The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the government of Germany launched three transnational projects designed to curb Organized Crime in West Africa. The projects dubbed ‘Organised Crime: West African Response’ (OCWAR) is designed to support ECOWAS Member States in countering criminal activities the region.
The event indicates strong commitment by ECOWAS and European Union Member States to reduce transnational organised crime in West Africa. In what was described as a dynamic and comprehensive partnership, the ECOWAS Commission and its agencies will work closely with two European Member States’ bodies, namely the Deutsche GesellschaftfürInternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Expertise France (EF).
Speaking on the occasion, the Head of EU delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador KetilKaralsen pointed out that many criminal activities in West Africa are transnational in nature which demand a regional response to effectively strike on criminal networks. He expressed the hope that the support will boost a regional response decisively in addressing all forms of organised crime. This he said is vital for peace and security in the region.
Also speaking on occasion, the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Birgitt ORY noted that the current security challenges in the Sahel underscored the need for decisive multilateral cooperation. She told participants that transnational crime in West Africa requires a regional response noting that countering and preventing organized crime in West Africa continues to be a high priority for Germany.
The ECOWAS Commissioner of Finance, Mrs HALIMA AHMED said the three projects will stimulate cooperation between law enforcement agencies and private Internet service providers thereby facilitating financial investigations. She noted that in addition to fighting cybercrime, the ECOWAS member states have opted to tackle the issue of enhancing cybersecurity in the region.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Telecommunication and Information Technologies, Dr. Zouli BONKOUNGOU also said thatthe OCWAR-C project will contribute to improving cybersecurity in the region by establishing and maintaining a secure cyberspace to protect national and regional interests and preserve the fundamental rights of West African citizens.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne said reports indicated that due to the COVID-19 which exacerbated the plight of many vulnerable communities, organized criminal groups are likely to recruit more people, including children and teenagers into the drug trade. She noted that organized crime groups appear to be preying on vulnerable groups to ensure grassroot outreach while encouraging drug consumption amongst recruits to create dependency and ensure loyalty. This she said must also be taken into consideration in the implementation of the OCWAR-T programmes.
The Director General of GIABA Mr. Kimelabalou ABA said his organisation remains determined, in collaboration with its technical partners, to support Member States for the diligent and effective implementation of AML / CFT measures to prevent criminals from taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation to make their illicit activities prosper,
The Director of Peace and Regional Security, ECOWAS Commission, Dr. AgnekethomCyriaque, stressed the need to increase our financial capacity to ensure that we can effectively fight transnational crime in the region.
The OCWAR projects’ inauguration coincides with the emerging need for a broad response to tackling criminal activities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, the event focused on addressing the impact of the virus, which has led to new patterns and trends as criminal networks adapt to the constraints imposed on citizens, businesses and authorities.
Organised crime in West Africa takes many forms. The three OCWAR projects are designed as a coherent, three-pronged approach to criminal activities: 1) fight against cybersecurity threats and cybercrime (OCWAR C); 2) combatting trafficking in drugs, human beings and firearms (OCWAR T); 3) addressing cross cutting issues such as money laundering, financing of terrorism and fraud (OCWAR M).
The main beneficiaries of the OCWAR projects are the 15 ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania. The overall EU contribution equals EUR 41 million, which includes the German Federal Government co-financing of the OCWAR T project totalling EUR 5 million. The projects will run until 2022-2023.
Working on all three fronts will allow for greater synergy and strengthening of inter-agency collaboration. Moreover, the projects build on and complement previous and on-going EU-funded support, including the West Africa Police Information System (WAPIS).-Press release