Leading The Next Generation Of Security



Jun 29th 2015


Traditional Culture Can Solve Modern Security Problems

Africans have known for thousands of years how to prevent crime, theft, sabotage and piracy. All it takes is to remember the wisdom of your forefathers. This article explores how prudent proverbs of African culture can be applied to solve today’s security problems in the Gulf of Guinea.

“The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat.” ~ African proverb

The first lesson is simple: listen and learn from those who have gone before us. Theft, sabotage, piracy are as old as mankind.. Humans have lived in Africa longer than anywhere in the world and so there is much experience in dealing with these amoral endeavors. We simply need to remember and document the lessons we learn so they aren’t repeated.


1. One must properly invest in security and safety

“Peace is costly but it is worth the expense.” ~Kenyan proverb

Ghana’s President, John Dramani Mahama, has said, “…we must invest in security and safety for the continent.” And without proper investment, President Mahama points out the obvious that the African continent is “vulnerable to any small group of disciplined and well-armed bandits.” While speaking at a session of the two-day Elysee Summit on Peace and Security in Paris, France, President Mahama reiterated his position that the continent cannot take advantage of the conditions it has created for growth and prosperity in “an environment of maritime piracy, terrorism, rebel activities, drug and human trafficking.”

Maintaining effective and current security systems and training is not easy or cheap, but it delivers the desired results of peace, stability and wealth.

“You become wise when you begin to run out of money.” ~ Ghana proverb

Do not wait until you suffer losses to implement sound security training and technology geared at preventing loss. All too often, companies ignore risk assessments and threat warnings until they suffer losses. Implementing security measures after catastrophic losses occur is too late; the time to act is now.

1a. The price of failing to invest in security and stability is very high

The corollary lesson of investing in adequate security is that failing to do so jeopardizes ones goals and can be very costly. While companies endanger assets and manpower, nations risk security, stability and control of natural resources.

“When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate.” ~ Ibo proverb

Security threats in the Gulf of Guinea do not come from elsewhere in the world; the threats are home grown and are perpetrated by the region’s bad actors. This is a reminder that while superb security measures are needed, only political and socioeconomic solutions can put an end to the dysfunction. Armed attacks led by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) between 2006 and 2009 cut Nigeria’s oil output by 28 percent. The organized militancy waned in late 2009 after thousands of fighters disarmed in exchange for a government amnesty deal. It is worth noting, however, that threats of renewed violence often coincide with calls to end the amnesty arrangement. Without a viable and enduring solution, the resurrection of an insurgency in the Niger Delta is a conceivable danger.

Capital flight is a reality in places where conflict and crime go unchecked. If internal conflict and crime are not tamed, the cost of doing business becomes too great and, companies often choose to go elsewhere. In Nigeria, disruptions perpetrated by oil thieves and criminal gangs tapping fuel from pipelines for local refining and sales caused Nigeria’s output to plummet in 2011, costing the country $7 billion in revenue. The pervasive theft prompted the oil majors to expedite plans to move offshore. If the Gulf of Guinea’s offshore environment is not stabilized, production companies may leave the region altogether. The exodus of international oil companies is a high price to pay for failing to invest in security technology and training.

2. Hire Experts

Perhaps the only thing worse than failing to invest in security measures and training is to make poor investments, thus wasting money and still failing to account for security and safety.

“When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful.” ~Ashanti proverb

One of the great strengths of people is to advance and learn from others. Kofi Annan addressed the Truman Presidential Library, stating in part, “Throughout history, human life has been enriched by diversity, and different communities have learnt from each other.” An entity believing they have built the perfect security or defense program and that does not enrich itself by seeking counsel from outside experts inhibits their own potential for success.

“When you are sitting in your own house, you don’t learn anything. You must get out of your house to learn.” – Ghana proverb

Even the best training programs should, at times, seek to supplement their knowledge and training with outside training and technology. It is the only way to continue to improve and stay aware of the most state-of-the-art and effective practices and procedures. To not keep up is to choose to be the fool in the game.

“By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.” ~Ashanti proverb

By not keeping abreast of the ever-evolving tactics, techniques and technology, the bad actors in the world will eventually outpace you. They will learn your static tactics and technology while designing ways to defeat it.

“In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.” ~ Nigerian proverb

Reach out to the international community, governments and private enterprise alike, and seek all the technology and training available. If you do not, you will not be on the forefront of capability and you will undermine your security posture.


Ancient proverbs have taught us what we should do generally: invest in security training, technology and hire experts to help us design our programs. But what about specific security practices in the Gulf of Guinea? Can we glean anything from ancient wisdom to help us conduct ourselves safely in the Gulf of Guinea? The answer of course is YES.


“Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.” ~ African proverb

Convoys are a proven method of safe passage. The maritime industry saw the creation of the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden do wonders to help coordinate vessel traffic into convoys through a very high threat area to shipping. The shipping interests in the Gulf of Guinea may benefit from such practice as well. Ghana’s Vessel Traffic Management Information System demonstrates implementing organized practices are more possible than ever. Additionally, this emphasizes the need to fully vet officials that may have access to transit reporting data. This ensures shipping can be safely coordinated and mitigates additional risk by letting officials know of their transit plans.


“When the mice laugh at the cat, there is a hole nearby.” – Nigerian Proverb

How can pirates and thieves operate with brazen abandon for security forces in the Gulf of Guinea? Often it is because they know they can effectively evade capture and thus never be held accountable for their illegal activity. Modern technology can prevent this through remote tracking. Measures like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), beacons, satellites and product chemical stamping to track liquid products can eliminate hiding places and allow security forces to track bad actors and facilitate the recovery of stolen commodities.


“Not to oversee workmen, is to leave your purse open.” – Nigerian Proverb

All too often, security focus is fixated on outside threats that seek to attack an asset, pilfer resources or steal possessions. However, insider threats can be just as devastating to a security posture.

An insider threat is any person with access to company facilities, people, or information, who then uses that access to harm the company, its people, or brand. Potential insider threats include employees, former employees, contractors, suppliers, or business associates. Insider threats costs businesses hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The only solution is to integrate threat detection and prevention technology into your operation.

Fortunately, systems like the Krill vessel fuel management system make offshore vessels more efficient and can prevent insider skimming of fuel or liquid cargo. Additionally, the system can prevent illegal bunkering activity from pipelines, vessels and rigs as well as automatically notify company management of the location and amount of theft the instant it is occurring – whether it happens shore side or 400 nautical miles out to sea.


“If the cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, then it must hire the fox as a bodyguard.” ~ Sierra Leone proverb

No matter how effective a region’s navy or coast guard, they cannot protect all vessels at all times. Convoys, mentioned above, can help, but it is still not possible to ensure security of every vessel with naval or police forces. This predicament gave rise to the effective use of private maritime security firms on the East Coast and Horn of Africa, where no vessel carrying armed security personnel has ever succumbed to pirate attack. Private security firms can be viewed as the “fox” in the proverb above. The problem in the Gulf of Guinea though is that there is no established procedure to allow companies to hire private security to ensure a “fox” is onboard every ship or rig needing protection. This is an evolving area of regional politics and may shift in the near future as more businesses demand the ability to defend themselves from hostility – just as our wise ancestors told us we should.


“You cannot roast corn with two eyes.” – Nigerian Proverb

We in the industry see our security shortcomings and recognize the threats to commerce, peace and stability. However, the bad actors perpetrating the crimes won’t stop on their own; they must be dealt with using decisive action. Governments and companies must invest in security training and technologies to keep their regions, people and assets safe. The battle against hostile actors cannot be won unless proactive action is taken.

“The disobedient fowl obeys in a pot of soup.” – Nigerian Proverb

Ensuring lasting peace and stability and protecting commerce requires a united front on behalf of the region’s governments and responsible commercial entities. Equally important to effective governance, corporate social responsibility and socioeconomic improvement is the will to prosecute offenders. Effective prosecution not only puts offenders behind bars, it dissuades others from engaging in illegal activity in the first place and thus helps bring about cultural compliance with the law.

About the Author:

Joseph Allen is the CEO of Six Maritime, a maritime security training and consulting company operating out of Nigeria, Ghana and the United States that provides world-renowned security training, products and services. Mr. Allen spent 18 years in the U.S. Navy studying piracy, international terrorism and threats at sea. He is also an attorney on the American Bar Association Committees of African Law and International Transportation. He will be attending the Gulf of Guinea Security Summit in Accra July 21-22, 2015 and looks forward to explaining how Six Maritime can prevent all theft of oil and gas from any asset on land or at sea. He is also available for comment at: Joseph@sixmaritime.com.

Our Trusted Partners & Affiliates

Six Maritime is proud to be partnered with companies, who together are supporting the pursuit of safety.