Archive for the 'Benin' Category

Benin maritime conference wraps up

Delegates at the Maritime Safety and Security Seminar this week in Benin. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi/U.S. Africa Command)

A record number of piracy attacks were reported in the Gulf of Guinea last year, according to the International Maritime Organization, making it one of the top 10 piracy hotspots in the world and prompting a push by insurers to label the region “high risk.”

Those are distinctions countries in the area would like to see go away.

This week in Benin, member states of the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States  discussed how to prevent piracy, smuggling and other security challenges affecting the region’s waterways and commercial trade. The two groups, plus experts and representatives from outside organizations, met for two days at the annual Maritime Safety and Security Seminar, hosted by U.S. Africa Command and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

In October, the United Nations passed resolution 2018, which encourages the affected states to work together and also calls for more international aid and a UN assessment mission. Also last year, Nigeria and Benin launched joint sea patrols that resulted in the arrests of at least eight alleged pirates.

The seminar built on previous meetings and continued the effort to cement an agreement between the West and Central African states involved.

“This initiative comes at a time when the menace of and threat posed by piracy is touching the pillars of the economy of both the coastal and land locked states in our region,” according to Lt. Col. Abdourahmane Dieng, Senegal head of regional security. “Within West Africa, and the Gulf of Guinea in particular, we can identify a series of trans-border crimes such as hijacking, armed robbery, illegal migration, illicit fishing, toxic waste dumping, human trafficking, illegal drug trafficking, piracy and hostage taking.”

Col. Austin Anyalechi, a Nigerian Army engineer and his country’s defense attaché to Cotonou, said collaborative efforts like those emphasized at this week’s meeting are key to preventing maritime crime and security threats.

“All efforts have been made by individual nations, but no single nation can combat the problem of piracy alone,” Anyalechi said. “That’s why it calls for the need for synergy. So, with the two economic communities coming together under this kind of arrangement, I am very optimistic that it is actually going to yield the desired result of curbing the menace of piracy and sea robbery, and other related forms of maritime insecurity.

Note: Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, reported this week from Benin. Click here to read the entire story. 

Maritime Safety and Security Seminar one piece of AFRICOM effort

“We believe that security of the seas is essential for global security. There is a relationship between security of the sea, the ability of countries to govern their waters, a country’s prosperity, stability and peace. The oceans of the world are a common bond between the economies and countries of the world. Seventy percent of the world is water, 80% of the world lives on or near the coastline and 90% of the world’s commerce is transported on the ocean. Individual nations cannot combat maritime problems and crimes alone …”

— U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa

This week’s Maritime Safety and Security Seminar in Benin is just one example of how U.S. Africa Command, its components, agencies and partner nations work to combat piracy and other maritime security challenges off Africa’s 18,000 miles of coastline. That meeting kicked off yesterday and continues today, with top leaders from the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States. The meeting is a continuation of one held last year where the two organizations and their country representatives talked about ways to work together to improve maritime safety and security, especially in the Gulf of Guinea.

Countering piracy and illicit trafficking is one of AFRICOM’s top priorities, according to Gen. Carter F. Ham. In his recently released 2012 Posture Statement outlining AFRICOM’s goals and priorities, Gen. Ham highlighted the importance of maritime security.

“The free flow of commerce through the global commons is essential to U.S. economic and security interests,” he said. “Piracy and other maritime crimes negatively impact the security and freedom of access for all nations to critical waterways and continue to threaten U.S. security in the waters off the East and West coast of Africa.”

The command’s two primary anti-piracy and maritime security programs are Africa Partnership Station (APS)  and Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP), both lead by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, based in Naples, Italy.

An amphibious assault vehicle with 3rd Platoon, Delta Compay, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, moves out to the USS Whidbey Island, March 20 at Onslow Beach aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Thirty-six Marines with the platoon conducted reintegration exercises from March 19 – 22 in preparation for their deployment with the Africa Partnership Station 2012 this year. Read a story about their preparation. (Photo by Sgt. Bryan A. Peterson)

APS, in its fifth year, involves Navy ships that visit our African partners to conduct training and exchange information. The Navy likens it to a “floating university.” This year’s APS kicked off in January and includes the USS Simpson, the USS Fort McHenry and the HSV Swift, along with some 19 African countries plus partners from Europe and North and South America. Recent APS engagements include combat lifesaver training in Cameroon, and a 27-day ship visit aboard the USS Simpson for sailors from Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo and Togo.

The goals of APS are to deter piracy, discourage illicit trafficking of drugs and persons and impede drug smuggling.

AMLEP, on the other hand, includes actual law enforcement operations with partner nations. U.S. forces team up with regional navies and coast guards to patrol and enforce their own territorial waters in order to combat piracy, illicit trafficking and other maritime crimes.

Click the links below to learn more about these and other maritime security initiatives:

2012 AFRICOM Posture Statement

AFRICOM fact sheet on APS

AFRICOM fact sheet on AMLEP

APS Facebook page 

Africa Snapshot: Benin

Interested in learning more about Africa? Watch for updates in our ongoing series that delivers a quick intro about an African country.

Map of Benin

Africa map highlighting Benin (Source: CIA Factbook)

Today we bring you a snapshot of Benin, where the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) are meeting this week to discuss efforts to improve maritime safety and security in the region.

Where is Benin? Benin is a small country in West Africa – about the size of Pennsylvania. Its coastline is on the Bight of Benin, part of the Gulf of Guinea.

Royal roots: Dahomey, a prominent West African kingdom, once ruled the land that is now southern Benin. The kingdom of Dahomey rose in the 15th century and ruled for centuries. The French took over the territory in the late 19th century. When the colony became independent in the 1960, the area adopted the name Dahomey again as the Republic of Dahomey. The name was later changed to the Republic of Benin.

Leading the way to democracy: In 1991, Benin underwent the first successful transition in Africa from a dictatorship to a democracy. Then-Prime Minister Nicephore Soglo was elected the first president. (Today he’s the mayor of Cotonou, Benin’s largest city.)

Rising youth population: Of the 9 million people in Benin, about 45% are 14 years old or younger.

Religion: Benin is one of the few African countries where the majority of people practice indigenous religions. Voodoo is practiced along the coastal area.

Malaria woes: This mosquito-borne disease is the No. 1 killer in Benin. Read about the government’s combined efforts with UNICEF to help enlist citizens in preventative measures (UK’s Guardian).

U.S. partnerships: Benin works with the U.S. on various exercises and trainings, such as African Partnership Flight(APF). APF is a two-week, military-to-military regional engagement event. Service members from Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Senegal and the United States participated in classroom instruction and hands-on aircraft training recently in Accra, Ghana.

Benin flag

Benin flag (source: CIA Factbook)

Piracy: Attacks by pirates are on the rise in West Africa.  “According to the IMB Annual Report, a total of eight hijackings, ten vessel boardings, and two other piracy attacks were reported near Benin in 2011, compared with no incidents in 2010.” (From One Earth Future Foundation) Since the recent piracy began, ship arrivals at the Port of Cotonou have dropped by 70 percent, according to Benin’s defense minister, Issifou Kogui N’Douro, in an Associated Press article: “UN says piracy off Africa’s west coast is increasing.”

Sources: CIA Factbook, “The Encyclopedia of Africa,” “Africa 2011,” Associated Press, The Guardian, “The Economic Cost of Somali Piracy.

Keep reading the blog for more from Benin and the Maritime Safety and Security Seminar happening there this week.

Benin meeting focuses on maritime security in West, Central Africa

Piracy, drug smuggling, child trafficking and illegal fishing are all challenges for the African countries that border the Gulf of Guinea.

Those issues hinder economic development, which in turn can lead to destabilization of countries. According to the director of the Maritime and Coastal Security Africa conference held in October:

Piracy and other maritime threats around Africa are now costing most international users of sea routes millions in increased fuel prices, insurance, security and ransom payments as well as costing Africa its integrity, security and position as a leading player in sea trade.

But several nations are working together to combat those challenges. Representatives from both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) are meeting this week to continue an effort started last year to improve maritime safety and security in the region.

The same groups met last year in Garmisch, Germany. More than 100 participants from 25 nations attended, plus representatives from the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. Coast Guard and several other interested agencies. (Read more about last year’s meeting here.)

This week’s meeting is in Benin, a West African nation with a coastline on the Gulf of Guinea. ECCAS and ECOWAS member states will talk about how they can work together in order to at quickly and decisively to counter maritime threats in their sea.

Benin is a member of ECOWAS, which includes 14 other West African countries working together promote economic integration across the region.  It was started in 1975.

ECCAS, a similar coalition of 10 Central African countries, was established in 1983 but was inactive for several years due to regional conflict. It aims to maintain economic stability and raise the standard of living for its member nations.

We have a reporter at this week’s conference, and we will bring you updates throughout the week here on the blog and our other AFRICOM social media sites.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the issues discussed this week or ask us questions as the meeting and our coverage progress.


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