West Africa needs robust actions to fight piracy in Gulf of Guinea – Speaker Bagbin

The Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Rt. Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has told Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to prioritize the fight against piracy in the Gulf Guinea in the pursuit of the sub-region’s developmental goals.

Issues of cyber security, child trafficking, proliferation of and trafficking of small arms, organized crime, money laundering, terrorism, drug trafficking, low internet penetration and election disputes in member countries should also be of concern.

These, he noted, will require urgent robust actions such as strong legislations, electoral reforms and heavy investment in security, with the deployment of information communication technology (ICT) tools, being the driving force in these endeavors.

Addressing a Delocalized Meeting of the Joint Committee on Political Affairs, Peace, Security and Africa Peer Review Mechanism, Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Telecommunications and Information Technology, held in Winneba on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, Rt. Hon. Bagbin said election disputes in some member countries occasioned by challenges related to on-consensual constitutional reviews, non-compliance with presidential term limits among others.

“The refusal to accept election results by sections of the society and abuse of social media to create tensions and divisions are matters of grave concern. These undoubtedly threaten the progress made in achieving participatory democracy and therefore calls for the strengthening of democratic principles and the institution of agreeable measures to improve the election process and ensure a transparent, free, fair and peaceful elections. There is also the need to adopt mechanism/frameworks for promoting political dialogue and peace building in such countries”, he noted.

The theme of the event is “Telecommunications and Information Technology (TIT) in achieving regional development, peace and security and human rights”.

The meeting will look at how to effectively deploy the tools of telecommunications and information technology to enhance justice delivery and support the conduct of fairer and transparent elections in the sub-region. It will also seek to assist, collectively, secure the borders of member states, and enable citizens to freely conduct their lives in peace.

On ICT, Rt. Hon. Bagbin, said ICT offers the sub-region new opportunities to better manage conflicts and build peace, especially, at the local levels of societies.

He said to achieve regional development through the use of ICT tools, there is also the need to address concerns regarding mobile roaming services in the sub-region.

“According to the World Bank report, 2018, there are over 320 million mobile subscribers in the Sub-region. However, the uptake of mobile data in the sub-region remains a serious challenge. It is a fact that most of the ECOWAS nationals who travel to other countries in the sub-region have to pay higher premiums on mobile usage, while others have to change their sim cards to have access to network available in their new destinations. We can only achieve regional development by ensuring that the Regulation on Roaming on Public Mobile Communications Networks in the ECOWAS Space, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 16th December, 2017 is implemented. This regulation is intended to reduce charges paid by ECOWAS citizens for communication services while roaming within the community”, he emphasized.

He added “Technology and ICT are indeed very useful and critical in propelling our sub-region forward, whether in the area of peace, development, education, health delivery, agriculture, among many others. We must however, bear in mind that whilst technology is extremely good for development, the human touch cannot be replicated”.

The Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, Rt. Hon. Dr. Sidie Mohammed Tunis, on his part, underscored the importance of ICT in national development. He said Ghana, having developed its ICT infrastructure to become the hub in the sub-region, is now attracting giant companies to invest in the country.

Such a shining example, he noted, should be emulated by member countries, with a clear focus on using technology to curb insecurity in the sub-region.

The deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Alexander Afenyo-Markin, who is also the Leader of the Ghanaian delegation to ECOWAS Parliament, in his opening remarks said in some parts of the world where the true potential of telecommunications and Information Technology is being harnessed and citizens have access to computers and high-speed internet facilities, Africa is still lacking behind.

“In the US, 87% of individuals have access to a computer in their households. This figure in Finland is 93%. In these two countries, over 85% and more than 89% of people have access to the internet. Yet, the story across Africa is troubling. For example, in 2019, only 7.7% of households on the continent of Africa were estimated to have a computer at home. The figure tallied with the result for 2018. In many ways, the evidence is around us in our respective countries. Our school children rarely use computers, and in many schools, pupils learn about computers without the benefit of neither seeing nor operating them”, he posited.

He added “Similarly, access to the internet is still a major challenge across Africa. Figures show that there were more than 3.8 billion mobile internet subscribers globally, representing 49% of the world’s population. However, mobile internet adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2019 stood at 26%. Indeed, Sub-Saharan African is home to almost half of the global population not served by a mobile broadband network”.

Touching on security in the sub-region, Hon. Afenyo-Markin, who is also the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament for Effutu, said activities of terror organizations continue to create huge sense of insecurity in some parts of the region. The situation, he noted, is worsened by the rising spate of pirate attacks on ships travelling along the West African Coast.

“These worrying developments demand robust action by national governments and regional institutions, including the ECOWAS Parliament, to help citizens feels safe”, he underscored.

He expressed the hope that discussions during the meeting over these thorny issues will help get West Africa closer to finding sustainable solutions to the common platforms confronting the sub-region.

Available records indicate that there has been sharp increase in the number of attacks on ships’ crews, with majority of the attacks said to be extremely violent. Attacks on ships and their crew in the Gulf of Guinea, currently accounts for some 90% of maritime kidnappings worldwide.

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