EU: Millions of euros for new police databases in West Africa

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At least €5 million is being spent by the EU on developing a series of interlinked national police databases in West Africa, that will eventually allow information and intelligence gathered in the region to be disseminated to law enforcement authorities across the world.

The West Africa Police Information System (WAPIS) project "forms one of the pillars of the EU's Cocaine Route Programme" [1] and is being developed by the EU alongside INTERPOL and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS, which has 15 member states).

An initial €2.2 million is going towards the first phase of the project, which began in September 2012 and will run until October 2013.

The EU has also "committed €3 million to fund the second phase of WAPIS," said a spokesperson for EuropeAid, the European Commission department responsible for "designing EU development policies and delivering aid through programmes and projects across the world." [2]

Under current plans there will be "a pilot phase until 2015 with the system operational in some countries," which are yet to be identified, and subsequently "the roll out to other countries who are 'willing and able' is planned."

According to an INTERPOL press release, WAPIS will "facilitate the collection, centralisation, management, sharing and analysis of police information on a national, regional and global level to more effectively tackle crime such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration, money laundering and weapons trafficking in West Africa." [3]

EuropeAid told Statewatch that after five "pilot phase" countries in West Africa are chosen, only the police forces of those countries will have access to the system. However, "other law enforcement authorities, including immigration and customs services, have been invited to join in the near future." A presentation given to a May 2011 conference by Pierre Reuland shows a "concept model" in which national WAPIS bureaux are clearly connected to border control agencies. [4]

Broad scope

EuropeAid's spokesperson said that currently, WAPIS "has been conceived as a criminal database gathering basic information (i.e. on individuals, vehicles, identity documents) without focusing on specific sets of criminal offences." Particular offences "would be eventually identified at the end of the scoping phase."

National authorities will be involved in the system to "the largest extent possible," said EuropeAid, and "at the regional level (ECOWAS), information will be exchanged between countries in the region (as for example it is happening through the Schengen Information System)."

Data will also be shared across INTERPOL's 190 member states, [5] while "as far as information sharing in European countries is concerned the principle is again to share information at the largest extent possible," EuropeAid told Statewatch, although "translating this into practice will depend on the situation in any given country."

A three-stage process

The initial aim is to make assessments of the legal and institutional situation in five "pilot" countries - Benin, Ghana, Niger, Mauritania and Mali.

This will allow the three project partners - the EU, Interpol and ECOWAS - to assess "the current police and customs information management; the communication means; the legal framework for police information exchange; [and] the preparedness of each country/organisation participating," EuropeAid said.

Three main aims will then be pursued. At the national level, the "creation of an automated national database of police information to collect, centralise, manage, share and analyse information."

At the regional level, the "development of an infrastructure environment at ECOWAS to increase the sharing of information among the countries of the region."

Finally, the "global level" objective is the "establishment by INTERPOL of a link with the rest of the world, via its National Central Bureaus in the region and its Regional Bureau in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and by using its telecommunications networks, expertise and IT tools to guarantee the longevity of the WAPIS programme." [6]

The "main link" to European law enforcement databases will come through INTERPOL, said EuropeAid, which as well as a regional office in Abidjan, has its main headquarters in Lyon, France. Information could subsequently be disseminated to EU member states and Europol.

Data protection

INTERPOL's factsheet for the project says that the data protection system "will be based on the procedures and legal framework of ECOWAS and on INTERPOL's Rules on Data Protection." EuropeAid told Statewatch that work is also ongoing "to assess the existing national legal frameworks for data protection."

The ECOWAS Supplementary Act on Personal Data Protection covers the "collection, processing, transmission, storage, and use of personal data by any individual, by government, local authorities, and public or private legal entities."

National law enforcement and military bodies can be exempted from the ECOWAS rules, which cover "any processing of data related to public security, defence, investigation and prosecution of criminal offences or State security," unless these bodies are "subject to such exemptions as are defined by specific provisions stipulated in other legal texts in force." [7]

"Towards global and integrated international policing"

The original proposal for WAPIS seems to have emerged at a conference hosted in September 2010 by Security & Defence Agenda, "a neutral platform for discussing defence and security policies."

The event, "the external dimension of EU police co-operation - towards global and integrated international policing in West African countries," was organised by INTERPOL in cooperation with the Belgian Presidency of the EU and sought to bring together "high-level representatives of relevant organisations investing in West Africa with other key participants." [8]

"Relevant organisations" included INTERPOL; the Belgian Federal Police; NATO, Europol, the Council of the EU; the French Ministry of the Interior; the UN Office on Drugs and Crime; as well as academics from the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. West African police representatives made up a minority of the speakers, with officers from Nigeria and Burkina Faso offering their views.

At the conference, "the Chiefs of Police of the West African Sub-Region declared that, to meet these challenges" - terrorism and organised crime; human, drug and weapon trafficking "a system of national databases connected at regional and global level was needed." [9]

Also at the event was the EU's Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, who argued in a speech that "by increasing operational cooperation with both EU and international actors, and by strengthening the capacity of Western African police, it should be possible to track down, disrupt, and hopefully dismantle, the criminal and terrorist networks causing instability and crime."

Malmström continued, adding emphasis to certain phrases: "the experience of EU internal security suggests that West African countries could draw substantial benefits from closer coordination and information exchange between agencies - police, immigration and customs for example - both within and across national borders."

West Africa in particular should be "given priority in terms of international security concerns," she told the audience. [10]

The conference drew up a set of three recommendations on "operational international police cooperation", later circulated by the Belgian Presidency at a Council working party, the Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (COSI).

They call for closer cooperation between UN, EU and INTERPOL with law enforcement agencies in West Africa and "sustainable policing development" - for example through the development of a centralised regional criminal database. [11]

"A key role in Europe's energy supplies"

While arguments for developing WAPIS focus on dealing with drugs, organised crime and terrorism, the EU also has other interests in Africa.

In March 2011, The European External Action Service released a "strategy for security and development in the Sahel," a region that includes some ECOWAS and WAPIS states and which lies east and north of West Africa. [12]

The EEAS argued that "improving security and development in Sahel has an obvious and direct impact on protecting European citizens and interests and on the EU internal security situation. It is therefore important to ensure and strengthen coherence and complementarity between internal and external aspects of EU security."

A May 2012 study for the European Parliament also examined the Sahel, arguing that it represents "something of an extension of the EU's own southern geopolitical border," and that many of the countries in the region "play a key role in terms of European energy supplies, the management of migration flows and the containment of illicit trafficking and terrorism."

For these reasons, "the EU cannot afford to let instability fester and spread throughout the region," which includes Nigeria, from where the Trans Sahara Gas Pipeline project is "expected to bring Nigerian gas into Europe." Completing this project "requires far greater security in the region." [13]

Ongoing work

While there is "political will" in West African countries to address organised crime groups, "the operational responses have not yet reached a very high level. The main problems still relate to: training, turnover in the operational services, budget, corruption and internal structures," according to the Council of the EU. [14]

WAPIS is part of a body of work looking to change this and is under development as efforts continue to introduce intelligence-led policing techniques across West Africa.

This is particularly the case in Nigeria, which, if all goes to plan, will eventually be connected to WAPIS. "There are ongoing efforts to strengthen the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB) on systematic data gathering," according to Kemi Asiwaju from the Nigerian NGO CLEEN Foundation.

The aim of this is to "strengthen intelligence-led policing in the country," he said. The CLEEN Foundation hosted a conference on the issue in 2012. [15]

According to INTERPOL, the first WAPIS workshop was held on 28 November last year, and this year "five other workshops will follow in West African countries in order to assess in detail the needs of the countries and to establish a detailed plan for the second and third phases of the WAPIS programme."

The first of these was held at the end of January and lasted three days, with Benin playing host to "some 20 representatives from seven countries to define the scope of the exchange of police information in West Africa." [16]

"The workshop concluded with the adoption of a comprehensive model of information exchange to enable the investigation and prosecution of criminals among the countries of the sub region," says INTERPOL's press release.


[1] INTERPOL, INTERPOL holds inaugural WAPIS workshop, 28 November 2012
[2] EuropeAid, Who we are
[3] INTERPOL, High-level West African delegation updated on anti-crime initiatives during INTERPOL visit, 11 October 2011
[4] Interpol presentation
[5] INTERPOL, WAPIS Programme, October 2012
[6] Ibid.
[7] ECOWAS, Supplementary Act A/SA/1/01/10 on personal data protection within ECOWAS, 16th February 2010
[8] Security & Defence Agenda, The external dimension of EU Police Co-operation – towards global and integrated international policing in West African countries, 30 September 2010
[9] Ibid. at [5]
[10] Cecilia Malmström, The external dimension of EU-police cooperation in West African countries - towards global and integrated international policing', speech given at the Interpol/Belgian Presidency Symposium, March 2011Brussels, Bibliotheque Solvay, 30 September 2010
[11] Presidency, The external dimension of EU Police Cooperation - towards a global and integrated international policing in West African countries, 15331/10, 22 October 2010
[12] European Union External Action Service, Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel,
[13] European Parliament, Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, A coherent EU strategy for the Sahel, May 2012
[14] General Secretariat, Coordination of cooperation in combating organised crime, especially drug trafficking, originating in West Africa - Report 2011, 7388/1/12 REV 1, 3 April 2012
[15] CLEEN Foundation, Operationalising Intelligence led-Policing in Nigeria, Conference proceedings, 2012
[16] INTERPOL, Boosting police information exchange across West Africa focus of INTERPOL workshop, 29 January 2013

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