Africa’s vast Sahel region threatened by terrorism, organized crime, Ban warns

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) visits the Djingareyber Mosque, Timbuktu, during his official visit to Mali in November 2013. UN Photo/Mark Garten

12 December 2013 – Terrorism, trafficking in arms, drugs and people, and other transnational forms of organized crime are threatening security in Africa’s vast sub-Saharan Sahel region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the Security Council today.

“The Sahel’s vast size and long, porous borders mean that such challenges can be addressed successfully only if the countries of the region work together,” he told the Council at the start of a meeting on the situation in the region. The meeting, which also adopted a Presidential Statement, was also addressed by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and Romano Prodi, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel.

“The United Nations will continue its efforts to promote security, good governance and resilience,” he said, calling also for more to be done to address food crises that plague the Sahel as well as to improve conditions in migrants’ communities of origin while generating more legal opportunities for migrants to work abroad.

Mr. Ban recalled his visit with Mr. Kim last month to four Sahel countries - Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad – citing a ‘very moving” visit he made to Timbuktu in northern Mali, a region seized by radical Islamists in 2012 before they were driven out by French-led forces.

“People there are struggling to recover from human rights abuses and upheaval,” he said. “I was given an opportunity to view the cultural treasures that had been damaged in attacks. This was a terrible loss for Mali – and for our common global heritage - but with UNESCO’s (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) help, we are moving to safeguard it.”

But he added that, despite progress made towards re-establishing constitutional order in Mali, which over the past two years has witnessed a military coup d’état, fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure the north by the Islamists, he remains concerned with the security situation.

He called for continued strengthening of The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), a 12,600-strong force set up by the Council in April and authorized “to use all necessary means” to carry out security-related stabilization tasks, protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artefacts, and create the conditions for provision of humanitarian aid.

The Sahel stretches from Mauritania in the west to Eritrea in the east, a vast belt dividing the Sahara desert and the savannahs to the south, which has undergone three major droughts in less than a decade and where more than 11 million people are at risk of hunger and 5 million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition.

Mr. Prodi said that only a strategy going beyond existing efforts would allow the Governments of the region to overcome the immense challenges facing them and move towards long-term peace and stability, and he warned that the current global economic climate and competing needs elsewhere in the world constricted both the attention and funding required.

Efforts undertaken by the UN system in the area of governance include capacity-building to improve delivery of essential services and the promotion of political inclusion, while activities to strengthen national and regional security have focused on border management and the prevention of violent ideology.

In the area of development a pilot programme pledged by the Italian Government to provide solar-powered water purification equipment to hundreds of families will begin shortly.

In a Presidential Statement the Council reiterated its continued concern at “the alarming situation” in the Sahel and reaffirmed its commitment to address the complex security and political challenges there. In light of the challenges, the 15-nation body reaffirmed its request to the Secretary-General to ensure early progress towards the effective implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.

“The Security Council underscores the importance of a coherent, comprehensive and coordinated approach encompassing governance, security, humanitarian, human rights and developmental aspects to respond to the threats to peace and security,” it said, highlighting the importance of sanctions as a tool in countering terrorism.


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