by PETER DOERRIE
Gulf of Guinea
In what seems to be inspired by the hugely profitable pirating schemes in the waters surrounding Somalia, three cases of attempted piracy have been reported from the Gulf of Guinea. In all three cases, armed men attacked diesel tankers off the coast of Benin. In two cases the pirates successfully boarded the ships, but fled when patrol boats of the coast guard reacted to the distress calls of the crew.
The Gulf of Guinea is rich in oil and natural gas and home to some of the largest ports in Africa. But while there seem to be many similarities with the situation in Somalia — and some media outlets are already warning about a the creation of a new pirate mecca — there are also some important differences. Other than at the Horn of Africa, the states bordering the Gulf of Guinea are not “failed.” Pirates could not rely on safe havens on shore, where they could freely anchor the captured ships and negotiate ransom payments for ship, cargo and crew.
Instead, budding pirates would have to quickly unload the cargo and sell it on the local black market, while releasing the ship and crew. This seems to be the reason that so far only diesel tankers have been targeted, as diesel could be comparatively easily unloaded and sold. Still, these operations would rely on some form of cooperation with elements of port authority and/or security services, to locate valuable targets and to sell off large quantities of stolen goods.
The tiny central African nation of Burundi has never been the most stable of places, but in July tensions between the government and the opposition escalated in a series of attacks, leaving at least 20 people dead.
The country emerged in 2006 from a civil war that lasted more than a decade. The opposition movement National Liberation Front seems to be responsible for the current attacks, after its leaders have fled the country to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, in the aftermath of recent elections.
Not everybody seems to be happy that Guinea held its first successful democratic election at the end of last year, which saw Alpha Conde emerge as a winner. On the 19th of July, assailants opened fire on the residence of president Conde. The president reportedly only escaped because he had earlier changed bedrooms as a precaution.
The attackers appear to have been members of the army. Dozens of soldiers and officers have been arrested in the aftermath of the attack, which was carried out by small arms and rocket launchers. A possible motivation may have been the anti-corruption stance of Conde, who among other things slashed slush funds used by officers to enhance their salaries.
In parts of the southern Somalia, drought, the ongoing conflict and other factors combined to lead to a famine that is further exacerbated by the unwillingness of parts of the Al Shabab militia to allow aid organizations access to the worst hit areas.
Meanwhile the African Union-led AMISOM mission has increased its military activities in Mogadishu. In concert with soldiers of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), they were able to push back competing militias from parts of the city. Although this is a success, the situation of the TFG remains precarious, as it still does not control much more than parts of the capital. The TFG may also come under pressure from foreign donors, after a recently published report unveiled that it pilfered a total of $105 million in donor money.
One of these donors, the USA, will also experience increased scrutiny after journalist Jeremy Scahill revealed that the CIA is involved in running a secret prison in cooperation with the TFG in Mogadishu and supports renditions to Somalia of Kenyan and Somali nationals residing in Kenya. Former prisoners claim being tortured with U.S. intelligence personnel being present and being held in solitary confinement for long periods of time.
South Sudan became the world’s newest nation on 9 July and many rightly celebrated this day as an important step to end the current insecurity in the region. But independence also underlined the long way that South Sudan still has to go before its citizens can enjoy peace and security.
One of the issues that is quickly becoming a major obstacle on the road to peace are internal divisions. The current government is dominated by the SPLA/M, the rebel group and political movement that has led the fight for independence. Many people see it as dominated by the Dinka ethnic group though, and a lack of internal reform has led to a proliferation of armed opposition movements which already frequently engage the government in armed clashes. The proliferation of small arms throughout the region has also led to increased incidents of banditry and cattle rustling which continue to claim many lives.
South Sudan is also still engaged in ongoing disputes with its northern counterpart over the exact demarcation of the border. This has lead to increased tension and eventually exchange of fire in the contested region of Abiey. North Sudan meanwhile has made it clear that no other regions should entertain thoughts about succession, conducting air raids and military actions in the Nuba mountains, which together with the instability in Abiey triggered large population displacements.