors such as political will, stakeholders’ commitment, planning, and implementation need to be areas of focus.
Political Will: A broad plan should feature defined milestones and capacity-building programs. Sustained visibility and awareness at the political level may draw more attention and funding toward recapitalization and improved effectiveness of African navies and coast guards. To keep the political leadership committed, the Cotonou agreement and similar initiatives must be revisited on a regular basis.
Integrating APS efforts into various regional/and sub-regional fora such as the African Union, Regional Economic Communities, and Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa will also involve political will. Such measures will also improve contributions from the civil sector as well as aiding maritime-law reforms at national and regional levels. Finally, these steps will facilitate a mutually beneficial situation in which APS is used as a cost-effective platform for closing the maritime gap in the collective security mechanism of the African Union and other sub-regional bodies.
Increased African Commitment: The APS mission presents an opportunity for long-term multinational cooperation and burden-sharing. It aligns with the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the post-9/11 International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. In light of expensive anti-piracy experiences off Somalia, the partnership, especially in the Gulf of Guinea, can be seen as a preventive and cost-effective mechanism.
APS has a significant chance of success if stakeholders’ buy-in is sustained and major operational responsibilities are shifted to local states. African partners need to recognize the imperative of increased ownership. They must see their participation beyond reception of facilities and training. Demonstrating practical initiatives on sub-regional and interstate maritime-security cooperation will reduce current sovereignty and bureaucratic constraints on maritime-crime prevention.
Planning and Assessment: Instituting a four-year APS plan defined by milestones and based on partners’ collective expectations and contributions will address the challenge of continuity and commitment. Establishing a multinational APS secretariat will facilitate implementation and assessment of performance as well as results.
To accomplish this, a data-generation process should continuously relate maritime-security activities and threats at regional and national levels. A liaison mechanism, including reliable backup systems, should link civil maritime stakeholders to specialized bodies such the International Maritime Organization, International Maritime Bureau, International Labor Organization, and Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa.
Implementation: As a modification to the current deployment approach, it may be more cost-effective for manpower development to increase emphasis on train-the-trainer activities, and to designate APS training centers in participating African states. This would also help to focus underway deployment on combined exercises and practical skill training and assessment, as opposed to classroom activities.
Operationally, developing common operating procedures for maritime policing, periodic exercises, and information sharing will provide the desired effects. Foreign partners can significantly advance self-sustaining capability for Africa through assistance on ship acquisition and maintenance. Similarly, research-based activities on oceanography, meteorology and hydrography need to continue. Finally, MDA capability would benefit from the inclusion of African air forces with maritime air patrol responsibility in the APS mission’s future activities.
APS provides a platform for addressing both African maritime-security limitations and non-African stakeholders’ strategic interests. With the extent of challenges and thinness of resources, it is imperative that African maritime services cooperate at all levels to tackle the situation. This mission can be seen as representing a necessary compromise between pride of sovereignty and maritime-security capability. It is an effort-multiplier initiative benefitting all sides.
A viable outcome can be achieved if partners work toward a future APS routine in which recapitalized Afri-can navies and coast guards take the responsibility for developing intra-region standard operating procedures and exercises. The combination of political will, greater commitment, and continuity of planning and implementation will make this possible. In essence, the story of APS in remodeling African maritime-security agencies is about its necessity and relevance, and the imperative for buy-in at all levels of decision-making and execution.
2. S. Vanderwyst “Africa Partnership Station 2009,” Surface Warfare 34, no. 2 (spring 2009), pp. 29-24.
3. Vice Adm. J. Mudimu, South African Navy, handing-over speech at the 2006 Sea Power for Africa Symposium, Abuja, May 2006.
4. Rear Adm. G. J. Jonah, “African Navies and Technological Collaboration: Challenges and Opportuinities,” paper delivered at the 2006 Sea Power for Africa Symposium, Abuja, May 2006.
5. J. Kraska, “Fresh Thinking of an Old Problem,” U.S. Naval War College Review, autumn 2009, pp. 141-54.
6. Reuters, quoted from office of U.S. Navy CHINFO, news clips, 4 March 2010.