|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6577th Meeting (AM)
Special Representative Urges Security Council to Remain Vigilant for Potential
Instability in West Africa with Approach of Several Elections
Briefing Also Highlights Dangers of Drug Trafficking,
Money-laundering, Despite Improvements in Governance, Institution-building
While commending the institutional and governance improvements that had helped resolve both long-brewing and unexpected political crises in West Africa over the past year, the top United Nations envoy in the subregion today urged the Security Council to remain vigilant because elections scheduled between now and 2013 held the potential to ignite simmering tensions that could lead to renewed violence and instability.
In a briefing to the Council, Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), highlighted positive developments in Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Guinea, saying that the invitation extended by the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit to the democratically elected leaders of those countries was a key signal that the international community firmly supported their progress.
He went on to cite the peaceful end of the protracted post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire that had been resolved with international support, in particular the dynamic partnership forged among the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Mr. Djinnit also welcomed Niger’s successful presidential elections and political transition, saying it could be attributed largely to the country’s enhanced electoral institutions and active civil society. Describing the country’s general elections as “a significant democratic advance”, he applauded Lieutenant General Salou Djibo, former President of the transition, for keeping his word and rigorously managing the process.
Nonetheless, the Council and the wider international community must continue to stand by Niger, he emphasized, noting that if the country was to become a political and economic success over time, it would need help in dealing with a raft of security and development challenges, particularly ending chronic food insecurity. Mr. Djinnit encouraged the United Nations to respond positively to newly elected President Mahamadou Issoufou’s call for the convening of an international conference on food and nutritional security, which he wished to host before the end of the year.
Success in all those cases could be linked to the crucial support that the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS had provided to national electoral processes, he said. Looking ahead, however, he cautioned that even though those polls had been successful and many political obstacles had been addressed, stability in West Africa remained fragile and many challenges could be “just beyond the horizon”. The region’s historical instability was linked to elections, and with numerous general and legislative polls to be held between now and 2013, continuing vigilance was necessary.
He said Guinea was laying the groundwork for economic and institutional reforms while undertaking consensus-building measures ahead of legislative elections scheduled to be held by the end of 2011. UNOWA, for its part, mindful of the large number of elections to be held in the region, had organized a conference on 20 May to examine election-related instability. That meeting, held in Praia, Cape Verde, had aimed to catalyse electoral efforts to hold peaceful elections in the region and take active crisis-prevention measures before and after voting. Hopefully, the Praia Declaration on Elections and Stability in West Africa would help meet those objectives, he added.
Mr. Djinnit said his comments on West Africa’s progress would be incomplete unless they highlighted the key role played by women. “I cannot remain silent,” he said of the positive impact that increased and more active participation by women had had in resolving conflicts and easing political tensions. Indeed, experience proved that it was often in the aftermath of women’s suffering — after their recovery and dedication to inclusive peacebuilding and crisis prevention — that opportunities opened up to address some of the toughest challenges.
Beyond the threats posed by election-related political instability, he continued, the region’s progress could also be derailed if drug trafficking and organized crime were not dealt with “effectively, robustly and steadfastly”. While the full implementation of the 2008 ECOWAS regional action plan to counter the illegal drug trade was vital, it must be bolstered by the further mobilization of innovation, resources and partners. Indeed, the aim must be to move beyond public-health threats, he said, adding that UNOWA was working with ECOWAS and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to mobilize partners in connection with the West African Coast Initiative.
UNOWA was aware of concern about fallout from the wave of anti-Government protests in North Africa impacting the West African region, he said, acknowledging that the fluid nature of events in Libya could have a negative impact on the humanitarian and security situation and deepen chronic instability, particularly in the Sahel belt. Many West African leaders had voiced that concern and countries such as Mali and Niger were struggling to cope with the tangible effects of the unrest to the north, including the return of thousands of migrants from Libya.
Those countries and the wider region were also seeing a sharp jump in the circulation of illegal small arms and other weapons, he continued. That alone could spark a new wave of instability in the Sahel, he said, welcoming in that regard the recent re-launching of regional cooperation to address common threats to peace and security, including those posed by terrorist groups. Those problems were exacerbated by joblessness among young men throughout the region, as well as political bickering among political rivals in some countries — both of which could breed violence. All those concerns confirmed the need — “if there is a need to say so” - to address comprehensively the issues of development, governance and security, he said, adding that, despite making headway, the countries of West Africa remained “vulnerable and fragile and deserving of determined and steadfast support”.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:30 a.m.
Council members had had before them the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa (document S/2011/388), which provides an overview of national, cross-cutting and cross-border developments in the subregion from 1 January to 30 June 2011.
Outlining UNOWA’s conflict-prevention and regional peacebuilding activities, the report says the subregion made significant progress towards greater stability and peace as a result of the end of transition processes in Guinea and Niger, and the resolution of the election-related crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. Threats to constitutional order and governance, noted in previous reports, seem to be receding, yet the possible impact of recent developments in North Africa on the democratization process in West Africa should be evaluated carefully and kept in perspective.
Despite the relatively positive trends, however, the overall political situation was marked by a number of election-related crises, with the consequent tensions and violence remaining a source of concern. Nine presidential, parliamentary and local elections were held in Benin, Cape Verde, Niger and Nigeria, and while observers reported relatively fewer irregularities than in the past, a number of electoral aspects, including voter registration and the release of results, remain highly contentious, constituting important potential triggers of violence.
According to the report, the subregion’s economic situation presents a mixed picture, with instability in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya having a particularly great impact on food security, and the influx of displaced populations exacerbating the situation. In addition, the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire had an impact on economic migration from neighbouring countries, while the situation in Libya is likely to have a further adverse effect on local livelihoods in West Africa, especially in Mali and Niger, as a result of the significant drop in the flow of remittances from migrant workers in the North African country.
Turning to drug trafficking and organized crime, the report states that, while the preliminary findings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicate a decline in the number of seizures related to maritime cargo and flights from West Africa to Europe, there are indications that traffickers have modified their techniques and found new ways to send cocaine into Europe, including through West Africa, that remain undetected. Heroin trafficking through the subregion increased in the first five months of 2011, while the growing trend of producing amphetamine in West Africa for trafficking to Asia was confirmed.
Against that backdrop, the report outlines the problems resulting from money-laundering and corruption, as well as increased instability in the Sahel. Yet growing insecurity, a deteriorating humanitarian situation and concerns about the cross-border impact of the Libyan crisis have triggered a renewed political drive to increase regional cooperation, including through renewed diplomatic contacts between Algeria and Mali.
The report encourages ECOWAS to finalize and adopt the subregional political framework and plan of action on security-sector governance and reform currently under discussion. It also says that a subregional strategy to address the return of mercenaries and other cross-border illegal movements from Côte d’Ivoire into Liberia and other neighbouring countries is essential, and welcomes calls for a summit on security and development in the Sahel.
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