All posts by sclark

A Growing Threat: Piracy in The Gulf of Guinea

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been an ongoing and growing threat to maritime trade in the region rivaling and even growing larger than piracy off the coast of Somalia. The growing threat of piracy prompts more direct action that needs to be taken to address the root causes of the issue, that is, a lack of jobs for the natives in the region’s most at risk of becoming pirates, a plan to reduce political corruption, and a strict plan to quell the current threats.  While the world has seen a general decrease in maritime piracy, West Africa has seen an increase primarily in the Gulf of Guinea making it the worst area in the world affected by this form of piracy. The Gulf of Guinea (see link for image) stretches from Senegal to Angola, covering over 6,000 km of coastline. Two regions form its 20 coastal states, islands and landlocked states and is what comprises West Africa and Central Africa. The Gulf of Guinea is of geo-political and geo-economic importance for the transport of goods to and from central and southern Africa. Additionally, it is a choke point for the African energy trade, with intensive oil extraction in Nigeria’s Niger Delta (see link for image). The Niger Delta is a densely populated region responsible for some two million barrels a day and is a target of pirates looking to make a quick sum from the theft of oil and oil barrels. 

80% of all global trade is carried by sea, Most pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea target oil and gas tankers, but fishing boats are targeted on occasion. The International Maritime Bureau says “the vast majority of sailors kidnapped for ransom were taken off the coast of Benin, Cameroon, Guinea, Nigeria, and Togo”. In its report on the growing threat of piracy off the coast of West Africa the International maritime Bureau noted “195 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on ships worldwide in 2020, compared to 162 the previous year”. The Gulf of Guinea accounted for more than 95 percent of abductions in the Bureau’s January report. The additional worry spreading about the West African pirates, besides their growing numbers and frequency of attacks, is their brutality and penchant for violence. In a 2013 report by three leading organizations in the study of maritime piracy, it was found that “while sailors attacked in the Gulf of Guinea in the west spent far less time in captivity than those held in Somalia, they were at risk of much greater violence”. West African pirates were found to be more motivated by quick profits from selling hijacked cargoes of refined oil compared to their Somalian counterparts who sought lucrative ransoms and held captives for much longer periods of time. 

The root cause for piracy in the Gulf of Guinea comes from desperation, lawlessness and political radicalism. Extreme poverty and a lack of options are oftentimes the main causes for piracy, as most pirates come from remote towns and tribes with hundreds living in abject poverty with very few options for providing for themselves or their families and communities. Extreme poverty and a lack of options are reasons for piracy throughout the countries whose coastline lies on the Gulf of Guinea. This is true for none more so than Nigeria and the Niger Delta, the largest source of pirates and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. While the Delta might produce most of the oil from Nigeria, its economy is underdeveloped and there are limited jobs for the local populace as well as rampant corruption within the government and military allowing for groups of pirates to survive. Reports have stated that “once some pirate vessels are arrested by low rank officials, important military exponents intervene to order their release”. 

Piracy interferes with the legitimate trading interests globally and of countries local to the region that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For example, trade of Benin’s major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70 percent. The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been estimated to be about $2 billion

Many organizations are looking for methods to try and fight the growing number of pirates. But to complicate matters, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbors rather than on the high seas. This has hindered any intervention by international naval forces like the UN and EU. However, to counter one of the root courses, that is corruption, the Nigerian government has implemented some counter corruption measures, but the corruption is still so widespread that the government is still unable to fully restrict it. Conversely to the situation in Nigeria, Ghana has seen a comparative decrease in privacy thanks to continued operations by local coast guard and navy forces. And in Somalia reports indicate that “fewer pirate groups were operating from bases in Somalia because of increased patrols by international navies and more effective security measures on ships”. The UN has been a major proponent in the countering currently and prevention of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The UN council focusing on efforts in the Gulf of Guinea also encouraged “States in the region and regional and international partners to make fully operational all the regional counter piracy mechanisms and urged partners to continue assisting States of the Gulf of Guinea”. 

The threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea continues to grow and spread. To counter this not only do armed forces need to be successfully and effectively deployed throughout those waters, but local officials must address their own corruption. They must hold themselves accountable and properly deal with the pirates swiftly and subsequently direct attention to the Niger Delta and its intense poverty to hopefully end the outflow of piracy at the source. They must look to  examples like Ghana and Somalia as both countries continue to suppress piracy in their region. This process will be slow but must begin and continue onward for the sake of Nigeria, but also its neighboring countries as well.

History Repeating Itself: The Possible Return of Sinhalese Nationalism

Sri Lanka is a nation with a history of long-standing and underlying ethnic tensions. Now, still recovering from a bloody civil war that ended roughly 10 years ago, the country must look back to the root of the problem, a nationalism targeting a populace within its own borders. 

Sinhalese nationalism, a Buddhist ideology originating in response to British colonization and widely accepted by the majority of the Sinhalese populace, was spearheaded by the administration of the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and excluded the Tamil people, causing undue tension and strife. This exclusion led to the nearly 25-year-long civil war, a clash spurred on by nationalistic pride that has continued into the modern day. Now, the fear of the return of an authoritarian rule that would target and persecute minorities is resurfacing. 

The origin of the nation’s ethnic nationalism, specifically Sinhala nationalism, may be traced back to even before the nation’s independence from Britain in 1948. Back then, the not-yet-formed nation was part of a broader anti-colonial, anti-foreign movement. After independence, and with the formation of an electoral democracy, Sinhala nationalism grew stronger. 

As the government just started to gain its balance following independence, the Sinhala language was made the language of the state. While it is the majority language spoken in Sri Lanka, the decision made the minority Tamils feel marginalized. With the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E.) and subsequent attacks in an attempt to create a separate state, the bloody civil war began. 

The rule of president Mahinda Rajapaksa from 2005-2014 saw the declaration by the president that he would vow to end the long war. What followed was the decimation of the remaining L.T.T.E. in 2009. The brutal victory was accompanied by tens of thousands of Tamil civilian deaths and the stoking of Sinhala nationalism by the Rajapaksa administration. 

The war’s end gave Rajapaksa increased power and popularity, which he used to silence critics. Those in opposition to him and various journalists were attacked with impunity. Corruption was rampant as many of his relatives quickly found positions at government posts. 

Since 2019, the Sri Lankan government has been controlled by the Rajapaksa brothers, who retook power following their defeat in 2015. The older, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former general who led the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to defeat the Tamil Tigers, holds the office of president and the younger, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the 6th president of Sri Lanka serving from 2005 to 2015, holds the office of prime minister. In 2015, following victory over then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the administration of the 7th president, Maithripala Sirisena, passed a constitutional amendment imposing a two-term limit on the presidency and revoked the president’s immunity from prosecution. The chances for those amendments to be repealed and even more radical changes to the Sri Lankan government are higher than ever as the current administration needs only five more seats for a supermajority in the parliament, which would enable them a massive amount of control over the government with little resistance. The victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa caused rights groups to worry that he would seek to undo those reforms. Bandula Gunawardena, a spokesman for the Rajapaksa government’s cabinet, said,  “We hope to change the Constitution.” The threat of an authoritarian rule and a return to the country’s nationalistic ways could be imminent if the actions of the Rajapaksa brothers continue down the path they are heading.         

The Sinhala nationalism fueled by past administrations and the scars of civil war and the atrocities committed by both sides still remain. While the Tamil people may no longer be the target of direct action by the government, the minority populations residing in Sri Lanka, including the Tamil people, still fear the possibility of the reigniting of the nationalism of the past.