When the IMO decided to organize a sub-regional meeting on the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia in Djibouti in 2009, that was rather ambitious in scope, this was meant to be the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the countries in the region, comparable with the South Asian countries back in the early 2000s.
The convention adopted the well-known Djibouti Code of Conduct (CoC), which provides for numerous provisions, such as, inter alia, the judicial cooperation between signatory states. Based on the RECAAP success, the Djibouti CoC calls for the creation of a training center where professionals and government officials will reinforce their capacities on issues related to the fight against piracy including international law, port security, information exchange etc.
The main objective of this center is to increase the knowledge of professionals on the issue of piracy and to improve their understanding on how to struggle against this crime in a more efficient manner. At the same time, it is innovative for this region as it creates an opportunity for the countries to jointly collaborate to fight a common threat that could result in a wider legal cooperation among countries that are not used to cooperate with each other in that particular field.
So far, only a few security agreements exist between East African countries. It is difficult to imagine that countries that are sharing so many similarities in terms of culture, religion, even languages, but above the same interest as far as maritime security is concerned, have not yet implemented a common strategy to secure those interests.
Some would raise the domestic difficulties or the national administration dysfunction argument to justify the lack of such agreements. I would rather argue that those countries have not been confronted so far with a regional threat serious enough to oblige them to take action – apart from terrorism that constitutes a global threat.
The scourge of piracy off the coast of Somalia has provided the countries of the East of Africa with a unique opportunity to not only create and operationalize regional centers but also to build a broader legal cooperation framework that would not only be limited to the crime of piracy but would encompass all the current regional threats (such as Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, toxic waste dumping, smuggling, human trafficking etc.)
First of all, the legal cooperation needs to establish a common clear and precise definition of the crime in question. Piracy is the perfect example of how difficult it is to fight a crime on a regional basis when no country has the same definition of the crime. To make things even worse, the inherited legal system in place make even more complicated the matter, such as the holding of trials. The British system, which is in use, inter alia, in Kenya and Tanzania, requires a particular judicial procedure (with regard to evidence, testimonies etc.) while the French system still in use in Madagascar, Comoros and other regions requires a different approach to these issues. The harmonization of these different aspects is an urgent matter in order to implement an effective regional cooperation in order to face regional threats.
Furthermore, the regional prevention of maritime crime requires a certain level of cooperation by the national coast guards. In that sense, it is interesting to look at what has been implemented by some East Asian countries that decided to set up a join patrol which would allow the coast guards vessels to enter the territorial waters of signatory countries – under specific conditions – with the overall purpose of preventing maritime crime. This solution is one of the many options that could be discussed by East African countries in this regard.
The increased attention of the international community to the crime of piracy should create a certain dynamic among the countries in the East of Africa to establish an integrated regional maritime security strategy in order to prevent maritime crimes to occur and to combat the de facto impunity of the perpetrators and the facilitators of such crimes.