Terrorism remains major threat in West Africa despite electoral progress – senior UN official

Countless schools have been destroyed by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. Photo: Mohammad Ibrahim/IRIN

14 January 2016 – While peaceful and credible elections were held in several countries in West Africa in the past six months, violent extremism continues to pose a serious threat throughout the area, the top United Nations official for the region warned today.

“Violent extremism and terrorist activities remain a major threat to security and development in West Africa, further aggravating the region's humanitarian challenges,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), told the Security Council.

“While some progress has been made in the fight against Boko Haram, the terrorist group continues its indiscriminate attacks against civilians not only in Nigeria, but also in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. Boko Haram continues to adapt its tactics, and is increasingly resorting to using young boys and girls for suicide attacks.”

He noted that countries in the region have intensified their efforts to combat the terrorist threats, improving cooperation in areas such as intelligence sharing.

But, he added: “It is also crucial for countries of West and Central Africa to also work on developing strategies that address the root causes of the insurgency, and notably the underlying socio-economic grievances of marginalized communities.”

Turning to positive political developments, Mr. Chambas cited the “exemplary conduct and peaceful and responsible participation” in Burkina Faso’s presidential and legislative elections, held in a timely manner despite challenges that emerged from a failed coup in September.

In Guinea a dialogue, supported by the UN together with regional and international actors, enabled the peaceful holding of elections in accordance with constitutional deadlines, “an important milestone in the country's process of democratic consolidation,” he noted.

Peaceful polls were also conducted in Côte d’Ivoire, while in Nigeria a new Government was elected, committed to actively combating corruption, contributing “to the creation of an environment that will allow the country to realize its full economic potential,” he said, adding that: “These developments demonstrate the democratic resolve of the people of West Africa.”

Five presidential elections are scheduled to take place this year – in Benin, Cabo Verde, Gambia, Ghana and Niger.

“In the lead-up to these elections, I will continue to call on national stakeholders to utilize dialogue to resolve outstanding electoral-related issues so as to create a conducive environment for the holding of peaceful, credible and inclusive elections,” Mr. Chambas said.

He also cited progress on security sector reform with the appointment of a UN adviser to support Guinea’s President Alpha Condé in his efforts to advance such reform.

Concerning drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, he noted a regional commitment to fight this scourge, but regretted that progress has been slower in the area of maritime security in the Gulf, with the Inter-regional Coordination Centre still not fully operational.

UNOWA was the first UN regional conflict prevention and peacebuilding office, created in 2002 to enhance the achievement of peace and security in West Africa and promote an integrated regional approach to issues impacting stability.

“I salute the resilience of the people of West Africa in overcoming adversity and their commitment to uphold democratic principles, and I want to assure you that the UNOWA will not relent in accompanying their efforts toward enhanced democracy and sustainable development,” Mr. Chambas concluded.

“In light of the support this Council has consistently provided to our engagements, I am confident that the United Nations will continue to remain a most relevant partner to the countries and institutions of the West African region,” he said.


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