Comment: Multinationals must take stock after Algeria crisis

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AS GREATER larity and understanding emerges of just what, precisely, has occurred at the Algerian gas complex at Amenas attention will swiftly turn to the local, national and regional political and military ramifications of the attack.

Locally there will be much attention on how a relatively small number of militants could travel a great distance and without much effort seize critical national infrastructure and hundreds of hostages.

It is worth remembering that this is a plant that produces about 10 per cent of Algeria’s natural gas.

Nationally there will be the varying views on the Algerian government’s handling of the hostage situation and whether or not its military reaction was, given the circumstances, the right one, or whether or not it could have been more effective. Regionally, the ongoing French military intervention in northern Mali with its mid to long term consequences yet to be understood and played out. And, of course, what to do with the growing Islamist presence with its toxic mix of terrorism, organised crime and vast open spaces within which to hide, regroup, plan and mount further attacks.

Within this growing conflict eco system and further afield, there is another significant group that will be giving much thought to the consequences of these and other events. Their presence is also felt locally, nationally and regionally.

They too have much to lose and by extension so do we. They are the large number of multi national companies working within the extractive, agricultural, oil and gas industries with the accompanying long distance supply chains that are only efficient if transportation is conducted safely and securely.

With the world’s supply of easily accessible resources rapidly declining these industries are now required to operate in hitherto unimagined complex and unstable regions. The rapid economic growth currently being experienced across sub Sahara Africa is in part down to the willingness of these multi national companies to commit billions of dollars to building the necessary infrastructure.

Many will now be reviewing how to better secure that infrastructure.

By necessity, they will have to do so in conjunction with their host government’s security forces and their own private security forces. Their first approach will be to review physical security, their ability to react to security related incidents and how to ensure that they integrate their current and future security requirements with their host governments requirements and their own security forces. Most will omit to think through how they can better engage with the local population.

This is no easy task. My own observations, having operated commercially in Africa for the last three years is that some will get it about right but many more will not. Too often, their efforts will worsen not improve security. The underlying complexities lie in the fragile nature of some of the states they are

operating in, the lack of coherent long term security sector reform initiatives in key countries and a narrow approach to solutions by the multi national companies themselves. This is not to overly criticise their current efforts. Most take their Corporate Social responsibilities very seriously and most expend

considerable effort in Social, Environmental Impact assessments. Greater levels of transparency and better governance has also resulted in many more seeking to engage responsibly with the host governments.

Attempts by multi nationals to play their part in fostering stability in complex and unstable environments have had mixed success. At this point I can draw direct parallels with the military and their counter insurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In essence it took the military sometime to recognise that the local population was the prize and that its support would not be forthcoming unless our presence produced a mutual advantage or gain for the population. This meant security and jobs as well as respect for traditions and culture in return for support and cooperation.

Multi national companies operating in remote and difficult environments will increasingly face the same challenges. They must better understand their local environment and critically the population, if the notion of shared value is to succeed. Whilst some as part of more astute risk mitigation will get this right, the consequences for those that do not will be severe.

• Major General (retd) Andrew Mackay commanded the British and coalition Forces in Helmand and Afghanistan. More recently he is the co-author of Behavioural Conflict – Why Understanding People And Their Motivations Will Prove Decisive in Future Conflict