8 January 2015
7357th Meeting (PM)

Across West Africa, Unparalleled Public Health Crisis, Political Tensions, Insecurity, Terrorism Threaten to Derail Elections, Security Council Told

West Africa’s political landscape remained delicate as nations across the region continued to grapple with insecurity, terrorist threats and tensions ahead of a busy election cycle, the United Nations senior official there told the Security Council this afternoon.

“Recent developments demonstrate the fragile political situation in many West African nations in the lead-up to presidential and legislative elections in 2015-2016,” said Mohamed ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), as he introduced the Secretary-General’s report on that Office’s activities (document S/2014/945) during the second half of 2014.

Tensions in some countries, he said, were fuelled by popular resistance to incumbent leaders’ attempts to hold onto power through constitutional revisions.  Citing examples, Mr. Chambas said that, in Burkina Faso, where presidential and legislative elections were set for November 2015, an uprising last October had led to the abrupt resignation of President Blaise Compaore, after he sought to amend the Constitution to run for a third term.

A joint mission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union and United Nations helped secure an agreement among national stakeholders for a civilian-led transition, he said.  An international follow-up and support group intended to aid that process would hold its first meeting in mid-January in Ouagadougou.

In the Gambia, forces loyal to President Yahya Jammeh defeated a 30 December 2014 coup attempt — the third in the past eight years, he said.  Expressing “firm condemnation of any attempt to seize power by unconstitutional means”, Mr. Chambas said he would visit the nation’s capital, Banjul, from 14 to 15 January, and encouraged Gambian authorities to work with international partners to ensure credible judicial process and respect for human rights.

Presidential elections were also scheduled for next year in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Nigeria and Togo.  Citizens staged demonstrations in November and December in Togo’s capital, Lome, over the failure to introduce presidential term limits and reform of the single-round voting system.  Those issues, he said, required immediate Government attention to ease tensions.  In the coming weeks, his Office would work closely with authorities in Togo, and in neighbouring Benin, where the introduction of electronic voter registration lists was delayed, to lay the ground for peaceful and credible elections in both nations.

In Nigeria, he noted, general elections would soon take place amid the violent insurgency waged by Boko Haram in the north-east and sectarian conflicts in the north, central and north-west.  The security situation in the north-east remained dire despite national and regional efforts, with civilians in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States repeatedly attacked in the past six months, he said.  Counter-insurgency methods had failed to adequately protect civilians.  More than 300,000 Nigerians had fled to north-western Cameroon and south-western Niger.

His Office was working with members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission — Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria — to address regional aspects of the crisis, he said.  And later this month, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force would hold the first of a series of workshops for law enforcement officials on human rights, the rule of law and the prevention of terrorism.

As Chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, which aids in the demarcation of the two countries’ border, Mr. Chambas said efforts were under way to address delays in the demarcation and complete the project.

Among other persisting challenges in the region, violent piracy in the Gulf of Guinea continued to hinder economy and trade, he said, and despite progress in developing maritime security infrastructure, more efforts were needed to resolve maritime border disputes.

The Ebola outbreak — first reported in March 2014 — had caused at least 8,200 deaths and plunged the region into an unparalleled public health crisis, he said.  In mid-November, he and the President of ECOWAS had visited the three most-affected countries — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.  “We must ensure that the aftermath of the outbreak does not reverse the gains made during years of peacebuilding activities,” he stressed.

The meeting started at 3:18 p.m. and adjourned at 3:31 p.m.

For information media. Not an official record.