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Insecurity across West Africa expands to areas previously considered safe

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Moses Kuwema

Insecurity across West Africa and the Sahel has expanded into areas previously considered safe, with militants continuing to stage deadly attacks, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the region told the Security Council Monday.

During the same meeting, delegates called for consolidating gains in democratic governance recently expressed by several countries in their successful conduct of elections.

“We need to confront the all-too-well-known root causes of exclusion, strengthen democratic governance and give a new and decisive push to fight insecurity,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).  

"Describing a year of multiple challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the outbreak plunged most countries into recession and led to the diversion of resources from productive investments and the fight against insecurity." 

Nowhere has resilience been more sorely tested than in the Sahel, he emphasized, pointing out that massive floods have affected more than 1.7 million people.  

On the security front, he welcomed swift efforts to rescue 300 boys taken hostage on 11 December by militants allegedly affiliated with Boko Haram, in north-western Nigeria.  
Chambas also saluted the Group of Five-Sahel Joint Force (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), working with France’s Barkhane operation and the European Union’s Takuba Task Force, as well as the Multinational Joint Task Force (Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria).

The national armies of Sahel and Lake Chad Basin countries have fought together against militants on several fronts, he continued, while noting that militants continue to foment instability, notably in Niger, where more than 100 people died in just one assault nine days ago.  

Militants in north-western Nigeria collude with criminal networks, he added. Chambas went on to state that the International Maritime Bureau has reported that 90 per cent of global incidents of maritime piracy and hijackings occur in the Gulf of Guinea.  

He said as a result, five million people are now displaced, 1.4 million higher than in 2019.

On the political front, five presidential, three legislative and two local elections were held in West Africa since his last briefing, he continued.  

Despite COVID-19, electoral management bodies were able to maintain the electoral calendar and demonstrate impressive technical capacity to organize and conduct the polls.  Noting that elections are increasingly being funded exclusively from national budgets, he said that despite contestation and violence in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, the polls overall “went well”.

Detailing events around the region, Chambas said dialogue between political actors in Burkina Faso led to an outcome that was accepted by all.  

He commended the peaceful conduct of the November 27, general elections in Niger, which is set to usher in its first-ever democratic transition from one elected Head of State to another.  

In Ghana, which has a tradition of peaceful handovers, elections were peaceful, with lingering disagreements about the results being decided in the courts, he noted.

Chambas went on to report that, to support elections, UNOWAS held forums for stakeholders in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger, adding that he undertook several good offices missions to Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire before, during and after elections.  Throughout, the Office worked hand-in-hand with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the appointment of a Minister for National Reconciliation and the launch of a national dialogue after an electoral process “fraught with disagreements” were encouraging, he said, emphasizing that, two months ahead of the polls, scheduled for March 6, national actors should make gestures of genuine reconciliation.  

Chambas appealed to national authorities and all political leaders in Benin, where presidential elections are due in April, to find common ground.

Describing democracy more broadly as “a constant process of deliberation and consultation and dialogue”, he noted the outreach by Mauritania’s President to opposition and historically marginalized communities.  

He encouraged leaders in Guinea, where elections regrettably deepened rather than reconciled deep-seated grievances, to jointly set the country on a path to dialogue.  Meanwhile, the closure of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) on December 31, after 20 years, marked an auspicious moment for Bissau-Guineans to agree on a new constitution.

In addressing myriad challenges, UNOWAS collaborates with the G5-Sahel to support implementation of the programme d’investissements prioritaires, he said.  

The support plan for the United Nations Integrated Strategy in the Sahel is being carried out with greater outreach to donors and a focus on cross-border assistance, he added, noting significant progress on the women, peace and security agenda as well as the youth, peace and security agendas in West Africa and the Sahel.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates expressed condolences over the deaths of French soldiers involved in Operation Barkhane in Mali earlier this month, and over attacks against civilians in Niger’s Tillabéri region.  

Most speakers welcomed the successful conduct of presidential elections in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Niger.

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