Tackling Potential Sources of Conflict in West Africa Critical Ahead of High-Stakes Elections, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Representatives of CAte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa Highlight Efforts by Regional Governments, Institutions in Devising Solutions

Addressing potential sources of conflict is critical ahead of the high-stakes presidential elections scheduled for 2020 in Burkina Faso, CAte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger and Togo, the top United Nations official for West Africa and the Sahel told the Security Council today.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report, the Special Representative and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) cautioned that democratic progress in the region has been delayed and complicated, and sometimes, almost negated by a rapid expansion of violent extremism.

Security conditions remains volatile across the Sahel, he said, where violence and insecurity have sparked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis leaving 5.1 million Burkinabe, Nigerians and Malians in need. In Burkina Faso alone, 226 security incidents led to fresh displacement, as well as the closure of 2,024 schools and 37 health centres. In the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram splinter groups remain active. Chad’s military suffered its deadliest assault to date when Boko Haram fighters killed 23 soldiers.

Despite the violence, presidential elections were organized in Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania, he said. Ahead of these fiercely contested elections, I met with all presidential candidates and conveyed to them, alongside regional and international partners, the need to uphold the high electoral standards in the region.

The past six months also saw the opening of political dialogues between Governments and opposition leaders in Burkina Faso and Benin, the start of a political dialogue on vigilante groups in Ghana, and an agreement to begin a dialogue on strengthening the economy in Liberia. Gains were also made in the Gambia and Togo regarding justice and reconciliation, and gender parity, respectively.

However, pre- and post-electoral periods continue to be characterized by tensions and he called for inclusive approaches to address governance deficits, extreme poverty and lack of development that feed armed violence and extremism.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members spotlighted the important role played by Governments and regional institutions in devising solutions. The representative of CAte d’Ivoire, speaking also for Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, said terrorist groups striving to elevate the presence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) are exploiting intercommunal tensions, conflicts between herders and farmers, and disputes over water and arable land. As these pressures risk spilling into Central Africa, he welcomed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) special summit in September focused on the fight against terrorism.

China’s delegate also emphasized that the role of regional organizations and institutions should be fully leveraged. International and regional attention should work to resolve deep-rooted problems, identifying the causes of extremism, and helping the region implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It really is a race against the clock to stabilize the Sahel, France’s representative added. Echoing the concerns of several delegates, he said climate change has flamed tensions over resources. He emphasized the need to implement the Mali peace agreement and support the G5 Sahel Joint Force. The representative of the Dominican Republic meanwhile expressed alarm that only one quarter of the $1.6 billion humanitarian appeal for the Sahel has been funded.

Pointing to an auspicious sign, the representative of the United States welcomed reports of economic growth, noting that while projections are uneven, economic performance along with good governance can be a bellwether for the future.

Also speaking today were representatives of Belgium, Poland, Russian Federation, Kuwait, Germany, Indonesia, United Kingdom and Peru.

The meeting began at 3:08 p.m. and ended at 4:27 p.m.

Briefing

MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), introducing the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2019/549), said the region’s broad progress in the democratic space has not been linear nor without complications. Rather, it has resulted from contestations, which have at times been palpably antagonistic. It also has been delayed � and almost negated � by a rapid expansion of violent extremism in the region. In the past six months, presidential elections were organized in Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania. Ahead of these fierce contested elections, I met with all presidential candidates and conveyed to them, alongside regional and international partners, the need to uphold the high electoral standards in the region, he said.

He said the past six months also saw the opening of political dialogues between the Government and opposition leaders in Burkina Faso and Benin, while in Ghana, political stakeholders started a dialogue on vigilante groups. In Liberia on 7 July, the Government respected the right to peaceful protest and agreed to begin a dialogue on strengthening the economy. However, pre- and post-electoral periods continue to be characterized by antagonistic contests and disputes, including around non-consensual constitutional amendments. Addressing such potential sources of conflict remains a major priority ahead of high-stakes presidential elections scheduled for next year in Burkina Faso, CAte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger and Togo.

He broadly expressed concern over efforts to use the judiciary for political objectives, as well as a predominant sense of impunity for violent crime. He commended the exemplary path chosen by the Gambia, where the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, and the National Human Rights Commission have embarked on challenging tasks that have advanced transitional justice and social cohesion. And while the region saw a slight increase in the number of female members of Government and the first-ever appointment of a female speaker of Parliament in Togo, women’s political representation remains a matter of concern. The passing of legislation in Cabo Verde classifying gender-based violence as a priority prevention crime must be applauded in this context.

The security situation remains volatile throughout the Sahel, where violence has sparked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis leaving 5.1 million Burkinabe, Nigerians and Malians in need, he said. In Burkina Faso, 226 security incidents pushed the number of internally displaced people from 47,000 in December 2018 to 220,000 in June 2019, and resulted in 25,000 new refugees. A total of 2,024 schools and 37 health centres remain closed amid targeted terrorist attacks. As such, the Secretary-General has requested a scaling up of the United Nations’ response and set up an emergency task force in Burkina Faso.

In the Lake Chad Basin, meanwhile, attacks by Boko Haram splinter groups continue to threaten peace and stability, he said. While there has been a significant reduction in their attacks, Chad’s military suffered its deadliest assault to date, as Boko Haram fighters killed 23 soldiers in Dangdala. He urged all Governments and partners to define a concerted approach to prevent a further expansion of terrorist activities and foster support for medium- and long-term stabilization measures that align with the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. Through inclusive approaches based on national ownership and in line with [the Integrated Strategy], we must continue to work harder on addressing governance deficits, extreme poverty and lack of development that feed and sustain armed violence and extremism, he said.

Statements

GBOLIA� DA�SIRA� WULFRAN IPO (CAte d’Ivoire), speaking also on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, welcomed overall political stability in the region, as well as the African Development Bank’s forecast of 3.6 per cent average economic growth in 2019 and 2020. With several countries planning elections in 2020, he urged UNOWAS to pursue its mediation and good offices missions. He also urged it to help build resilience and a favourable environment for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Expressing hope to see more women in positions of responsibility and decision-making, he went on to voice concern over security threats posed by non-State actors, including terrorist groups, striving to raise the presence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in the region. Such groups are exploiting intercommunity tensions, conflicts between herders and farmers, and disputes over water and arable land. Such pressures risk spilling into Central Africa, he added, welcoming a special summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on 14 September focused on countering terrorism. UNOWAS is still relevant, with its work perfectly aligned with regional efforts to resolve the causes of conflict. Looking ahead to the strategic review, he said the Council must remember the political role of UNOWAS as a tool for preventative diplomacy, acting in concert with other United Nations agencies, funds and programmes.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), emphasizing the connection between the security and humanitarian situations, said the persistence of herder-farmer conflict deserves special attention. He congratulated UNOWAS for raising awareness on the subject, but added that now is the time to implement good practices. He applauded the courage and sacrifices of security forces in the fight against terrorism, adding, however, that conflict cannot be resolved by ignoring human rights. Responding to the challenges facing West Africa requires a holistic approach to violence and extremism that includes good governance, fighting impunity and ensuring lasting, inclusive and sustainable development. He went on to underscore the vital role of regional and subregional organizations.

NICOLAS DE RIVIA�RE (France) said the situation in West Africa requires the Council’s total attention. Noting that the role of UNOWAS is fully aligned with the Secretary-General’s vision of action across the peace continuum, he said his delegation hopes that the strategic review will ensure it has the resources required to fulfil its important mission. It really is a race against the clock to stabilize the Sahel, he said, emphasizing the urgent need to implement the Mali peace agreement, combat terrorist groups, and ensure good governance and sustainable development. It is also important to support the G5 Sahel Joint Force, as only an approach that combines political, security and development elements can really affect change in the medium term. He went on to underscore the link between climate change and security in the Sahel, which creates tensions over resources. Implementing the Paris agreement on climate change is essential, alongside a regional dialogue on climate and the environment.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that despite many positive developments in West Africa and the Sahel, pre- and post-electoral periods are still characterized by tension, antagonism and disputes. Authorities and national stakeholders must work together to ensure peaceful, inclusive and credible polls with equal participation for women and youth. Expressing concern at the deteriorating security situation and activities of extremist groups, she called on national, regional and international partners to address the causes of insecurity, including poverty, inequality, human rights violations and the impacts of climate change. Underscoring the importance of a sustained and holistic approach to the region’s complex challenges, she commended Governments, as well as regional and subregional organizations for engaging with UNOWAS.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), while welcoming the overall stable political situation, with elections held in Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Benin, said the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel remains precarious. Steps taken by regional Governments to address problems caused by the power vacuum in Libya have not yet provided a breakthrough in the fight against extremists. Disquieting assessments in the Secretary-General’s report demonstrate that any suggestion to drawdown the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is not yet appropriate. With Boko Haram expanding its terrorist activities, the region is at the forefront of international and African concerns. Financial, military and humanitarian assistance continues to be provided through various United Nations programmes, as well as on a bilateral basis. Such efforts must be carried out in close coordination with the African Union and ECOWAS, he said, stressing the importance of taking into account the views of countries concerned and drawing attention to the Russian Federation’s provision of training to service personnel among its contributions to resolve the region’s challenges.

CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) cited the holding of peaceful elections in Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania among the several positive developments in West Africa. The United States is also encouraged by reports of economic growth, and while some projections are uneven, economic performance coupled with good governance can be a bellwether of change. She called on Governments to respect free and fair presidential elections. In Burkina Faso, the terrorist threat from Mali is displacing people and disrupting livelihoods and she called on Mali’s Government to continue to address the causes of instability and work with the region in those efforts, as the insecurity has also disrupted the provision of medical care and education. While the United States has provided $111 million to help operationalize the G-5 Sahel Joint Force, it is the Council’s responsibility to address instability not only in the West Africa but the wider region. Governments must focus on ways to prevent and counter violent extremism, he said, echoing the call to address its causes, including sexual violence and the lack of jobs.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) expressed grave concern over the deteriorating security situation in West Africa and the Sahel amid terrorist attacks that have disrupted stability in a number of countries. He called on regional Governments and the international community to intensify efforts to address the cause of violence, welcoming ECOWAS’s coordination of regional efforts in that regard. Kuwait supports all regional initiatives focused on preserving stability, he said, stressing that suicide attacks and attacks on herders and farmers have increased poverty, hunger and displacement. In 2019, 14 million people will need humanitarian assistance in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, he added, urging all parties to respect international humanitarian law and allow aid workers unfettered access to civilians.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) stressed the need to support the region’s security and institution-building efforts. The international community should continue to support African countries in strengthening their counter-terrorism capacities, he said, adding that China supports the United Nations extension of financial support to the G5 Sahel Force. The role of regional organizations and institutions should be fully leveraged, he added, citing the spillover effects of the situation in Libya. Attention should go towards resolving deep-rooted problems and helping the region implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He went on to welcome the positive role that UNOWAS is playing, and to review his country’s contributions to the region.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), noting unity among Council members on this topic, said Governments in West Africa and the Sahel must do their homework and take ownership of the region’s challenges, with support from the international community. He underscored the need for accountability, strengthening judicial institutions and ensuring the participation of civil society, women and youth. There must be good governance, with respect for the durations of presidential mandates. Recalling the Council’s visit to the region, he stressed the importance of a One UN approach to the Organization’s efforts. He also welcomed that UNOWAS is preparing a report on climate-related security risks.

JOSA� SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) expressed concern about reports of attacks by terrorists, criminal networks and militia in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Lake Chad Basin. On the humanitarian front, however, only about a quarter of the $1.6 billion appeal for the Sahel has been funded. He voiced concern about the effects of climate change, particularly in the Lake Chad Basin, which contribute to frequent natural disasters, and encouraged the international community to assess risk and bolster resilience. Overall, West Africa faces major challenges that require an exhaustive analysis of root causes followed by sustainable and inclusive strategies, collective political commitment and a road map setting out clear and realistic benchmarks.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) appealed for all necessary support to be extended to the Multinational Joint Task Force and the G5 Sahel Joint Force, adding, however, that collective efforts must be complemented by national measures to combat terrorism, including strengthening State institutions. Emphasizing that security approaches are not a panacea for the region’s challenges, he said that much remains to be done to alleviate the humanitarian situation, promote economic and social development, and address local grievances. He went on to stress the need for region-wide approaches to conflict resolution and management with greater cooperation among States and enhanced synergies among United Nations agencies.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said inclusive democratic processes are critical for creating an enabling environment for sustainable development in West Africa and the Sahel. Underscoring the need for upcoming elections to be timely and credible, he also noted deteriorating security conditions in north-east Nigeria, adding that the United Kingdom is discussing with Nigeria ways to address that problem. Expanding State authority can help stem Boko Haram advances, he added. Describing the Sahel as a major concern for the Council, he announced that his country will commit an additional 250 troops to MINUSMA. However, more must be done to address root causes, he said, including by reducing abuses committed by security forces and helping communities adapt to climate. He welcomed the Council’s increased focus on the connection between security and climate change.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to stress the importance of UNOWAS to the upcoming elections. It has shown itself to be a key actor in pre- and post-electoral environments, he said, pointing to its early warning capacity and work to address the lack of governance, injustice, poverty, marginalization and combatting the causes of conflict. Transborder cooperation and creation of regional synergies are essential for improving security. He went on to underscore the strong support that UNOWAS is providing for security sector reform and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, as well as the promotion of local-level dialogue and cooperation with the G5 Sahel.

Source: UN Security Council