Special Representative, Briefing Security Council, Calls for ‘Innovative Thinking’ to Reduce Election-Generated Tensions in West Africa

17 December 2010

Special Representative, Briefing Security Council, Calls for ‘Innovative Thinking’ to Reduce Election-Generated Tensions in West Africa

17 December 2010
Security Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6455th Meeting (PM)

Special Representative, Briefing Security Council, Calls for ‘Innovative Thinking’

to Reduce Election-Generated Tensions in West Africa


The international community must apply innovative thinking to reduce tensions generated by critical election processes in West Africa, Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the United Nations Office in the subregion told the Security Council today.

Reporting on largely positive developments in the subregion in a briefing to Council members, he said:  “UNOWA (United Nations Office for West Africa) will remain engaged in supporting democratic transition in the subregion, including through electoral processes, so that elections are an effective tool to strengthen democracy and national cohesion and create conditions for development.”  Presenting the Secretary-General’s report on UNOWA’s activities, he pledged that the Office would also pursue efforts to strengthen institutions related to electoral governance and post-electoral mediation.

Among recent developments described in the report, he highlighted the transition in Niger, where the Government, assisted by the United Nations, had curbed an acute food crisis.  There were also promising prospects for the country’s swift return to constitutional order, despite a recent wave of high-profile arrests indicating divisions within the military leadership.  He also underlined the beginning of political dialogue in Mauritania, which he hoped would lead to an improved political atmosphere, and an increasing awareness among Togo’s leaders that the prevailing political stalemate must end, despite tensions remaining from the country’s March 2010 elections.

Six months ago, Guinea had represented one of the subregion’s deepest concerns, he recalled.  Today it ranked among “our best hopes” owing to the strong commitment of Guineans to restore peace and democracy, combined with the relentless efforts of the international community, especially the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations.  However, progress in Guinea remained fragile, he said, adding that he sought the Security Council’s support to meet the legitimate expectations of the Guinean authorities in support of a swift recovery and the delivery of a “peace dividend”.

UNOWA’s priorities in the coming months included security-sector reform, he said, adding that, in liaison with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Office would continue to mobilize the political will required to prevent and combat drug trafficking and organized crime, while supporting implementation of the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan.  Other UNOWA priorities included providing support for the enactment of resolutions and frameworks of action to promote respect for human rights and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in conflict-prevention and conflict-management initiatives in the subregion, he said.

The Special Representative said UNOWA would also continue to support subregional efforts to promote peace and stability in the Sahel belt, build on ongoing efforts to enhance regional cooperation, promote economic and social development, and address common security threats, including terrorism.  It would continue to build its partnership with ECOWAS, the African Union and other regional stakeholders, while promoting synergies within United Nations entities in West Africa, he said.

Mr. Djinnit pledged to help consolidate West Africa’s hard-won achievements and preserve the subregion from further conflict so that the energies and resources of its people could be channelled towards deepening democratic gains and enjoying social and economic “peace dividends”.

The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 3:20 p.m.


The Council had before it the Report of the Secretary-General on the Activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa (document S/2010/614), which covers the period from 1 July to 31 December and outlines developments in the subregion.

Recommending a three-year mandate renewal for the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2013, the Secretary-General welcomes the progress made in the last three years on the prevention and resolution of violent conflict in the subregion, pointing to the peacebuilding processes in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.  He adds that prospects for political stability improved in Guinea, Mauritania and Niger, noting also that Togo peacefully elected a new President in March 2010, and that Mauritania returned to constitutional order after successful presidential elections in June 2009.

In Niger, the transition towards the peaceful restoration of constitutional order remains on course, the report says, also commending Guinea and its regional and international partners on the country’s first truly multiparty presidential elections in June and November 2010 after years of political instability and several cycles of electoral violence.  Regarding the land boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, he welcomes their agreement and urges them to maintain the momentum in its implementation.

However, the report expresses the Secretary-General’s concern that structural weaknesses continue to hamper the ability of States to ensure respect for the rule of law, boost economic growth, address deep-rooted inequalities, fight corruption, reduce youth unemployment, deliver public goods and services, and ensure the adequate distribution of political power.  Food insecurity, especially in Niger and the broader Sahel belt, remains a major humanitarian concern in the subregion, with implications for long-term stability.

According to the report, the Secretary-General recognizes the achievements of such subregional organizations as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union in implementing institutional reforms, as well as strengthening their normative frameworks and capacity for preventing and managing conflict.  He welcomes the strengthened cooperation and partnership between ECOWAS and the African Union, as well as the greater coherence among United Nations entities in West Africa.

Turning to the fight against terrorist activities and the trafficking of drugs and human beings, the report calls for a greater focus on enhancing national capacities to collect, analyse, and exchange information on a regular basis, with stepped-up international support.  He welcomes measures being taken by ECOWAS member States in implementation of the Regional Action Plan to combat organized crime, and encourages all stakeholders to continue implementation of the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI), in the four pilot countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire.

The report cautions that West Africa’s progress in securing peace and stability remain fragile and must be strengthened, stressing that unconstitutional changes of Government have threatened to reverse important democratic gains.  Election-related violence has been a persistent challenge, and insufficient democratic control over national armed forces, poor discipline within security institutions, tense civil-military relations and impunity remain challenges.  In that context, the implementation of recommendations by the International Commission of Inquiry established following the September 2009 incidents in Guinea remain among the highest priorities.

According to the report, the increasing number of requests for UNOWA’s engagement in and support for preventive diplomacy, and in addressing the root causes of conflict, demonstrate its added value.  At the same time, they also constitute a major challenge, given UNOWA’s limited resources.  Support from extrabudgetary funding and the use of consultants has helped in meeting some of these demands, especially in the areas of security-sector reform and mediation.

For that reason, the Secretary-General recommends a three-year extension of UNOWA and proposes changes to its mandate entailing the strengthening of its efforts to prevent violence; the enhancement of national and subregional mediation, conflict-prevention and peacebuilding capacities; and the offer of his good offices to facilitate full implementation of the 10 October 2002 International Court of Justice ruling on the land and maritime boundary dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria.

He says UNOWA will work with other partners to enhance subregional capacities to address cross-border and cross-cutting threats to peace and stability, especially in the Sahel area.  The Office will facilitate the adoption of a regional security-sector reform framework in order to strengthen the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking and election-related instability.

The report concludes by stating that UNOWA will build on its cooperation with regional organizations and other United Nations agencies in working to improve electoral processes, addressing issues of impunity, promoting respect for the rule of law and human rights, and helping to ensure the incorporation of women into peace and security issues, including security-sector reform.  In its enhanced relationships with regional organizations, priority will be given to supporting ECOWAS in the establishment of its mediation division.

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