Addressing Regional Challenge of Security in Africa
By Mansur M. Dan-Ali
(A paper presented at Moscow Conference on International Security)
I feel greatly honoured and pleased to be invited to the 8th Moscow Conference on International Security.
This conference has been a series of engagements which offer opportunities for security dialogue with our trusted allies and other global partners. The Russia’s relationship with Africa and particularly Nigeria has been longstanding, highly beneficial and strategically important. Nigeria believes that a good strategic partnership with Russia would help preserve our delicate security interests and indeed promote the achievement of critical national aspirations of many African countries in the long term.
It is gratifying to note that Russia has been consistent in furthering her interests and relations with Africa. This is evident in the numerous trade and military including many cooperation engagements entered with various governments in sub-Saharan Africa since 2014.
It could be recalled that I led a high-powered delegation to the Russian Federation in 2016 and 2017 respectively. These visits further cemented the existing defence bilateral cooperation between our two countries. From the Nigerian perspective, the Nigeria-Russian relationship is a strategic and necessary for many reasons; both countries are large economies with huge markets and rich in natural resources. Also, both countries practice a system of federalism and participative governance. Nigeria and Russia are regional leaders with about the same population.
Nigeria and Russia are also endowed with immense human and material resources including arable land and hydrocarbon potentials. Furthermore, both countries are faced with a myriad of security challenges. These commonalities contribute to strengthening our relations.
A LOOK AT : REGIONAL SECURITY PERSPECTIVE
Africa’s security landscape in the 21st Century is consist of opportunities and contradictions. The United Nations estimates show that by Year 2035, the Sub-Saharan Africa alone would have a population of about 295 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. Additionally, it is projected that by 2050, the population of this age bracket would increase to 362 million. However, the economic and developmental progress made by the African continent is often threatened by setbacks owing to traditional security concerns such as insurgency, armed conflicts, food insecurity, migration economic crisis and political instability.
Perhaps a greater security concern for the African region is the emergence and impact of new “security issues” such as terrorism, militancy, piracy, cultism, political and electoral violence. Others are the growing youth involvement in substance and drug abuse, refugees and Internally Displaced Persons situation occasioned by conflicts, unemployment, poverty, natural disasters, HIV/AIDS, trafficking in persons and irregular migration.
Consequently, there is the worrisome rise in terrorism and insurgency in the continent with specific reference to Boko Haram in Lake Chad Basin countries, Al-Shabaab in Somalia/Kenya, and Islamic State in Mali. These non-state actors tend to undermine the monopoly of the state over the use of coercive instruments of power as a result of widespread proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Since 2009, my country Nigeria has been combating terrorism engendered by the Islamic Sect called Boko Haram. Members of the Boko Haram sect have carried out series of bombings of public places and killed many innocent citizens.
The group has over the years been receiving inspiration, training as well as mutual support from other transnational terror groups within and outside Africa. Nonetheless, owing to the sustained counterinsurgency operations by Nigeria and other countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission which include Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, the Boko Haram terror network has been overwhelmed and the leadership structure is presently decimated.
Furthermore, the pervasive security challenges include piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea region. The region remains increasingly dangerous for seafarers. From the International Maritime Bureau Report of 2019, the Gulf of Guinea accounts for all 6 hijackings worldwide, 13 of the 18 ships fired upon, 130 of the 141 hostages taken globally and 78 of the 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom in 2018. These figures depict the inherent danger to commercial shipping activities in the region.
NIGERIA’S GEO-STRATEGIC ROLE IN AFRICAN REGIONAL AFFAIRS
Nigeria as the most populous country in Africa with projected population of 180 million in 2020 has impacted positively on the economic, socio-political, geo-strategic and cultural fortunes of the entire African region. Politically, Nigeria has kept Africa’s interest as the pivot of its foreign policy from independence in 1960 till date. This was exemplified by her support for the liberation of Southern African states and in particular the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. These selfless efforts earned her the status of a ‘front line’ state in the 80s in the struggle for independence in Southern Africa.
Additionally, Nigeria has committed its huge human and military resources to quell insurgency in Liberia and Sierra Leone through the ECOWAS sub regional peacekeeping mechanism, leading to the political stability enjoyed in these countries today. Furthermore, Nigerian troops are presently stationed in The Gambia, Mali and Equatorial Guinea to maintain peace and sustain the country’s democracy. There is no gainsaying that the economic fortunes of the West African sub-region are largely tied to the Nigerian economy. However, there are several challenges affecting Nigeria’s geo-strategic role in the African Region especially as it affects security.
CHALLENGES TO REGIONAL SECURITY IN AFRICA
There are many challenges attributed to developmental aspirations of Nigeria and the African region in general. The enormous resources in the Gulf of Guinea should ordinarily be an investment destination for investors. Some of the resources in the region include oil, natural gas, minerals and expanse of forests. These resources if carefully managed, could lead to regional prosperity. However, despite these numerous resources, the countries of the Gulf of Guinea continue to face low growth and poverty. Some of the obstacles to these developments include high poverty rate, unemployment, illiteracy, climate change, irregular migration and poor governance. Other factors hindering the region’s growth include lack of common market which encourages smuggling, lack of economic diversification, as well as instability at national and regional levels.
Furthermore, the inability of member states to mount collective, sustained and effective security control over the maritime domain gives room for poaching and other maritime crimes to thrive in the region.
The attributes of the region mostly consists of inability to keep up with the global advancement in technology. This is the dividing line between successful nations and not so successful nations. Africa is finding it extremely difficult to keep abreast of advancement in technology. African countries need to be current with technological advancement in order to safeguard their national security. The region and Nigeria in particular earnestly look up to Moscow for succour in this respect.
BILATERAL RELATIONS AND STRATEGIC EXPECTATIONS
The Federal Government of Nigeria looks forward to the promotion of friendly and cordial relations that will progress to excellent socio-economic partnership and the establishment of business ties that will be beneficial to both countries. On the security front, Nigeria counts on Russia’s continued partnership in eliminating the Boko Haram insurgents from our sub-region. We wish to leverage on Russia’s experience in counterterrorism operations to bring this scourge to an end. Military and technical assistance in this respect would be highly appreciated. We remain grateful to the Russian government for the numerous Nigerians who have over the years benefited from Russian training programmes scholarship and the recent military hardware procurement initiative.
Nigeria wishes to create the legal and environmental conditions to accelerate Russian investment in the country, to expand trade and to achieve better balance in the trade relationship. At the moment the countries’ trade ties are lopsided in favour of Russia. Russia is the biggest market in Europe, while Nigeria the biggest market in Africa. The trade relations have been below expectation leaving gap for many unexploited potentials. Nigeria would also be interested in Russia helping it build nuclear power plants, petroleum pipelines, railways and other infrastructural development investments in oil and gas sector. Nigeria also seek for your assistance with critical infrastructural development, especially the modernization of its military arsenal.
It is the intention of Nigeria to leverage on Russia’s support to attain technological emancipation of our Military Industrial Complex and training of Nigerians especially in medicine, science and technology.
The bilateral relations between Nigeria and Russia have grown over the years and witnessed cooperation in many fields. However, strengthening of the military and trade cooperation will strengthen mutual trust, synergy of operations and thus further cement the relations between the 2 countries and the regions in general. Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea states need to secure our maritime domain in order to curb the numerous incidences of sea robbery, piracy on the seas, and hijacking of ships and other ocean-going vessels. Adequate policing of our waterways would combat large scale pollution, impair the incidence of illegal dumping of toxic or radioactive wastes into water.
Finally, the countries of the Gulf of Guinea in particular need to adopt labour market policies aimed at absorbing the growing youth population into the workforce. This requires reforms to improve the flexibility of labour markets, as well as better education and training to provide the skills necessary for employment. The risks of not integrating the increasing youth population into the labour force include political unrest and social instability. We look forward to the indispensable experience and assistance of friendly states such as Russia in tackling the challenge.
Mansur M. Dan-Ali
Nigeria’s Minister of Defence