6 April 2006
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR WEST AFRICA


“Unemployment feeds violence, and violence feeds unemployment”, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told correspondents today at a Headquarters press conference.


Youth and unemployment, a problem to be addressed at an upcoming high-level meeting of the Economic and Social Council, was a serious issue for West Africa, he said.  Some 300 million people lived in the region, 50 per cent of whom were under the age of 20, and 75 per cent were under 30.  Unemployment levels often reached 80 per cent in post-conflict countries and countries at war.  The problem had to be addressed because of the linkage between unemployed youths and violence.  Many had seen the tragic scenes of young West African migrants trying to reach Europe crossing North Africa.


He said national Governments had to review their job-creation practices.  Governments could not do it alone, however.  The private sector had to be involved.  A good policy towards the national private sector was a pre-condition, as the international private sector would not come if there was conflict or if the domestic private sector was not well treated.  Also, all United Nations agencies and the World Bank had to take a more proactive approach.  In that context, he referred to the work of the Youth Employment Network (YEN), a joint initiative of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Labour Organization (ILO).


In many parts of West Africa, the biggest job provider had been civil war, particularly in Liberia.  Some countries without conflict, such as Guinea, felt threatened by the flight of illegal migrants.  Without youth employment, young people, who should be seen as the future and the hope of the nation, might be seen as a threat to peace and stability.  Moreover, the plight of youth was not only a threat to peace and stability to the countries in the region, but also to countries worldwide, because many people were trying to go to Europe or America.  It was a serious problem with international dimensions that should be addressed as a new threat to peace and security.


Answering a correspondent’s question, he said national Governments in the region were increasingly aware of the importance of addressing the situation as a threat to their own stability, the more so because more and more young people were migrating from rural areas to the capitals.  It was an embarrassment that, instead of being seen as a factor of hope and development, they were seen as a threat.  There was a limit to what Governments could do in job creation.  Public service could not provide jobs for everyone.  The private sector had to be involved.


On the impact of the youth employment demonstrations in France, responding to another question, he said Africans were more and more connected and reacted to what was going on in the world.  World events could be followed on FM radios, which cost as little as $1.


Asked about reports of terrorist activities in the Sahel area, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said that the Sahel had traditionally been an area of trade -- including informal and illegal trade -- between the savannah and the Maghreb region.  There was no doubt that, at some point, terrorist activities had taken place.  The dilemma, however, was that terrorist activities, if proven, had to be addressed, but that, at the same time, the traditional trade should not be threatened too much.


Historically and geographically, West Africa had been and was still very close to Europe, he said in reply to a question regarding increased attention to the region from the United States since 9/11.  During the cold war, the United States had been a presence through its European allies.  Today, however, the biggest economic actors were China and Dubai.  Europe still had great influence, and the United States some, but not like five to 10 years ago.


Addressing a question on the possible influence of the Peacebuilding Commission on the problem, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said the Commission could have a great and positive role in helping countries emerging from war, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau.  There was also a future for the Commission in neighbouring countries that were not at war and had democratically elected Governments, as they suffered from the impact of refugees and illegal trafficking in arms and human beings.  The Commission’s first priority was the consolidation of peace.  Next was to help countries, by raising awareness, in attracting the international private sector and foreign direct investment (FDI).  The continent received a very small share of FDI, some $3 billion to $6 billion yearly, mostly in oil and new technologies.


West Africa was mostly known institutionally as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had a membership of 16 countries in the region, he continued.  ECOWAS was increasingly a stabilizing actor that helped the UN, the European Union and the United States to have a common approach.  The organization always pushed for stability.  Although there were pockets of instability, there was a growing capacity to address it diplomatically.  The organization, mainly through Nigerian capacity, had some leverage to address conflicts at preventive levels.  Although the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was accepted in the region, the leading actor was ECOWAS.


Asked if language and computer skills were particular problems for young people coming from rural areas headed for Europe or the United States, he said that, although the problem was still there, “extraordinary progress” was being made with new technologies running on solar and other sources of alternative energy.


* *** *



For information media • not an official record