Is better cooperation a political pipedream at EAPCCO?

2019-02-18

The Eastern Africa Police Chiefs’ Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO) marked its 20th anniversary in September last year against a backdrop of growing concerns about terrorism and transnational organised crime (TOC), especially in Kenya and Somalia. The recent attack on Nairobi’s dusitD2 hotel complex once more emphasised the scale and impact of these threats.  

Delegates at last year’s EAPCCO annual general meeting (AGM) observed that at the core of the region’s difficulties is the problem of political corruption, which seriously undermines the region’s efforts to combat TOC. The AGM, which took place in Khartoum, Sudan, from 7 to 13 September, was held under the theme, ‘Twenty years of achievements in combating transnational organised crime through enhanced cooperation and innovation’. Speakers underscored the importance of cooperation and coordination in fighting terrorism and TOC, especially among young people. INTERPOL Secretary-General Jürgen Stock called for increased regional integration to counter the threats that TOC, terrorism and violent extremism pose to the rule of law and development.

Sudan’s First Vice-President Bakri Hassan Saleh called for agreements and partnerships between countries, while EAPCCO Chairman Inspector General of Police, JM Okoth Ochola, described cooperation as ‘one of the most significant tools available to police in the fight against transnational organised crimes,’ particularly in an age where cybercrime is becoming a threat to licit business.

The EAPCCO cattle rustling protocol is a prime example of a mechanism that could have real impact if more states were to ratify it

However, beyond the conference hall there were murmurings about the lack of genuine cooperation after two decades of efforts. Some delegates, who preferred to remain anonymous, said ‘cooperation works between individual officers and not between governments’. Events such as the annual EAPCCO Games sporting event have helped to foster informal cooperation, but the political will to build official cooperation between governments remains an aspiration.

Lending credence to this is the failure to ratify various instruments, and the lack of appropriate resourcing of regional centres of excellence. The 2008 EAPCCO protocol on combating cattle rustling is a prime example of a mechanism that could have real impact if more states were to ratify it. Ten years after its negotiation and adoption, only Uganda has ratified the protocol.

EAPCCO has three centres of excellence – a forensic laboratory in Khartoum; a peace support training centre in Kigali, Rwanda; and a regional counter-terrorism centre in Nairobi, Kenya – but only the peace support training centre is fully operational.

If EAPCCO is to make significant progress in the next two decades, the organisation needs to enhance formal cooperation

Joint security operations, listed among the achievements presented at the meeting by Gedion Kimilu, head of the EAPCCO Secretariat, demonstrate how genuine formal cooperation can yield good results in disrupting planned terror attacks, dismantling criminal networks, seizing illicit goods and enhancing policing capability.

If EAPCCO is to make significant progress in the next two decades, the organisation needs to enhance formal cooperation to improve mutual legal assistance and information-sharing among countries. This is much needed, particularly if East African states are to improve their capability to fight increasingly sophisticated forms of TOC, including cybercrime.

Deo Gumba, ENACT Regional organised crime observatory coordinator – East and Horn of Africa, ISS

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