Food crisis, corruption could reverse progress in West Africa, says UN envoy

Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA)

21 January 2009 – Challenges – including youth unemployment, corruption and the food crisis – threaten to roll back positive gains made in West Africa, the Secretary-General’s envoy to the 15-nation region told the Security Council today.

“Many of the root causes of conflict in a number of West African countries have yet to be addressed in an effective and durable manner,” Special Representative Said Djinnit said, briefing the 15-member body on the latest report by the Secretary-General on the region.

West Africa has been heavily affected by soaring food prices and food insecurity, and coupled with the threat of a global recession, many of its nations might not achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline, he noted.

“It is expected that food insecurity will remain a special challenge to the region over the next few years,” Mr. Djinnit, who heads the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said.

Cross-border organized crime, especially drug trafficking, is also cause for concern, the Representative told the 15-member Council.

“Taking advantage of porous borders and weak state and security institutions, criminal networks are increasing using West Africa as a transit route for narcotics bound for Europe from Latin America,” he said. Unlike groups operating with low-level authorities in the past, today they are “infiltrating state institutions, fuelling corruption and destabilizing the political and social fabric of nations.”

In spite of progress made in consolidating democratic governance, military coups in Mauritania and Guinea have served as setbacks, Mr. Djinnit stated. Although these takeovers were bloodless, not addressing the resurgence of coups decisively could have a domino effect across West Africa.

UNOWA has made efforts to foster constructive dialogue while also engaging countries of the region in preventive diplomacy together with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), he said.

While nations such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana have held recent peaceful and transparent polls, “democratization processes, if not properly managed, could trigger political violence, economic disruption and social strife in fragile societies in the region,” the envoy noted. With critical elections slated for this year several countries, it is essential to continue the partnership among the UN, the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS to ensure free and fair polls, he said.

In December 2007, the Council extended the mandate of UNOWA – based in Dakar, Senegal – until 21 December 2010.


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