The Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) told the Security Council this morning that he was setting up a regional task force on the prevention of violent extremism in the region, as he appealed for greater efforts to counter the spread of terrorism and associated lawlessness.
Highlighting issues from the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of UNOWAS (document S/2016/566), Mohamed Ibn Chambas drew the Council’s attention to “the credible and peaceful elections” recently held in Niger, Benin and Cabo Verde, as well as the sentencing by an African court on 30 May of the former President of Chad, Hissène Habré, which sent a strong signal against impunity.
But, he underscored how a perceived lack of opportunities, justice and hope had contributed to the emergence of militant movements in the north of Mali and north-eastern Nigeria and which threatened to destabilize the wider region and the Lake Chad Basin area.
“We must not allow this … to spread,” he told the Council, emphasizing how, across the Sahel, 4.5 million people had already been displaced, with 6 million in need of emergency food assistance and millions of children going without education.
He specifically referred to Boko Haram twice overrunning the Niger city of Bosso in June, killing dozens of soldiers and prompting residents, internally displaced persons and refugees from Nigeria to flee. He also noted terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 15 January and Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, on 13 March, adding that “traffickers, criminals and their collaborators” were expanding their networks amid the lawlessness and insecurity.
He said that, on the heels of a regional conference on 27 and 28 June in Dakar, the new task force would work to facilitate the coordination and complementarity of the Organization’s efforts regarding violent extremism. At the same time, he said, he would keep engaging with national and regional actors on the issue.
While proposing more intelligence-gathering capacities for regional forces mobilized under the multinational joint task force, he appealed for more help for civilians caught up in the tragedy, saying it was “deeply troubling” that only 11 per cent of a $1.98 billion humanitarian appeal launched in December 2015 had been received. He went on to emphasize the need to strengthen democratic governance and to address root causes as essential conflict-prevention tasks.
“Looking at the underlying challenges in the subregion and beyond, we … need to think harder on how we can collectively improve international conflict-prevention efforts before crises escalate beyond control,” he said. “We owe it to the people of West Africa and the Sahel, who have shown such remarkable resilience to persisting multifaceted challenges.”
Looking ahead, Mr. Chambas said the remainder of 2016 would see legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire, presidential elections in the Gambia, legislative and presidential elections in Ghana and long-overdue local elections in Guinea and Togo. He expressed deep concern about repression — and ensuing allegations of torture and death of detainees — in Gambia following peaceful protests in April that had called for electoral reforms. Together with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNOWAS had conducted a high-level joint mission to Gambia and it would continue its engagement to support the people during the electoral process, he said.
Several countries, meanwhile, were reviewing their constitutions, with commissions having been established in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, he said. UNOWAS was helping to support those processes, which had already seen a referendum in Senegal endorsing a shorter presidential term and the submission in Benin of recommended reforms after only six weeks. “We have good hope that these West African and Sahel countries will emerge from these reform efforts more cohesive, better governed and with more women taking part in decision-making,” he said.
In Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, he said, falling oil prices had undermined Government efforts to revamp the economy amid community tensions, disputes over resources and renewed militant movements in the north-east, the Biafra area and the Niger Delta, he said. With the Central Bank unpegging the national currency from the United States dollar likely to trigger price rises and socioeconomic hardship, deeper reforms were needed. Examples from Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and other places demonstrate the strength of policymaking to develop more balanced and resilient economies, he said.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and adjourned at 10:21 a.m.