Strengthening the intelligence gathering and information sharing capacity of West African states against terrorism
A number of factors play a role in West Africa's vulnerability to transnational organize crime activities: the porosity of borders, the obstacles to an efficient regional cooperation but also the lack of harmonized methods between law enforcement agencies. This adds to the weakness or absence of exchanges regarding criminal intelligence. Criminal networks activities go from drug and illicit substances trafficking to firearms trafficking, including trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. In addition, consistent evidences suggest the existence of synergies between criminal groups involved in illicit activities which slow down countries' economies and enable large scale corruption.
In order to achieve a desirable level of gathering, analyzing and sharing of intelligence, the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), through its Research and Awareness Section (R&A), held on October 5-6 2017 in Dakar, a "Regional workshop on the acquisition, analysis and sharing of intelligence against transnational organized crime through the case of two West African corridors".
This workshop, funded by the European Union, aimed to foster cooperation and improve intelligence and experience sharing between law enforcement agencies at the national, regional or international level in line with the 2016-2020 ECOWAS Regional Action Plan and more specifically its outcome: " Effective Law Enforcement and National/Regional Cooperation among Relevant Agencies involved in Countering Drug Trafficking, Organized Crimes and Drug Abuse" .
Based on the facts established by the Research and Awareness Section, Dakar's regional workshop was focused on two identified corridors used for several cross-border criminal activities: the first corridor called « Sahelian » included Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The second corridor corresponding to the coastal countries called « Gulf of Guinea » included Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria).
For two days, about 30 officers specialized in the fight against illicit trafficking from nine ECOWAS countries along with members of the judiciary, liaison officers, members of regional and international organizations and UNODC experts shared their good practices regarding cooperation, exchanged on the obstacles to the effective sharing of intelligence and on the appropriate mechanisms to analyze and share information. Each country sent three participants (drug and firearms trafficking, trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants) setting a platform for fruitful exchanges between field experts.
M. Pierre Lapaque, UNODC Regional Representative deplored "the sporadic use or absence of cooperation mechanisms in intelligence sharing at the operational level, as well as the shortcomings noted in the regional cooperation between specialized agencies".
M. Antoine Gouzée de Harven, Security Advisor, European Union Delegation in Dakar, supported this workshop which objective is "to eliminate the bottlenecks in intelligence sharing"
In her speech, Mrs. Chizoba Chine, Program Officer, Law Enforcement and Regional Cooperation ECOWAS, focused on West Africa vulnerabilities and on criminal networks activities that benefit from a lack of coordination and cooperation in the region. By presenting the ECOWAS Action Plan against transnational organized crime, she asked for more efficiency in the response to the threats to the sub-region stability.
Lastly, Mrs. Chantal Lacroix, UNODC Deputy Regional Representative stated that this workshop is a core part of UNODC mandate as well as the implementation of the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan 2016-2020. She presented the Plan's cross cutting themes along with the work of the Research and Awareness section in providing evidence-based knowledge on the main threats in the region.
According to the Research and Awareness Section, Dakar's meeting derives from the evidence that "intelligence is essential to counter national and regional security threats emanating from illicit activity, and their pernicious impact on stability, governance, security, public health and human rights in the region".
Experts for drug trafficking, firearms trafficking and trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants reflected on the extent of the identified activities but also on the real or supposed nexus between the various forms of organized crime. Participants underlined the weakness or absence of intelligence sharing between actors engaged in the fight against organized crime in West Africa whereas better knowledge of the threats and trends is the foundation from which effective evidence-based policies and strategic responses at both national and regional level are conceived.
The main outcome of the workshop was the formulation of a position document which will be formally handed over to the ECOWAS Commission addressing weaknesses and breaches regarding the acquisition and sharing of intelligence.
Several similar workshops were organized in 2015 and 2016 by UNODC which were indented to improve cooperation and expertise in West Africa through the sharing of experience, knowledge and intelligence on drugs and organized crime. The Research and Awareness Section is working on improving knowledge, reinforcing state's capacities and raising awareness thanks to reliable data gathered during field missions.