13 July 2010
Security Council
SC/9981

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6358th Meeting* (AM)


Top Official, Briefing Security Council on West Africa, Attributes ‘Significant


Progress’ amid Persistent Challenges to People’s Sacrifice, Regional Support


Amid daunting difficulties and persistent challenges, West Africa had made “significant progress” in crisis prevention and peacebuilding over the past six months, due to the will of its people and the cooperation of regional institutions, a top United Nations official told the Security Council today.


“This progress has been achieved first and foremost thanks to the commitment and sacrifice of the people of the region and its leaders,” Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said while presenting the latest report on developments in the region during the first half of 2010.


“It has also been effectively supported through the excellent collaboration that UNOWA has forged with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as the leading regional institution, and the African Union,” he continued, noting that the latter organization had been particularly effective in the case of Guinea, wracked by existing and emerging challenges, including food insecurity, drug trafficking and criminal activities.


He recalled that threats to the subregion’s stability had been growing at the time of his briefing in December 2009, with “deep anxiety and rampant tension over the presidential elections in Togo, a constitutional crisis in Niger and a deteriorating situation in Guinea”.  Since then, however, there had been encouraging signs of progress, including the holding of peaceful elections in Togo, which had led to the formation of a Government that included the opposition, as well as the continued commitment of the authorities in the Niger to its transition programme, scheduled to end in March 2011.


Great emphasis had been placed on supporting the process leading up to the restoration of constitutional order in Guinea by United Nations entities, he said, citing the financial backing provided by the Peacebuilding Support Office.  The first round of presidential elections had taken place peacefully on 27 June and the second round was being prepared, he said, commending the work of the International Contact Group on Guinea, which would have far-reaching implications for the region’s stability.


Describing the fight against drug trafficking as a priority area in which UNOWA had been working closely with ECOWAS and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), he said that the recent seizure of two tons of cocaine in Gambia, with the support of the United Kingdom and the arrest in the United States of suspects who had been planning to smuggle four tons of the drug through Liberia were evidence of the increasing commitment of West African States to fighting the scourge.


Turning to economic issues, he said the global recovery had supported growth in the region, which, however, had yet to be translated into effective and sustainable poverty reduction, and the prospects for realizing the Millennium Development Goals remained weak.  In addition, the ongoing food crisis affected millions of people in the Sahel, particularly the Niger, where some 60 per cent of the population faced the threat of famine amid a serious food, nutrition and pastoral crisis.


He said that those challenges, in addition to the need for security sector reform, continued electoral assistance, the promotion of human rights and cooperation in combating drug traffickers, required the continued support of the international community, including the United Nations, to maintain the momentum for peace and stability in the subregion.  In that light, UNOWA was focused on key cross-cutting and cross-border issues, including the need for a regional network to assist in security-sector reform, which was crucial in the area of democratic governance, and the fight against drug trafficking.


The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 10:23 a.m.


Background


The Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office for West Africa (document S/2010/324), which outlines political developments, as well as cross-border and cross-cutting issues, in the subregion between 1 January and 30 June, and details the activities of that Office, which has focused on regional peacebuilding and conflict prevention since its creation in 2001.


According to the report, most West African countries remained politically stable during the reporting period and some made progress in consolidating peace, democratic governance and human rights.  However, those positive trends are still undermined by governance challenges.  Several countries continue to be affected by political crisis due to flawed or contested electoral processes, unconstitutional changes of Government or other threats to constitutional legality and governance.  “The resurgence of coups d’état in West Africa, which I have consistently denounced, and the major role played by the armed forces in these coups, are a reflection of the difficult civil-military relationships in situations of bad governance,” the Secretary-General says.


The report recalls that in February, the ruling military Conseil Suprème pour la Réstauration de la Démocratie (CSRD) ousted President Mamadou Tandja of the Niger in a coup, suspended the contested Constitution that would have allowed him to remain in power beyond the stipulated term, and took control of the country.  Niger’s transitional authorities have since made progress in returning the country to constitutional legality, and the Secretary-General says he is encouraged by their efforts to restore democratic rule and address the country’s humanitarian crisis.  He is also encouraged that the situation in Guinea has “evolved positively in the last six months”, and welcomes the transitional authorities’ commitment to hold the first round of presidential elections on 27 June, as planned.


Turning to other countries in the subregion, the report says that allegations of fraud in Côte d’Ivoire’s voter registration exercise, and disputes over finalization of the voters’ list, brought the electoral process to a standstill and raised doubts about the prospects for an effective resolution of the long-running crisis in the country.  In Nigeria, meanwhile, constitutional and electoral reforms are ongoing in the lead-up to the 2011 presidential elections, the report says, noting that in neighbouring Benin, tension was observed as the country prepares for general elections in March 2011.


According to the report, the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, remained actively engaged in promoting a return to constitutional order in Guinea and Niger.  It also worked with the United Nations country team in Lomé, Togo, and the ECOWAS Mediator in that country, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, to ensure that the 4 March presidential election was held as scheduled and in a peaceful environment.


The report notes that the security situation in the Sahel continued to deteriorate as a surge in criminal and terrorist activities — including the kidnapping of foreigners, attacks on national security forces, and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons — continued to undermine regional peace and stability while threatening civilian safety.  Drug trafficking also remains a matter of great concern as the subregion continues to be a major transit route for cocaine traffickers.


UNOWA will remain active in regional and international efforts to combat drug trafficking, particularly by supporting the ECOWAS Regional Plan of Action and the West Africa Coast Initiative, the Secretary-General says.  He calls on West African leaders to reinforce national policies to combat cross-border criminal activities and terrorist threats, particularly in the Sahel, and to adopt a regional approach in doing so, as recommended by the Council’s presidential statement of 10 July 2009.  The United Nations will develop a more coordinated response on the Sahel, including regional implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, he adds.


The report says West African economies are improving after a period of decline prompted by the global financial and economic recession, and are expected to grow 4.7 per cent in 2010, up from 4.4 per cent in 2009.  But food insecurity is worsening, particularly in the Niger, Mali and Mauritania, and an estimated 10 million people are believed to be affected in the Sahel alone.  In April, the United Nations and the Government of the Niger launched an international appeal for $133 million to assist affected communities.


Resources are still need for the 2010 consolidated appeal for West Africa, seeking $507 million to support emergency relief, the report states.  Of that target, only 24 per cent is current funded.  The Secretary-General appeals to Member States to provide prompt and generous support for humanitarian operations in the Sahel through the consolidated appeal process and other mechanisms, in order to avert a major humanitarian crisis, which could potentially lead to violent conflicts, suffering and loss of life.


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*     The 6357th Meeting was closed.


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