Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is the focus of media attention. However, this area is also home to many other threats with equally high human and economic costs. Illegal fishing, drug trafficking, pollution, illegal immigration… there is no shortage of issues that weaken the region, but they do not all receive the same media attention.
The symposium of the chiefs of staff of the navies of the Gulf of Guinea, organized jointly by France and Congo, is particularly exemplary of a media prism that “benefits” piracy. Indeed, this symposium, whose theme was “The operationalization of the Yaoundé architecture: ways and means”, covered the entire spectrum of maritime security. However, the majority of articles on this event only consider it through the prism of piracy, whether it be Radio France internationale (Gulf of Guinea: the chiefs of staff of the navies debate maritime piracy), France-Info-AFP (The Gulf of Guinea, the area most exposed to maritime piracy and kidnappings in the world) or Mediapart (Africa: the Gulf of Guinea is increasingly exposed to maritime piracy).
Yet the other challenges facing the Gulf of Guinea and the Yaoundé architecture, which attempts to coordinate its maritime security, are equally important.
Thus, drug trafficking has taken on a worrying scale in recent years. Indeed, drug seizures are multiplying, as illustrated by the recent seizure made by the Senegalese navy with the assistance of the French national navy in October 2021 or the record seizure made by the landing helicopter deck Dixmude last March. These seizures support the UNODC’s analysis that Western Africa is the main transit area to Europe.
However, it is also moving from a transit area to a consumption zone. The UNODC estimates that the number of illegal drug or opioid users has tripled in recent decades. This explosion in consumption has obvious health consequences in countries whose hospital organization is often already fragile.
Moreover, the profits generated by this trafficking fuel crime and corruption, further weakening local institutions. Even if the consequences are not as serious everywhere as in Guinea-Bissau, which is struggling to move away from its “narco-state” status, corruption remains a scourge largely fueled by various forms of trafficking, including drug trafficking.
Finally, this traffic also supports criminal organizations whose influence extends as far as Europe, an influence that has already justified an international operation in 2019 which does not seem to have been sufficient to reduce their presence in France or – above all – in Italy.
For example, drug trafficking in the Gulf of Guinea poses challenges that are on a par with piracy and whose multiple impacts are felt both locally and in Europe. Maritime security in the Gulf therefore requires a global approach without focusing on any particular threat.