Archive for the 'Africa' Tag

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Blue isles along the coast of Lagos, Nigeria

On a muggy and overcast day this past March, I set out to the Gulf of Guinea with members from the U.S. State Department in Lagos, Nigeria. It was just past sunset. Our pilot, an athletically built Nigerian with dark skin and a shaved head, greeted us on the pier and welcomed the delegation aboard his Boston Whaler. All of us were overdressed in suits and sweat was noticeably percolating through our shirts.

That time of day is particularly charming in Lagos. The water and the sky interweave in a deep cerulean palette, transforming the landscape into a wondrous countryside.

The smell of stagnant petrol consumed us as we sailed past bulk freighters and crude carriers loading cargo. Containers slammed onto chassis on the adjacent piers and oil sheens along with garbage and debris saturated the waterway. Throughout the channel, campaign billboards promoting President Goodluck Jonathan’s reelection were omnipresent



And the most dubious promotion of all: #BRINGBACKGOODLUCK2015, which was a campaign slogan based off #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS. This one did not resonate well in northeast Nigeria.

Off our port bow, donned in orange life jackets, were locals taxiing home together in motorized canoes. They stared at us uneasily as our boat sprinted past their starboard beam. A few yelled in detest when a member in our delegation snapped off a photo with his iPhone.

On the other side of the river, directly across from the commercial shipping terminals were residents of Lagos’ notorious floating slums. Many of the lagoon’s inhabitants are immigrants, who earn less than $2 a day and use the river to dump trash, excrement, and everything else they cannot keep on their makeshift homes. Our guide told us that the people along the sprawling bamboo community subsist largely as fishermen and workers in the nearby sawmills, cutting up timber that floats regularly into the city. They, too, looked perplexed when a boat full of whites drove by at 30 knots.

Image by © GEORGE ESIRI/Reuters/Corbis

Floating slums in Lagos

It took fifteen minutes to reach Takawa Bay at the southern entrance of Lagos harbor. We gazed southeast and saw scores of anchored ships dotted along the horizon like a cityscape at dusk. Our boat idled for a few moments, swaying to and fro in the trough of the seas and all of us were silent. A sea breeze kicked up and the cool air felt good. It was as if at that moment we could sense all of Nigeria’s potential in the idle ships a few miles distant, waiting offshore to deliver cargo and with it, a better future for the people ashore.

Our pilot turned sharply to starboard, sped up and headed back toward Lagos. My shock in Nigeria was total.

Over the past two decades, Lagos and several other ports along the Gulf of Guinea have evolved into a major hub for global energy supplies for North America, Europe, and Asia. With several natural harbors throughout the region – from Cape Verde to Angola – and a coastal terrain rich in hydrocarbons, the countries along this fertile coastline have flourished.

This uninterrupted growth had not come about by accident. Many West-African governments have enhanced their infrastructure, liberalized trade policies, and reduced barriers to emerging transcontinental businesses. As a result the Gulf of Guinea increasingly relies on the seas for their economic prosperity. After all, it’s their only lifeline to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

This transit hub and facilitator to the world, however, is threatened. Despite West Africa’s continuing economic boom, three years ago the Gulf of Guinea surpassed East Africa and became the region with the highest number of piracy attacks in the world. Nigeria is said to be losing a staggering $2 billion to maritime insecurity each year. Maritime experts agree that the nation loses $800 million yearly to unchecked poachers who come to take away fish from Nigeria’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), in addition to about $16 million to oil theft and $9 million to general piracy.

Given the limited number of ships providing security off the West African coast, narcotics traffickers are using West African ports to smuggle and then distribute drugs in Europe. Oil theft and illegal bunkering also continue to rise uncontrollably. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Nigeria loses between 40,000 and 100,000 barrels a day due to theft.

These attacks also tend to be violent. Unlike Somalia, where pirates attack ships transiting through the region, West African pirates typically prey on ships berthed or anchored waiting to berth. These attacks typically occur within twelve nautical miles. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group have shown that more seafarers were killed in the first nine months of 2014 than the whole of 2013, when over 1,200 were affected.

This is a conservative estimate. IMB reported last year that about two-thirds of all West-African piracy attacks go unreported.

Piracy in West Africa are different from those associated with East Africa in a variety of ways. First, unlike Somali pirates who attach ships in transit, pirates operating in and around the Gulf of Guinea prey on ships berthed or anchored within territorial waters. As noted by the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group, this changes the character of operations tremendously. Pirates have access to infrastructure and robust intelligence ashore, which provide them with the content and structure of ships operating in the area. It is thought they have access to information shared with the maritime sectors in the region.

Ghana Navy Moves to Counter Piracy and Drugs Smuggling in Gulf of Guinea

Ghana Navy Moves to Counter Piracy and Drugs Smuggling in Gulf of Guinea

Robbery, kidnap and ransom, and oil theft are the three main piracy models being monitored in West Africa. Pirates hijack vessels and often force ship captains to navigate the vessel to an unknown location where the cargo is lightered to another vessel or a storage facility shore side. Eventually, the oil finds its way to the black market or in some cases, back into the mainstream supply to be sold domestically or in the global marketplace.

If threats of piracy are left unchecked, the economies of West Africa will suffer. The waters off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are deemed a “war risk area,” thereby pushing up insurance costs and deterring maritime traders from even entering ports.

Most scholars and military planners would agree the root of the problem in Nigeria stems from state corruption, lackluster job creation, and a hollow security force. With only a couple dozen ships and a poorly trained military facing Boko Haram on their eastern flank, it seems unlikely that Nigeria and the surrounding nations will be able to control this problem alone. Regional actors are taking promising steps, but their coordination efforts are not developed enough to thwart terrorist networks.

Nigeria received two 1700 ton P-18N offshore-patrol vessels in 2014, which are based on the Chinese Type 056 corvette. Built in China and fitted out in a Nigerian shipyard, the 312-foot warships complement the Okpabana and the Thunder, former US Guard WHEC class cutters transferred in 2014 and 2011, respectively.

The revised Cooperative Strategy in the 21st Century (CS-21R) aptly points out that the sea services must continue working alongside partner security forces to combat terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal exploitation of natural resources through initiatives such as the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership and the Africa Partnership Station. We should not delay in executing this blueprint – the moment is ripe for changes to West African maritime security. On May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari will succeed Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. The election of Buhari has created a potential breakthrough for American diplomacy and with it, a chance for us to work hand-in-hand with the largest nation and economy on the continent. Through public-private partnerships, along with interagency work by USAID, America has the opportunity to establish a better long-term relationship with Nigeria’s incoming executive government.

Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) or destroyers are not needed to assist our partners in Africa. Afloat Forward Staging Bases, coupled with Joint-High Speed Vessels, Patrol Craft and Littoral Combat Ships can fulfill this mission with ease and bring the necessary equipment to the inshore zones that need the most attention. Utilizing UAVs like ScanEagle and Firescout will help discover patterns of piracy and provide security for oil platforms and anchored vessels throughout the region.

Navy SEALs and Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) should liaise with the Special Boat Service (SBS), a special operations unit of the Nigerian Navy. Their mission is focused on littoral and riverine operations, including reconnaissance and surveillance; covert beach reconnaissance in advance of an amphibious assault; recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state action; maritime counter-terrorism; and offensive action. In order to strengthen partnerships and protect international interests in the region, this must be done year-round.

If we don’t step in, then expect China to dominate the region with short-term investments that will fail to lift African nations out of poverty and conflict. The imbalance in trade is staggering. According to John Burnett of U.S. News and World Report, China made $75 billion in investments from 2000 to 2011 compared to our $14 billion. Given the number of natural resources throughout the region, it would be foolish for American business to sit out as the needs of economies throughout West Africa grow. But security is paramount for potential investment from the West.

Ensuring secure littoral sea lines of communication within Nigeria’s territorial seas require trust and over time we can help alter West Africa’s perception of the West. Like Americans, Nigerians are proud and stubborn. They want to solve problems on their own. Unfortunately, more than anything, West Africa needs a naval presence to help shore up their ongoing problems with piracy. Our Navy can and should do more, especially with an incoming president bent on ending corruption and improving Nigeria’s security.

This will be a war of attrition, but it’s a fight worth undertaking. After all, success in Nigeria means potential success for Africa, which translates to economic benefits throughout the continent.

seacontrol2Sea Control interviews Erik Prince, former CEO of Blackwater. He describes the challenges of African logistics and how his new public venture, Frontier Services Group, will tackle them. We also discuss the future of private military contractors and the lessons learned from Blackwater.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 29 – Erik Prince

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seacontrolemblemJames Bridger interviews adventurer extraordinaire, Rob Young Pelton, about his upcoming crowd-funded journey to find Jospeh Kony and further updates on the situation in Africa. Jim and Rob discuss civil wars, and piracy amongst others.

The episode finishes with an interview done on Federal News Radio, 1500AM, for their series “In Depth with Francis Rose.” Sean McCalley interviews our NEXTWAR Director, Matt Hipple, about his thoughts on what to watch in the coming year. They discuss Africa, China, drones, and informal military innovation/networks.

Please enjoy Sea Control 17: Rob Young Pelton plus Federal News Radio (Dowload).

And remember… we are available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio! Tell a friend, leave a comment, and rate 5 stars!

seacontrolemblemMatt Hipple is joined by Zack Elkaim and James Bridger to talk about rebellions in Africa: the Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria, as well as the future prospects for Somalia. Today’s podcast is one of our best, and we highly encourage you to give it a listen. Enjoy our latest podcast, Episode 14, My Other CAR is a Mali (download).

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CIMSEC-LogoUSCG Mobile Training Branch member, James Daffer, has traveled the world. We talk with him about what he’s seen in the world of capacity building for maritime security abroad, soft power and relationship building, cultural challenges when working amongst different peoples, and stories about his travels. SC Episode 6 – USCG Adventures (Download)

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Our previous episodes:
SC Episode 5: Africa
SC Episode 4: DEF Jam Midrats Tour
SC Episode 3: RealClear Podcast
SC Episode 2: Strategy
Sea Control: First Podcast

This article is featured at CIMSEC’s African Navies Week. The previous articles of African Navies Week have been Al-Shabaab is Only the Beginning (LT Hipple), Searching for a Somali Coast Guard (James Bridger), and East Africa, More than Just Pirates (Breuk Bass).


In the din of East African security issues, the navy of Africa’s most populous nation has fallen out of the international eye. With continued pressure on diversified procurement, increasing capability, and new international cooperation, Nigeria’s Navy is slowly growing to fill a void dominated by piracy, petroleum smuggling, and other criminal elements that is re-engaging international attention in Western Africa. Whereas the state of Somalia has been quite unable to manage its offshore affairs, the Nigerian Navy has plotted a course out to sea under the pall of its severe security challenges. If the challenges of oversight, funding, and collusion don’t capsize their efforts, it may become a quite fine sailing.

Procurement-Let’s Go Shopping:

Since 2009, Nigeria has been pursuing an aggressive new procurement program. During the last Nigerian naval modernization period, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Nigeria purchased a vast number of vessels from Germany (LST’s) , France (Combattantes), the UK (Thornycraft), Italy (Lerici minesweepers), and others. Unlike the procurement processes familiar in larger navies, such those of NATO, Nigeria ran an “open-source” program, pulling already-proven foreign systems off the foreign shelf. This new buildup is similar, with some new attempt to build local ship-building capacity.

NNS Thunder, ex-USCG Chase

NNS Thunder, ex-USCG Chase

The three big ticket “ship of the line” purchases are the 2 “Offshore Patrol Vessels” and the NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder is the old school “off the shelf” style ship purchase, bringing a Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutter, the ex-USCG Chase, into Nigerian service in 2011. The “Offshore Patrol Vessels” were commissioned with China Industry Shipbuilding Corporation and approved for purchase by President Jonathan in April of 2012. The fleet’s major combatant until the NNS Thunder was the NNS Aradu, an over 30 year old vessel and Nigeria’s only aviation-capable ship. The new contenders will add a total of 5 new 76mm Oto Melara’s added to the fleet, a none too shabby improvement of overall firepower for littoral operations. The 45 (NNS Thunder)/ 20 (OPV’s) day endurance will give the Nigerian Navy an impressive new stay-time for continuous at-sea opeartions. Arguably most important is that all three vessels have maritime aviation capabilities that will greatly expand the reach and ISR component of Nigerian maritime operations. These three ships are right on target to fill critical gaps in Nigeria’s capabilities.

Nigerian Navy Shaldag mk III

Nigerian Navy Shaldag mk III

Nigeria’s littoral squadrons are also scheduled for improvement. Nigeria is purchasing several brown-green water patrol craft to bolster her much-beleaguered inshore security where smuggling of all kinds is rife. Singaporean Manta’s and Sea Eagle’s, US Defender’s, Israeli Shaldag Mk III’s, and others will add potent brown and green water assets to Nigeria’s toolbox.

On small ship for a ship, one large ship for Nigerian Shipbuilding kind.

On small ship for a ship, one large ship for Nigerian Shipwright kind.

However, not all of Nigeria’s purchases are imports. Thi package also begins the cultivation of indigenous ship-building capability. One of the aforementioned OPV’s is scheduled for 70% of its construction to occur in Nigeria. To more fanfare, the NNS Andoni was commissioned in 2012. Designed by Nigerian engineers and produced locally with 60% locally sourced parts, it is considered a good step forward for building local expertise and capability in the realm of the shipwrights. More local capacity and expertise will further increase the ease with which ships bought locally, or abroad, can be maintained.

-But Avoid the Bait and Switch!

While flexible, this off-the-shelf model can lead to some bad dealings either by vendors or government buyers. Flexible US defense procurement specialists would love more unilateral authority and oversight compared to their gilded cage of powerpoint nightmares. However, the opposite can lead to incredibly terrible purchasing decisions. While Nigeria’s 2 OPV’s are running for current a total cost of $42m, a proposal was made to purchase one 7 year old vessel for $65m dollars. That vessel had a further $25m in damage that needed to be repaired. That particular vessel now sails as the KNS Jasiri after a large financing scandal of several years ended. At the time of delivery it appeared completely unarmed as well, though since it has since had weapons installed. If one were to ask why Nigeria would want to buy a single unarmed vessel with no aviation capability for the price of 4 more gunned-up and helo-ready OPV’s, the answer is probably not a “clean” one. Oversight is going to continue to be an issue in a country with one of the bottom corruption ratings.

Capability- Shooting more, shooting together :

Popped collars, midriff, and tiny shorts? Worst pirates EVER!

Popped collars, midriff, and tiny shorts? Worst pirates EVER!

Ships are all well and good, but what matters is what you do with them and how. Though the scale of offshore criminality is likely in total hovering around 10 billion, and the entire naval budget is roughly a half billion, the Nigerian Navy is moving more aggressively to course-correct their coastal regions. Several instances include a successful gun battle in August, ending the careers of six pirates, further arrests for oil theft in september, and a nice little capture of pirates in August for which photo opportunities were ensured for the press. The Nigerian Navy is further attempting to extend the “immediacy” of their reach by establishing Forward Operating Bases, like the ones at Bayelsa and Delta states. These and many other instances are the nickles-and-dimes as the Nigerian Navy chips away at the corners of their behemoth security challenge at sea. Every journey begins with a single step, and though the Nigerian Navy has reached a bit of a trot, they have a long way to go.

But even in the Navy, no man is an island. With a limited budget and math-rough half of the budget going to the army, the Nigerian Navy needs support. The civil and military authorities are moving closer to that “joint” model with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on the use of NAF assets in Anti-Piracy operations. With an existing MoU between NIMASA, this creates further points of coordination between civil, naval, and air force assets in a coordinated battle against criminals at sea. It’s no J3/J5 shop, but it’s a start.

-But Don’t Undershoot!

The Nigerian Navy’s take from the $5.947bn defense budget is a cool $445m. This is a continued increase for both the defense budget overall and the navy budget specifically and is expected to continue increasing. While this is all well and good, the Nigerian Navy faces a criminal enterprise worth billions: Piracy ($2bn), Oil Theft: ($8bn), and others. The Nigerian Navy itself has a way to go with shoring up its vast body of small arms, ammunition, and gear. In 2012, a fact-finding mission by members of the Nigerian senate found an appalling state of affairs in regards to equipment shortages, maintenance, and a whole slew of other steady-state problems. Enthusiasm and new ships can only go so far. The Nigerian Navy needs to spend the extra money to shore up their flanks, refurbishing or replacing their vast stock of older ships, weapons, equipment, and ordnance stores (without forgetting training).

Cooperation- Team Player:

4026984_origNigeria is no stranger to international cooperation. Many forget that in August 26th, 1996, ECOMOG (under ECOWAS) actually conducted an amphibious assault into Liberia led by Nigerian military units. From peacekeeping in Liberia, to Sierra Leone, to Darfur, to Mali, etc… etc…
Nigeria troops have been a staple of many peacekeeping efforts. Now, their typical face abroad, the boots on the ground, is pulling back to the homeland to fight Boko Haram. However, the navy is still extending its project to integrate into partnership programs through both engagement at home and extending the hand abroad.

Nigeria is an active catalyst of the regional security regime. For one, ECOWAS is a factor at sea as well as land. At an ECOWAS conference ending 9 OCT, the naval chiefs of Nigeria, Niger, Benin, and Togo agreed to a common “modality” for the combating of terrorism and agreed to set up a “Maritime Multinational Coordination Center” in Benin to coordinate security efforts.

It also doesn’t hurt to host the maiden run of a major procurement/policy forum in your continent, namely the “Offshore Patrol Vessels Conference” for hundreds of African and interested parties. Networking, though an intangible product, is an important way of building institutional strength and connections.

Nigeria also engages with US and NATO training missions, like the most recent Operation African Wind: a training exercise for the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other regional militaries in conjunction with the Netherlands Maritime Forces under the auspices of the United States sponsored African Partnership Station. In Lagos and Calabar, units will learn about sea-borne operations, jungle combat, amphibious raids, etc… over 14 days of training and 4 days of exercises.

Finally, Nigeria’s navy has made a very respectable show of striking out by conducting a “world tour” of sorts with the new NNS Thunder. The NNS Thunder made a tour around Africa before crossing the Indian Ocean for an historic visit to Australia this month for International Fleet Week. The Nigerian Navy seems determined not to remain shackled by their previous bad position, and is aggressively pursuing an expanded mission and self-image through more than just procurement. Despite the challenges ahead, they’ve demonstrated a reach few of their continental compatriots can lay claim to. It may not help against pirates, but it should be a fine addition to espirit de corps.

-But Also Collusion, Not Always the Right Team…

police_corruptsHowever, while the navy coordinates with foreign navies, some officials in Nigeria coordinate with the criminal elements. Such “industrial scale” theft of oil in particular would be impossible without the involvement of at least some security officials and politicians. The wide-spread collusion helps stall policies designed to curb the vast hemorrhaging of wealth, since the wealth is hemorrhaging to some with influence on the levers of power. This collusion is further muddled by the revelations about government payments to stop oil theft. While a pay-off policy might be effective in the short term, as it has been in Honduras, the long-term promise is muddled, especially if it turns off the money spigot to those receiving graft. While corruption has improved since the end of the patronage-heavy military state, some see very little hope at all: from the luxurious government salaries to wholesale theft from government coffers. Whatever the case, even local perceptions of transparency are depressingly negative. If internal collusion with the criminal underground cannot be controlled, the Nigerian navy will never find itself with truly enough allies to defeat the foe some of their leaders look to for wallet-padding.

Right Course, Add More Steam:

The Nigerian Navy is making good progress. With new ships, expanded operations, and continued engagement the bow is pointed in the right direction. However, without maintaining the engineroom and navigational equipment by battling corruption and putting enough fuel in the diesels by increasing their defense budget, the Nigerian Navy will find itself floundering in the storm.