With West Africa at 'crossroads,' UN envoy urges coordinated efforts to tackle instability

Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa Said Djinnit. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

10 July 2013 – Coordinated efforts and enhanced regional and international cooperation are key to address the myriad sources of instability in West Africa, a United Nations envoy told the Security Council today.

“The West African sub-region continues to face multiple political and security challenges mainly linked to transnational organized crime, piracy and terrorist activities as well as election-related tensions in some countries,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, adding that commitment from Governments, regional organizations and the international community as a whole is needed to tackle these challenges.

In his briefing to the Council, Mr. Djinnit pointed to three main zones where there is instability: the Sahel region, the Gulf of Guinea and the Mano River.

In the Sahel, Mr. Djinnit said the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) has been working closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN Office in Mali and the now defunct African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), to promote political dialogue to resolve the conflict in the northern part of the country, where a rebellion of ethnic Tuareg groups in early 2012 displaced hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Government to request assistance from France to halt the southward march of extremists.

Mr. Djinnit underlined that in addition to the crisis in Mali, the Sahel is suffering from serious environmental degradation, desertification, food insecurity and drug trafficking and terrorism.

“This vulnerability of the Sahel underscores the need for a UN integrated strategy for the Sahel which shall complement efforts by countries of the region and regional organization to address the root causes of instability in the Sahel-Sahara belt, and its consequences,” he said.

Turning to the Gulf of Guinea, Mr. Djinnit said piracy continues to be a threat, negatively affecting international maritime trade routes and taking a toll on economic progress in both coastal and landlocked countries.

However, he said he was encouraged by the resolve of West African leaders during the Summit of the Gulf of Guinea Heads of State and Government on maritime safety and security held last month in Cameroon, to establish an effective framework to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Mr. Djinnit noted that election-related tensions also continue to affect the region, and said UNOWA remains committed to promote common grounds and understandings through its good offices, as in the case of Guinea in the Manor River region, where earlier this month the Government and opposition parties – with the support of the UN – agreed to hold legislative elections in late September.

The agreement “has paved the way for the holding of free and transparent and inclusive legislative elections that will allow, at last, all the energies of the Government and the people of that country to be geared towards socio-economic transformation and development,” Mr. Djinnit said.

“While the situation in West Africa remains at a crossroads, I am committed to building on the excellent cooperation and partnership forged with the UN entities in West Africa, the ECOWAS, other regional organizations including the African Union and the Mano River Union as well as other stakeholders,” he added.


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