One Country’s Approach to Implementing the Yaoundé Code of Conduct - the Case of Gabon

Gabon navy Obangame
A Gabonese boarding team during a brief as part of Exercise Obangame Express 2012. Photo: Felicito Rustique, US Navy.

Increasingly, sustained human activity is subjecting the planet to environmental, economic, and security stress. The Gulf of Guinea is a part of the world where enormous wealth rubs shoulders with extreme poverty, causing instability with global consequences.  

In this context, a holistic approach is required and the very first step is the commitment of strong actors whose voices can be loud enough to make things move. The NGO Stable Seas is one of those actors because the production of knowledge is a cornerstone in this long-term fight against poverty and its consequences.  

There is no longer any doubt that the Yaoundé Code of Conduct provides a solid strategic and operational framework to combat all forms of crime that have spread at sea from Angola to Senegal. It also seems obvious that its optimal implementation requires major tactical adjustments on the part of the signatory states. Gabon is actively participating in this dynamic.  

Improving Maritime Enforcement Capacity and the Rule of Law: “A shield without a sword?”  

Gabon operates within Zone D, which is fully functional. There are mixed patrols lasting one-month onboard patrol boats from member countries. The current commander of CRESMAC in Congo Brazzaville is an officer of the Gabonese national navy. In 2017, the country adopted the Integrated Maritime  Strategy, which is steered by a National Maritime Council. Since then, we have also amended the Penal Code, the old version of which dated from 1963 and no longer took into account all forms of these new crimes. Thus we now address piracy, hostage-taking, pollution, predation of natural resources, and terrorism, with a strong emphasis on the fight against corruption and money laundering.  

These initiatives constitute the sword, with which all state actors should equip themselves in order to effectively attack criminals. State actors must continue the action on the ground from where illegal acts are planned and where the entire logistics chain is located (arms, satellite phones, shuttles, motors, bivouacs).  

At the international level, it is essential that the concept of the European Union of the Coordinated Military Presence be intensified in addition to the joint maneuvers such as Obangame Express.  

Fisheries: “White-collar pirates?”  

The emergence of Gabon is reflected in the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is built upon the pillars of Industrial Gabon, Services Gabon, Green Gabon and Blue Gabon. The vision is of sustainable development based on the sustainable exploitation of natural resources through the implementation of high added value processes. The country has devoted 11% of its land territory to National Parks and today has the largest Marine Protected Areas in Africa.  

Illegal fishing is a brake on potential food self-sufficiency and the reduction of unemployment; it promotes tax evasion and does not allow the anchoring of a local industrial sector. This is a cancer that perniciously feeds this vicious cycle of poverty and violence. We have to salute the combined maritime enforcement operation led in September 2020 by the Ghana Navy in cooperation with UNODC, Global Fishing Watch, Vulcan Skylight, and Trygg Mat Tracking through which they have detected, tracked, and investigated 14 suspected fishing vessels. Those companies that run the vessels should face international prosecution and pay a heavy price even in their reputations.  

Coastal Welfare: “Coastal poverty: Pirates energy?”  

In its Integrated Maritime Strategy, Gabon sets objectives to train and involve more of the political world in issues related to the sea.  Achieving this objective not only would have the advantage of leading to the adoption of laws making the strategy possible but also would allow the Defense and Security Forces to benefit from substantial budgetary allocations to fulfill their missions.  

Gabon’s prioritization of the maritime space should be common knowledge, reaching all coastal populations because it is among them that pirates and even terrorists are recruited (without naming all the candidates for illegal immigration). The holistic approach of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct should introduce regional infrastructure projects such as a “University of the Sea” as well as an “Oceanographic Museum of Central and West Africa,” and facilities for seaside tourism in Marine Protected Areas. Everybody should have a role to play as the European Union has established the  20th of May as “European Maritime Day”.  

“Decreasing the inequity gap…”  

This Stable Seas’ Policy paper provides an overview of the topic. The Gulf of Guinea’s countries are suffering from a lack of financial resources, but fundraising should be built in a local blue economy. We need to have our own strategy tailored to our specific needs while matching the global agenda. The migration issue remains a permanent consequence of pauperization. To this we add the problem of drugs trafficked from Latin America to Europe. Violence at sea must be eradicated before the wave of terrorism, which is raging in the Sahel and in part of Nigeria, reaches the sea, for undoubtedly, "prevention is better than a cure." Illegal fishermen, pirates and polluters come from land to act at sea, but the solution is at sea as well as on land.