Humanitarian Affairs Official Says Embattled Cameroon Regions Witnessing One of Africa’s Fastest-Growing Displacement Crises
Central and West African countries must develop strategies with which to tackle the root causes of insurgency, the senior United Nations official in the region told the Security Council today as it considered the activities of the United Nations regional office.
François Louncény Fall, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), warned that a security vacuum would enable the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to step up its activities, noting also the threat posed by the indiscriminate attacks launched by Boko Haram.
Highlighting the positive example of São Tomé and Príncipe, he said the commitment of all stakeholders to resolve their differences through constitutional mechanisms led to the inauguration of the National Assembly. In addition, the situation in Gabon remains calm after the legislative and local elections held in October, he noted. He went on to encourage the authorities in Chad to organize overdue elections, while also expressing concern over the violence and human rights violations in Cameroon’s north-west and south-west regions. He encouraged that country’s Government to address the root causes of the crisis, including through accelerated decentralization.
Also briefing was Reena Ghelani, Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who also cited Cameroon, reporting that its south-west and north-west regions are witnessing one of the fastest‑growing displacement crises in Africa. Several of the humanitarian crises in Central Africa, many of them rooted in armed conflicts, have only intensified in the past six months. The worsening situation in the Central African Republic has had a significant impact on neighbouring countries, she added. She went on to point out that Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger are also affected by the crisis involving Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, where girls remain at risk of kidnapping. With climate change and population growth adding to this vulnerability, the number of individuals in need of humanitarian assistance and protection will increase by 22 per cent in 2019, she continued. Lamenting severe underfunding of humanitarian efforts, she said that in 2018, every single humanitarian response plan in Central Africa was funded at less than the global average.
The representative of the United States, noting that October was Cameroon’s most violent month in recent times, emphasized that the crisis is distracting from security efforts in the Lake Chad Basin. He called upon the Government to ensure unobstructed access to United Nations agencies and humanitarian workers, stressing that the stakes are too high and that a peaceful Cameroon is crucial to stability in Central Africa.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative cautioned against hasty decisions, describing the information regarding Cameroon as contradictory. It is important not to breach the line between prevention and intervention, he emphasized, underlining that the heart of effective crisis prevention in Africa lies in a combination of African leadership and international support.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative recalled that Lake Chad was once a source of life but is now a source of tremendous problems. He went on to highlight the importance of national dialogue in the Central African Republic and of tackling the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also pointing to the threat posed by Boko Haram to children and women in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, he praised UNOCA’s work in a region “dear to the heart of Africans”.
Equatorial Guinea’s representative cited the havoc wreaked by mercenary activities, the unbridled circulation of small arms and light weapons and weak institutions, encouraging UNOCA to foster cooperation among neighbouring countries.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Bolivia, France, China and Kazakhstan.
The meeting started at 10:24 a.m. and ended at 12:28 p.m.
FRANÇOIS LOUNCÉNY FALL, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), presented the latest report of the Secretary‑General (document S/2018/1065). He reported that the National Assembly of São Tomé and Príncipe was inaugurated on 22 November and Delfim Santiago das Neves from the opposition coalition elected as its new President. Commending all stakeholders for their commitment to resolving their differences through constitutional mechanisms, he described it as a positive example to follow. He went on to state that the situation in Gabon remains calm after the legislative and local elections held in October, also noting the speculation over the health of President Ali Bongo Ondimba.
Expressing concern over the situation in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon, he said that “violence has not diminished and there are reports of alleged human rights violations by all sides”. Recalling his November visit to Cameroon and his meetings with key Government officials, he encouraged the national authorities to address the root causes of the crisis, including by accelerating decentralization. Turning to Chad, he said legislative elections scheduled for November 2018 were postponed, noting that they were due since 2015. Encouraging the Chadian authorities to organize the elections as soon as possible, he called upon the international community to help the country and welcomed the effective functioning of the National Framework for Political Dialogue, which is playing a key role in preparations for the elections.
He went on to emphasize that the recent surging violence in the Central African Republic poses a security risk in the subregion and intensifies the need for humanitarian assistance. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remains a threat to the safety of the people of that country and those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, warning that a security vacuum would enable that group to step up its activities. Furthermore, Boko Haram continues to mount indiscriminate attacks against security forces and civilians, he reported, encouraging Central and West African countries to develop strategies for tackling the root causes of insurgency. He also noted that UNOCA’s mandate will be subject to strategic review in 2019 and welcomed the Council’s consistent support.
REENA GHELANI, Director, Operations and Advocacy Division, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said violence, poverty, climate change and population growth are driving record levels of vulnerability among millions of people in Central Africa. The number of individuals needing humanitarian assistance and protection will increase by 22 per cent in 2019, she predicted, noting that half of them are to be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the humanitarian situation deteriorated further in 2018. Emphasizing that the spreading Ebola crisis in the north‑east of the country has claimed 289 lives and is occurring in the context of much wider humanitarian needs, she said the Emergency Relief Coordinator approved a $10 million regional allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) yesterday. With the country also facing the largest cholera outbreak on record in 15 years, the deteriorating security situation in the east has caused large‑scale displacements of people, she said, adding that the influx of more than 360,000 nationals returning from Angola is adding pressure to the fragile Kasaï region.
Turning back to the Central African Republic, she said the humanitarian situation is also extremely dire, with relatively stable areas relapsing into conflict. More than half the population now requires humanitarian assistance and the number of internally displaced people has increased by more than 60 per cent in 2018 alone, reaching 643,000. Even though needs have grown, access to people requiring assistance is harder due to security incidents, she noted. The worsening situation has had a significant impact on such neighbouring countries as Cameroon and Chad, which now host numerous refugees — a significant burden for vulnerable host communities. She went on to point out that Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger are also seriously affected by the crisis involving Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region, where the protection situation is marked by killings, kidnappings, suicide bombings and other attacks, as well as high levels of sexual and gender‑based violence. Girls are still at serious risk of kidnapping and are used to carry out suicide attacks, she added.
Noting that internal displacement has tripled in Cameroon’s south‑west and north‑west regions in the past six months, she said the situation amounts to one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa. Noting with great concern the deteriorating protection of civilians in those regions, she said humanitarian partners are scaling up their presence despite limited access. However, severe underfunding has a significant impact on their ability to respond, she added, pointing out that every single humanitarian response plan in Central Africa was funded at less than the global average in 2018, Cameroon being the least funded. Calling upon Member States for support, she stressed that the situation must change for the humanitarian response to be fully effective. She went on to underline that, not only did the humanitarian crises in Central Africa persist over the past six months, but several of them have grown further. Since many are rooted in armed conflicts, the Council’s strong engagement and action is required to notably strengthen the protection of civilians, she added.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) welcomed UNOCA’s holistic approach, noting that it is essential to improving the political and humanitarian situation while addressing root causes. He encouraged UNOCA to continue to build the capacity of regional organizations, including through early warning systems. Turning to Cameroon, he said that he recognizes the many positive contributions the country is making to stability in the region, including its commitment to fighting Boko Haram. However, the rapidly deteriorating situation in the north‑west and south‑west regions, and the high levels of displacement are of concern, he said, noting that 30,000 Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria. He urged the Government to actively address the situation through increased dialogue and confidence‑building measures, adding that his country’s Government will contribute $3.1 million to the United Nations response in the Anglophone region.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), expressing concern over the way in which climate change is aggravating conflict between farmers and herders in Chad and the Central African Republic, welcomed the regional plan to reinforce prevention at the national and regional levels. Turning to Cameroon, he deplored the acute humanitarian situation there and the massive displacement in the north‑west and south‑west regions, noting reports of abductions and extrajudicial killings. The crisis may drive regional instability, affecting the fight against terrorism in the Lake Chad Basin and peacebuilding in the Central African Republic, he warned, urging all parties to end the violence immediately. He encouraged the Government of Cameroon to seek support from the United Nations and regional actors. Expressing alarm over increased attacks by Boko Haram in the wider Lake Chad Basin, he called upon the international community to increase support for national and regional efforts to address the situation and welcomed UNOCA’s efforts to implement the regional strategy for stabilization, recovery and resilience in areas where violence has occurred.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), noting that October was Cameroon’s most violent month in recent times — with November looking as though it could surpass that mark — emphasized: “We do not want that horrible trend to continue into December.” Recalling the killing of a United States missionary on 30 October,, he said hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced. The stakes in Cameroon are too high for the crisis to continue, he said, noting that it is distracting from security efforts in the Lake Chad Basin region. Urging all sides to forswear violence and resolve grievances through dialogue, he pointed to the creation of a Government‑led humanitarian assistance centre as a promising sign, while calling upon the Government to do more to ensure unobstructed access to United Nations agencies and humanitarian workers. A peaceful and stable Cameroon is crucial to stability in central Africa, he stressed.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) noted that indiscriminate violence by the army and armed groups in Cameroon has displaced more than 437,000 people and risks spilling over into the wider region. Expressing support for the country’s territorial integrity, she called upon the Government of Cameroon to begin meaningful, inclusive dialogue with all parties, including female representatives. Human rights violations by all parties must be investigated and perpetrators held to account, she emphasized. Turning to the conflict in the Lake Chad Basin region, she stressed the urgent need to address its root causes, including climate change and water stress. As for the complex situation in Central Africa, she called for different United Nations offices in the region to maximize cooperation, with a clear role for UNOCA to focus on preventing conflict thanks to its unique position as a regional office. She welcomed the Special Representative’s engagement in peaceful elections in countries not served by other United Nations offices, including Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru) affirmed his delegation’s support for UNOCA’s activities in countering cross‑border threats, supporting electoral processes and fostering national and regional dialogue. Peru condemns the terrorism of Boko Haram, LRA and other violent groups. The complex crises in Central Africa are compounded by climate change, he said, expressing appreciation for international capacity‑building efforts for the benefit of the region’s vulnerable people, and for assistance in improving the management of natural resources. He emphasized the importance of greater participation by young people in civil and political life, and of coordination with regional and subregional organizations, calling upon the international community to focus further on root causes of problems in the region and guarantee safe access for humanitarian workers.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), strongly supporting the extension of UNOCA’s mandate, welcomed its coordination with the secretariat of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) on a range of issues, from cross‑border threats to maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. He encouraged the Office to continue to foster cooperation between neighbouring countries and to work more closely with regional and subregional organizations. Noting that mercenary activities conducted by reckless individuals are destabilizing the region, taking advantage of the unbridled circulation of arms and weak institutions to wreak havoc. He underlined UNOCA’s crucial role in promoting cooperation against such threats as well as dialogue, stability and peaceful elections in the region. Equatorial Guinea calls upon all actors to promote further inclusive dialogue in order to achieve the African Union’s Agenda 2063, he said, noting that it requires input from all stakeholders, and appealing for greater international support for dialogue and political stability in neighbouring Cameroon.
PAWEŁ RADOMSKI (Poland) noted the continued serious political and security challenges in Central Africa despite some positive developments towards democratic governance. Expressing concern about the human rights situation in the subregion, he urged authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi to take immediate steps to prevent further violations and abuses of citizens, also calling upon the authorities in Cameroon to engage mediation efforts and resolve the crisis in its western region. The situation in the Central Africa remains complex and fragile, he said, noting that climate change is a root cause of the conflict there and a threat multiplier, requiring States to strengthen their resilience and adapt to that risk. He also expressed concern over acts of terrorism and violent extremism by Boko Haram and the LRA, saying they pose a serious security threat across the region. In that context, he welcomed the decision by the African Union Peace and Security Council to maintain the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) emphasized that the heart of effective crisis prevention in Africa lies in a combination of African leadership and international support. Applauding the joint initiatives of Central African countries to counter Boko Haram, he called upon UNOCA to step up its engagement with regional stakeholders, stressing that Boko Haram’s terrorist activity remains the foremost threat to regional peace, especially in the Lake Chad Basin region. Destabilization in the region is exacerbated by the collapse of statehood in Libya, he noted, also expressing concern about armed groups in the Central African Republic and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Turning to Cameroon, he said the information available is contradictory, emphasizing that the Council must not take any hasty decisions. Citing concerns over rights violations in that country, he expressed hope that “London and Washington will adopt equally principled positions on the rights of Russian speakers in the Balkans and Ukraine”. Underlining the importance of not breaching the line between prevention and intervention, he expressed his country’s willingness to offer assistance if Cameroon deems it necessary.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said major political developments in the Lake Chad Basin region are related to upcoming presidential, parliamentary and local elections on 23 December, and congratulated the Special Representative’s use of his good offices to help avoid or manage violence. Pointing to rising aggression in cattle rustling and transhumance‑related clashes in the Central African Republic and Chad, she encouraged UNOCA to support inter‑State and intercultural mediation efforts. Despite peacebuilding efforts in the region, armed violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and repeated attacks by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region means remain a serious preoccupation, she emphasized. The deteriorating humanitarian situation there and in the Central African Republic is related to land degradation and diminishing resources, she added, noting that they are driving chronic food insecurity and loss of livelihoods. Noting efforts by Central African States to stabilize their economies, she said the international community’s help is vital. Praising the efforts of the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission in stabilizing areas affected by Boko Haram, she expressed strong support for efforts by UNOCA, the Special Representative and regional actors towards the African Union vision, “Silence the Guns in Africa by 2020”.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), noting that elections have taken place in many countries of the region without major violence, despite volatile political situations, expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Cameroon. He also voiced hope that elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will take place in a transparent and inclusive fashion, emphasizing that free elections and peaceful transfer of power are important for peace and security in the region. Reaffirming the importance of UNOCA, regional organizations and peacekeeping efforts, he said they must work together to ensure inclusive dialogue in States where elections are taking place. Expressing alarm about armed conflict claiming innocent lives, he stressed: “We need to find radical solutions.”
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) welcomed the calm prevailing during recent elections in Central Africa and called for continued efforts to foster national dialogue in the region’s countries. Commending UNOCA’s efforts in that context, she also praised its work in support of a regional action plan on women, peace and security, in encouraging the participation of youth in civic life and in strengthening regional coordination to counter current threats. In the latter context, she reiterated the call to replicate the G5 Sahel arrangement to counter threats in the Lake Chad Basin, such as that posed by Boko Haram. The international community should strengthen its focus on the management of resources, the illicit trade in which funds violence by the LRA and other groups, she said. Turning to Cameroon, she affirmed the Government’s primary role in tackling challenges through inclusive dialogue.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), welcoming the extension of UNOCA’s mandate, said its work shows the importance of a regional approach to countering conflict. Expressing concern over the situation in the Central African Republic, she emphasized the importance of implementing the African Union roadmap through inclusive dialogue as the only route forward. Impunity must be ended, she stressed, adding that acute poverty must be addressed through humanitarian assistance. Expressing alarm at the situation in parts of Cameroon, she pledged further efforts to encourage the Government to foster dialogue, decentralize power and hold violators of human rights accountable. On the Democratic Republic of Congo, she urged the Government to set the stage for credible elections in a peaceful manner. Concerning Burundi, she reiterated her delegation’s support for mediation facilitated by ECCAS and arrangements for credible elections. She went on to underline the importance of holistic efforts to consolidate stability through regional approaches of offices such as UNOCA.
WU HAITAO (China) acknowledged the political progress in Central Africa, saying it has strengthened regional coordination. Calling upon the international community to further support regional efforts to counter the threats posed by violent groups such as Boko Haram, he emphasized the importance of respecting African leadership as an essential element of international support for regional initiatives. The international community must respect the perspectives of the countries concerned and enhance their ability to face challenges, he added. Commending UNOCA’s efforts to foster dialogue and cooperation, he urged greater support for such efforts as well as promotion of economic development in the region, adding saying that China, in coordination with all actors, will continue its support in those areas.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) expressed concern over the violence perpetrated by armed groups in the Central African Republic and strongly condemned the increasing incitement to ethnic and religious hatred and violence. Noting the important role played by the African Union and ECCAS, he expressed support for the African Initiative, saying its effectiveness can be increased by further strengthening the political and financial obligations of regional guarantors and international partners. He went on to commend the decision to maintain the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army, calling upon on the African Union and international partners to renew their support for the mechanism. He encouraged international partners to speedily disburse their pledges to address the security and humanitarian situation in the Lake Chad Basin region, as well as the terrorist attacks and destabilizing activities of Boko Haram and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). The illicit influx of small arms and light weapons throughout the region has exacerbated the challenges posed by widespread violent extremism, continuing threats to cross‑border security as well as crime, he noted, calling on countries that are yet to ratify the Central African Convention on the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons to do so. It is important that the African Union, the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the United Nations continue to formulate and implement a well‑coordinated regional strategy to address the root causes of the crisis, which are transnational, he said.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, expressing appreciation for UNOCA’s tremendous efforts in a region that is “dear to the heart of Africans”. He said that Lake Chad, once a source of life, is now a source of tremendous problems, noting the devastating consequences of the multifaceted security and humanitarian challenges in the region. In the Central African Republic, national dialogue is crucial in the absence of State authority in vast parts of the national territory, the contradictory approaches of different armed groups, and resurgent ethnic violence, he added. Emphasizing the critical need to battle the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said that will create a favourable environment for restoring peace. Persistent threat of Boko Haram has devastating repercussions, especially for children and women in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, he said, welcoming the establishment of a regional stabilization recovery and resilience strategy endorsed by the African Union.