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Gulf of Guinea Commission (GCC)

The establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) came in 2011, two years after its conceptualisation. The GGC was thus established from the perspective of collective political will to deal with the emerging strategic environment on the African Continent, particularly in the sub-region. At the peak of its establishment, the Gulf of Guinea region was characterized by increase in socio-political instability in some member states and increasing frequency of crimes committed at sea by local citizens; increase in international importance due to the prevalence of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing by foreigners; and dispute among international stakeholders due to the abundant mineral resources in the region.

Thus, for example, the then Assistant Under-Secretary of the United States for African Affairs asserted that “African petroleum had become a matter of strategic national interest to the United States of America (USA), which had declared the region as its “zone of vital interest”.

Indeed, a shift in which the strategic situation then dominated by instability in the Middle East, created uncertainties with regards to the exploitation of energy resources in that region, thereby making “any oilfield, even if less important, becoming more important than the previous".

Within this context, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2007 to “influence the actions, will and the capacity of other friendly and unfriendly nations (…) in addition to protecting the access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa possessed in abundance (…), a task which includes ensuring the non-vulnerability of such national resources and ensuring that no third party such as China, India or Russia, has monopoly or is given preferential attention”.

The increase in importance and attendant threat to the region, led to the establishment of the GGC, as a mechanism of cooperation among the coastal states of the Gulf of Guinea, to promote the harmonious development of the region, ensure the management of shared common interest, namely peace and security; oil exploration; environmental management; protection of sea species and problems arising from overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

Threats could be manifested in the form of:

  • Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing, carried out by citizens of the region, but also by foreign entities to the region;
  • Use of sea-route for drug trafficking;
  • Use of sea-route for human and arms trafficking;
  • Piracy on the sea and armed robbery, whether on the high sea or in territorial waters of the states;
  • Illegal trans-shipment and oil theft;
  • Sea pollution, predominantly resulting from industrial activities carried out at sea, and also from domestic activities and from discharge of toxic substances;
  • Illegal and unregulated immigration.

However, in addition to the aforementioned threats, no less important is the threat posed by the actualization of the strategies of foreign entities to the region, since the conditions of their strategies in the ultimate instance is for their development.

One of the major requirements in implementing the YCoC is physical presence at sea to patrol the vast maritime domain of the Gulf of Guinea. A look at most of the navies of ECOWAS littoral states shows lack of the requisite naval or coastal defence assets to physically maintain presence at sea. However, the existing platforms could achieve this requirement to some extent if member states commit to contributing to a common fleet. Zone E, which was the first to commence operations in the ECOWAS sub-region has not been able to mobilize assets and the possibility of Zone F being able to do so is marginal. There is the need for ECOWAS states to bolster their navies in order to build capacity to enable contribution of assets to the Zones.

Gulf of Guinea Gulf of Guinea Gulf of Guinea

The boundaries of the Gulf of Guinea region are viewed from various perspectives. Indeed, there are authors who opine that the region lies between the Republic of Senegal and the Republic of Angola. These authors use the so called “Warm Currents of the Gulf”, which is bounded to the North by River Senegal, which separates it from the “Cold Currents of the Canary Islands”, and to the South by River Congo, which separates it from the “Cold Currents of Benguela”. However, this view disregards the geographical definition of a gulf.

On the other hand, there are authors who by strictly observing geography, situate the region between Cape Palmas in Liberia and Cape Lopez, in Gabon. Likewise, there are authors who utilise other criteria; such as possession of mineral resources; or the existence of socio-political ties among the people of the region, in addition to geographical features. For authors who utilise the possession of mineral resources, they situate the Gulf of Guinea between the Federal Republic of Nigeria (now referred to as Ghana) and the Republic of Angola, alluding to the exploration of oil and gas. The proponents in support of the existence of socio-political ties, use the theory of Saul Cohen as a locus relative to the geo-political regions. Therefore, in assessing beyond the geographic, historic and the social perspectives, the proponents of this theory situate the Gulf of Guinea between the Republic of Liberia and the Republic of Angola.

The latter theory, which, considers both the geographical and sociopolitical criteria, assumes the existence of a history of Africa prior to its colonial occupation, as well as the existence of social relationships among the peoples of the region. Thus, the authors enumerate the countries in the Gulf of Guinea region as being made up of; Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, Guinea Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Congo, Democratic Congo and Angola.

Given that GGC was established by coastal states, it is expedient that security must be actualised in the Gulf of Guinea to guarantee the harmonious development of the region. This is more so that the Gulf of Guinea is an open sea; devoid of obstacles which prevent threat from developing to its full form. This is also a reason that reinforces the need for cooperation (which generates synergy) amongst member states of the region to achieve a control of the common maritime domain.

The Treaty of the Gulf of Guinea Commission, which brings together nine states of the region, and contains the decision of the Heads of State to transform the Gulf of Guinea into a ‘Zone Peace and Security “, also stipulates the importance of political support to achieve the desired and important synergy required by navies of the region to cooperate within the limits of the operational theatre of the maritime domain.

After the establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Commission as a mechanism of political cooperation between the states of the region in 2001, the first operational mechanism to create synergy among the navies of the region was proposed by Central Africa. Consequently, on 24th October 2009, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) established the Regional Center for Maritime Security in Central Africa (CRESMAC), under the auspices of the Annual Maritime Conference of the Committee of Peace and Security of ECCAS (COPAX in Portuguese abbreviation).

The maritime domain of Central Africa was divided into 2 zones, with Zone A consisting of Angola, Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo and Zone B consisting of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé and Principe. Despite, the establishment of CRESMAC in October 2009, it only became operational on 20th October 2014 and so far does not have all the proposed Multinational Centers of Coordination.

Indeed, this situation which is also as a result of “Fragmented Belt” Theory prevents the promotion of cooperation among the states of the region, which in turn affects the synergy among the navies of Central Africa. As a result of this, the region is perceived as a weak naval power that cannot checkmate the threat in its maritime domain.

Similarly, the Western African Maritime Domain which is the most adversely affected part of the maritime domain of the Gulf of Guinea, only decided much later to put in place an operational mechanism to address the threat at sea. Indeed, the Regional Center for Maritime Security in West Africa (CRESMAO) only kicked off in February 2015 in the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, and had yet to be completed as of 2018. The maritime domain of Western Africa, is also divided into operational zones. It is made up of Zone E, comprising Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Niger; Zone F, comprising Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea; and Zone G, comprising Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.

The effective establishment of the Regional Maritime Security Centres, Multinational Maritime Centres of Coordination and the Naval Operational Centres (COM) at national levels, could eventually contribute to the development of synergy among the navies of the countries of each of the zones and subsequently among the navies of all the countries in the Maritime Domain of West Africa. Initially, only the Multinational Maritime Center of Zone E is functional and effectively carrying out its functions under the leadership of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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Page last modified: 01-08-2021 15:34:16 ZULU