Press Conference by Head of United Nations Office for West Africa

13 May 2010

Press Conference by Head of United Nations Office for West Africa

13 May 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Head of United Nations Office for West Africa


The United Nations was fully behind the electoral process in Guinea and confident that the elections set for 27 June would proceed smoothly, and it was equally engaged in the first round of elections in Niger, penned in the calendar towards the end of the year by the new leadership there in an effort to make the post-coup transition a short one, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) said today.


The time had come for peace in Guinea, declared Special Envoy Said Djinnit at a Headquarters press conference, and nothing should be done to disturb the electoral process now in motion and expected to culminate in the 27 June poll.  He said he looked forward to the period beyond the elections when “real transition” would start for that long-ravaged West African nation.


Mr. Djinnit discussed recent political and other developments in the subregion, including the food crisis in Niger.  Of Guinea, he said:  “That country has been unfortunate -- being so wealthy, so rich in terms of resources but at the same time, so poor both in terms of economically and governance-wise.”  The opportunity presented by the forthcoming elections was great for the nation to build its own capacity and promote progress throughout the territory. 


Recent developments in Guinea had been particularly encouraging, he said.  The United Nations, together with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, and other members of the international community and within the context of the International Contact Group on Guinea, had been actively involved in efforts to help the stakeholders there return to constitutional order as soon as possible through the holding of elections in June.


While there had been attempts by some stakeholders nationally to delay the elections, his office, working with the African Union and ECOWAS, had recently succeeded in ensuring that the necessary legislative and other key documents needed to hold the election were in place.  Thus, he was confident that the elections would go ahead as scheduled.  “It is a matter of pride for all of us that we have been able to work together and to overcome that tension which prevailed and which could jeopardize the whole transition,” he stated.


As most of the elections in the subregion had been “an opportunity for tension”, the United Nations was doing everything to help Guinea conduct peaceful elections, he said, highlighting two upcoming United Nations-led meetings with that in mind.  The first was on the security environment during the elections, and the second would be a women’s forum, aimed at mobilizing women to play a positive role during the electoral process, especially in appealing for a peaceful poll.


The United Nations was also engaged in joint security sector reform exercises with ECOWAS and the African Union, with the support of other partners, including the European Union and the United States, among others, he said.  Operating out of its headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, UNOWA focused on helping the region by mobilizing the United Nations system and working closely with the institutions of the region -- ECOWAS, the African Union and others –- towards achieving and consolidating peace and security in the subregion.


He noted that the United Nations was equally engaged in Niger.  The leadership that had come in following the coup there had committed itself to a short transition and had now decreed that the first round of elections would be held towards the end of this year and would continue into the first part of next year.  In all, the transition would not last more than one year.  The schedule had been the result of several interventions by the United Nations, ECOWAS and the African Union, which had urged the leadership to return to constitutional order and stability.  Having known more than 10 years of stability, Niger had become a source of pride in the region.  The United Nations fully supported all efforts to alleviate the effects of the food crisis that had affected not just Niger, but the entire Sahel region.  He urged the new leadership to recognize the magnitude of the crisis and to be transparent about it and cooperate with the international community.  He was pleased at the leadership’s cooperation thus far.


The United Nations was fully committed to supporting fragile nations and democracies, particularly during election periods because that was often their challenging time in West Africa.  The Organization was committed to supporting all initiatives aimed at consolidating the hard-won achievements in the subregion. 


Asked how his office coordinated with the Millennium Development Goals programme, which relied in part on good governance and the countries themselves to have the capacity to be able to utilize the development aid on which that programme depended, he said his office worked closely with the United Nations entities in the subregion.  Most of the Organization’s regional offices were in Dakar, and most were involved in one way or another in the follow-up and implementation and in supporting the countries towards achieving the Goals.


A correspondent asked about an announcement by the Guinean Government that all aspiring political candidates in the national elections would be required to pay a minimum of $100,000 in order to stand in the elections.  He said he had only learned of that this morning and had not had a chance to confer with some of his colleagues in Guinea.  However, he thought the amount was “a little bit too high”, especially bearing in mind that the United Nations had always called for an all-inclusive electoral process.  “So, anything that could be perceived as removing that sense of inclusiveness in the process could be problematic,” he said.


While some of the country’s traditional and major political parties would have no problem raising those amounts of money, he added, it was important that the issue gained some kind of consensus among the electoral participants before it was implemented.  He urged stakeholders not to make that a source of tension, because other difficulties so far had been resolved amicably.


To a question about the legal status of Guinean leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in Burkina Faso following the attempt on his life at home, he said the understanding reached between Captain Camara and the acting chairman of Guinea's interim leadership, General Sékouba Konaté, was that Guinea’s leader accepted a continuation of his “rehabilitation”, either in Ouagadougou or abroad, while the transition would continue to be led by General Konaté.


“So, formally, Captain Dadis Camara remains the formal President of the Republic of Guinea while the interim is assumed by General Konaté, who is the head of the transition, the President of the transition in full,” he said.  His understanding was that Captain Camara was comfortable in Burkina Faso and was “quiet” and that he supported all that had been going on in the country since he left the country.


“We would like him to continue with this attitude.  We would like him to continue to call whoever follows him to support the transition and to go for peaceful elections,” he said.


Mr. Djinnit said he would return to New York in July to introduce the Report of the Secretary-General on West Africa and UNOWA’s activities.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.