By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
YAOUNDE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – West and Central African leaders
are to put in place a joint security force with the aim of better
protecting the Congo Basin’s forest resources and combating pirate
attacks in the Gulf of Guinea.
Meeting at a summit in late June in Yaounde, Cameroon, 15 governments
agreed to create a regional security network to protect their common
heritage. The countries involved are Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Benin,
Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad,
Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Sao
Tomé-et-Principe, Togo and Gambia.
At the summit’s close, Cameroonian President Paul Biya said the military
initiative – for which each country will make troops available as
needed - would ensure adequate protection of Central and West African
“Our natural resources have been constantly under threat, and individual
security efforts have not proved effective enough. It is our wish that
the common security system comes to reinforce and reinvigorate existing
structures for better results in the future,” Biya said.
The new force is being managed by a secretariat in Yaounde, and will
draw on an effective information sharing system among national security
“Without peace and security along our coastline and in the region’s rich
forest expanses, we cannot talk of development, because these areas
constitute the core of our natural resources,” said Aja Isatou
Njie-Saidy, Gambia’s vice president and the only female leader at the
The people of West and Central Africa depend on the shipping industry
for imports, and many jobs will be at risk if maritime security is not
guaranteed, she said.
“Our rich forest in the Congo Basin is fast disappearing and something has to be done to safeguard it,” she added.
The new commitments, outlined in a legally binding code at the end of
the two-day summit, include the suppression and prevention of
cross-border criminal activities, including maritime piracy along the
Gulf of Guinea coast, illegal forest exploitation and poaching of
endangered animal species.
Emmanuel Nyamshi, coordinator of the Bio-resource Centre for
Development, a Cameroonian NGO, welcomed the establishment of a
cross-border security network.
“Many African countries are striving for emergence or transition to
economic growth and it is critical for governments, civil society
organisations, corporate leaders and other actors to protect and manage
valuable, scarce resources emanating from the environment,” he said.
He cited an incident in 2012 in which some 400 elephants were killed at
the Bouba Djida Park in northern Cameroon in less than a month by
poachers looking for ivory from neighbouring countries, including Niger
“These cross-border criminal invasions and activities against the
environment would have been checked and contained if there was a strong
regional security force,” Nyamshi said.
The countries at the summit also agreed to include in their national
budgets special funding for the activities of forest guards, as well as
for a common security fund to be managed by the force’s Yaounde head
In a 2010 report, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
underlined the importance of peace and security to any sustainable
environmental initiatives on the African continent.
“Peace is a prerequisite for human development and effective
environmental management, both of which are critical to Africa achieving
national and regional goals, such as those of the New Partnership for
Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its environmental action plan, as well
as globally agreed objectives, including those of the Millennium
Development Goals,” the report said.
NOT ENOUGH PROTECTION
Regional environmental security initiatives already exist. They include
the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), launched
in 1985, and the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW),
established in 2002.
Both these bodies are charged with mobilising political and technical
support to address environmental issues, such as land degradation and
desertification, chemicals management, access to safe water and
sanitation, and integrated water management, as well as ensuring the
security of those resources.
But Cameroon’s environment minister, Hele Pierre, told journalists at
the summit that such regional initiatives have not proven effective
enough in protecting natural resources.
WWF Cameroon has long called for stepped-up efforts across political
borders to safeguard the environment of the Congo Basin, which spans
Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
According to the green group, the Congo Basin possesses the most
biologically diverse and complex forest on earth, where rainfall is
abundant and temperatures are always warm.
The tropical forest - the largest in the planet after the Amazon - also
plays a critical role in mitigating climate change because it act as a
carbon sink, soaking up heat-trapping greenhouse gases from the
About 60 million people in the Congo Basin depend on the rainforest for
food, including bush meat, and income from selling timber. However, the
forest is being cleared at a rapid rate due to rising global demand for
minerals and wood, according to the Centre for International Forestry
Two major forest initiatives were launched in the last decade or so by
these countries and their partners: the Central African Forests
Commission (COMIFAC), whose treaty was signed in 2005, and the Congo
Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), launched in 2002.