- At a regional military conference in Cotonou, Benin, Washington has pledged to support a boost of maritime security in the oil-rich but little monitored Gulf of Guinea, from Ghana to Angola. While governments hail the effort to stop illegal fisheries, oil theft, smuggling and trafficking, critics hold the US is only to secure its regional oil interests and supportive regimes.
Benin's Minister of Transportation, Alexandre Dossou, earlier this week welcomed African ministers, military leaders and 75 selected maritime safety and security experts to a three-day conference to look into the lack of security off the Central and West African coast. "Your presence is an illustration of the continued and unfailing interest of the international community in the fundamental issues and challenges facing our countries and leaders," he told the group.
The Cotonou conference gathered high officials from most Gulf of Guinea countries, from Ghana in the northwest to Angola in the south, also uniting major oil producers such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville. Most attention was however on the big presence of US military representatives and advisors.
The Washington government in advance had offered "assistance" in improving maritime security in the strategic Gulf of Guinea. This was met with some scepticism among analysts, as the US military already during the last few years strongly has increased its presence in the region. By now, US military bases are being set up in Senegal and São Tomé and Príncipe and the Pentagon is known to have signed a large number of military pacts with regional governments, including Gabon and Mauritania and Guinea Conakry.
Most analysts therefore saw the heavy US presence on the Gulf of Guinea security conference as just another sign of Washington's desire to dominate this region militarily, due to its increasing dependence on African oil supplies. Sceptics fear this in turn could lead to a greater threat of possible US interventions on behalf of or against sitting regimes.
During the Cotonou conference, however, much was done to calm these fears. African representatives reportedly gained much trust in the professional presentations made by their US counterparts, which had left the few participating European competitors in the shadow. While the US government previously had been pushing regional countries to increase maritime security, at the conference, US delegates diplomatically focused only on immediate African needs.
Representatives from Benin, Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria and other Gulf countries could not agree more. The Gulf of Guinea has slowly developed into a lawless zone - best illustrated by the many attacks on oil installations in Nigeria's Niger Delta - while investments and values in the same area have skyrocketed. According to US Commander Harry Ulrich, the region experienced a "US$ 1.5 billion lost to oil theft annually."
Not only oil installations were focused on. Mr Ulrich presented an assessment of losses to illegal and unregulated fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea, saying this represented "hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue lost each year." Also of concern is widespread trafficking in human beings, drugs, hazardous waste and other illicit goods.
The US delegates pledged to assist their African counterparts by "building capacity to improve maritime governance." The conference's closing statement gave some details on the way forward, saying that Gulf countries would start using tools such as radar and locator transponders on ships to monitor activity off their coasts. It was expected that Washington would give technical assistance, although no decision was made on funding.
The US government, while not achieving great progress at the Cotonou conference Washington itself had pushed for, celebrated that at least greater awareness had been created among West and Central African states. African leaders had decided to institutionalise the maritime security conference, from now on meeting twice a year to secure improvements.
A Pentagon spokesman, while emphasising on the humanitarian gains by improved maritime security, said the Cotonou conference also would lead to increased political stability in the region and help fight terrorism. Washington, he thus revealed, has its own interests in the Gulf of Guinea region.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.