Briefers, Delegates Blame Extremism, Climate Change, Collapse of Libyan State for Rising Instability in Sahel
The root causes of conflict between farmers and herders and other drivers of intercommunal and extremist violence must be urgently addressed in a holistic manner to stop rising instability in West Africa, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for that region told the Security Council today.
“Terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence can easily intertwine,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Briefing by video teleconference from Dakar, Senegal, he emphasized that while the drivers of violence must be addressed in a holistic manner, the individual characteristics of extremism and intercommunal violence must not be ignored.
He noted that, amid poor management of natural resources, inequalities, marginalization, corruption and gaps in security and justice, there has been a sharp upsurge in intercommunal violence recently, with relentless attacks by extremist groups against both civilians and security forces, adding that since 70 per cent of West Africa’s population rely on agriculture or husbandry, reconciling the two groups is absolutely necessary.
UNOWAS has been working with Governments facing great risks, he continued, adding that all United Nations actors have increased cross‑pillar coherence, with security, human rights and development activities supporting Governments. Country teams have also renewed their focus on governance, he noted, while emphasizing that regional organizations are in the best situation to provide a framework for preventing and resolving local conflicts and eliciting critical support from civil society, particularly young people. In that regard, he called for support from the Security Council and the rest of the international community for the implementation of the Bamako Declaration on conflict prevention in West Africa and while affirming the undeterred solidarity of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in facing all challenges. “Security Council support cannot falter at this juncture,” he stressed.
Also briefing members was Smaїl Chergui, the African Union’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, who briefed via video teleconference from Addis Ababa. Welcoming the Council’s discussion of the link between intercommunal violence and terrorism in West Africa for the first time, he said it is a bitter reality that concerns everyone and which should be addressed responsibility and collectively. The situation is alarming, he emphasized, citing the incidents occurring in Niger and Mali recently and almost daily in Burkina Faso. Climate change is exacerbating the situation, he added.
Reviewing the African Union’s support for regional efforts to address the situation, including the Bamako Declaration, he warned, however, that the reality is that despite all efforts, “we are not reversing this trend” and the situation is getting worse. “We need a reset”, including a rethink of the manner in which military support is provided in the region, and a holistic approach to strengthening the State presence in peripheral areas, he said. For those purposes, the African Union and the United Nations should create a specific joint implementation mechanism, he recommended.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed alarm over the rise of intercommunal and extremist violence in the region, with most extending condolences, condemning the 10 December attack that killed 71 Nigerian soldiers near the border with Mali. Most speakers endorsed the need for a holistic approach to helping the States of West Africa and the Sahel build capacity under the regional framework in order to meet complex threats.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, described the past year as one of the darkest in Africa’s history due to the rise in both intercommunal violence and extremist attacks. Calling for much greater international solidarity in support of the Bamako Declaration and other regional initiatives, he also paid tribute to the soldiers of many nations who have lost their lives fighting armed groups, and expressed hope that “their blood will fertilize the peace that all wish to see”.
The representative of the United States called upon countries with the ability to do so to step up their assistance, affirming the need for a multidimensional approach. She also called for greater commitment and coordination between States of the region, particularly in relation to implementation of the peace agreement in Mali, humanitarian access and other areas.
A concept note prepared by the United States presidency, which co‑organized the meeting with Côte d’Ivoire, notes that West Africa’s population of more than 350 million is divided into numerous ethnicities, and that a rapidly growing population as well as desertification have increased competition for land. Terrorist groups often exploit the resulting intercommunal tensions and the absence of an effective State presence, it states, noting that given the lack of State security, terrorist threats and cross‑fire from counter‑terrorism operations, communities often arm and mobilize for protection, further increasing tensions.
The Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation shares the concern of others that Al‑Qaida, Boko Haram and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) are strengthening their foothold in Africa, while emphasizing that conflict between farmers and nomadic herders is not the cause, but rather the consequence. A balanced approach to the problem must address external intervention, in particular the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) action in Libya, he said, emphasizing that until that State’s collapse is reversed, it will be impossible to stabilize West Africa and the Sahel.
Also speaking today were representatives of China, Poland, Peru, United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, France, Indonesia, Dominican Republic and Belgium.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.
MOHAMED IBN CHAMBAS, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), briefed by video teleconference from Dakar, Senegal, saying that the region has been shaken by violence in recent months marked by relentless attacks against civilians and military forces. He saluted the courage of civilians and security forces working across the region. “Terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence can easily be intertwined, but also must be differentiated,” he said, noting that factors behind them include poor management of natural resources, inequalities, marginalization, corruption, lack of services in conflict areas, insufficient security and inadequate justice sectors.
Armed groups can exploit local resentments and long‑standing grievances to spread extremism, he continued, adding that tensions between herders and extremists have certainly risen due to the degradation of land, climate change and the ready availability of weapons. However, tensions differ from one country to the next, he pointed out, emphasizing that since 70 per cent of West Africans rely on agriculture or husbandry, reconciling the two groups is absolutely necessary. UNOWAS has been working with Governments that are facing great risks, he reported, noting that Burkina Faso especially has seen extremist and intercommunal violence in its northern and central north regions displacing more than 500,000 people. In response, United Nation actors have increased cross‑pillar coherence, with security, human rights and development activities supporting Governments with the ultimate aim of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Country teams also have a renewed focus on governance, he said, pointing out, however, that regional organizations are in the best situation to provide a framework for the prevention and resolution of local conflicts.
Calling upon the Security Council and the rest of the international community to support implementation of the Bamako Declaration, he said regional efforts have led to dialogue and reconciliation between farmers and herders in Mali, Niger and Nigeria and best practices are being developed. Regional actors are also best placed to motivate grass‑roots action by civil society and the involvement of women and young people is critical to curbing violent extremism and intolerance, he continued. To address the religious dimension of the conflicts, interfaith coalitions have been acting to curtail recruitment by Boko Haram in addition to other initiatives. The Security Council can play a decisive role in supporting all such efforts, he said, stressing that assistance with security and law enforcement efforts remain vital, as does action against crime and illicit trade. Illegal trafficking in gold, in particular, has been increasing greatly, he noted. Affirming the undeterred solidarity of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in facing all such challenges, he underlined that “Security Council support cannot falter at this juncture”.
SMAÏL CHERGUI, Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, briefed via video teleconference from Addis Ababa, commending the Council for discussing the link between intercommunal violence and terrorism in West Africa for the first time. Describing it as a bitter reality that concerns everyone and which should be addressed responsibility and collectively, he emphasized that the situation is alarming, citing recent incidents occurring in Niger and Mali as well as almost daily in Burkina Faso, while noting that armed groups are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Climate change is exacerbating the situation, while the danger of food insecurity will test the resilience of local populations for years to come. The humanitarian situation requires immediate attention, he stressed, noting the actions of violent extremist groups are forcing the closure of schools. States have a limited presence in peripheral areas and even in places where Government authority exists, challenges persist, while trust and confidence in traditional conflict‑management mechanisms are being eroded, he said.
Reviewing the African Union’s support for regional efforts to address the situation, he said the Bamako Declaration contains a set of recommendations for dealing with local conflicts, which the African Union Peace and Security Council welcomed on 13 December in the context of the Silencing the Guns in 2020 initiative. Nevertheless, the reality is that despite all efforts, “we are not reversing this trend” and the situation is getting worse, he cautioned. Beyond calling upon the Security Council to support the Bamako Declaration, “we need a reset”, including a rethink of the manner in which military support is provided to countries of the region, and a holistic approach to strengthening the presence of States in peripheral areas, including the ability to deliver basic services, such as the rule of law, and mitigating the impacts of climate change. He went on to recommend that the African Union and the United Nations co‑chair an implementation mechanism. The lack of solidarity with the region is troubling, he said, stressing that the international community is dealing with threats that respect no boundaries. Partnership between the African Union and the United Nations has come a long way and nowhere is it more needed than in West Africa and the Sahel, he added.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), extending her condolences for the more than 70 soldiers from Niger killed on 10 December, said their sacrifice forms the backdrop for today’s meeting. She went on to affirm that extremist groups, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Boko Haram, have devastated the region, emphasizing that citizens must have the confidence that their Governments can protect them or they will turn to armed groups to do so. However, a military response alone cannot inoculate societies against violence, she cautioned, noting that social resiliency, good governance and an active civil society able to hold up the social contract with Governments are also necessary. Pointing out that her country provides more than $5.5 billion for stability in West Africa, including for addressing underlying drivers of conflict, she said it builds the capacity of young people and provides support for livelihoods and for countering violent extremism. Greater commitment from regional Governments is needed, she said. The United States supports Nigeria’s efforts to counter the effects of Boko Haram, but there is need for unhindered humanitarian access to areas affected by the group, she added, expressing concern that the Government of Mali and armed groups have not made sufficient progress in implementing their peace agreement. If Governments work together with their international partners, the Council and regional organizations, all pressing issues can be confronted, she said.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) spoke also on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, noting that the damage caused by intercommunal violence and violent extremism can best be seen in the sacrifice of soldiers from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, who have paid the ultimate price in defending their countries. “Their blood will fertilize the peace that all wish to see,” he said. The Bamako Declaration on resources and communal violence can help to bring that peace about, he said. Describing the past year as one of the darkest in Africa’s history due to the rise in extremist attacks and intercommunal violence, particularly in areas where State presence is inadequate, he emphasized that marginalization, insecurity and lack of basic infrastructure create a breeding ground for both. Responses to the violence must take root causes into account, he said, affirming the need for a multidimensional approach based on building the capacity of States, particularly in terms of security and development.
There is also a need to step up international support for the G5 Sahel countries so that their joint force can become fully operational, he said, while stressing that development support is also critical. Bold and inclusive dialogue must be encouraged within and between communities so that the needs of all are taken into account, he added, underlining the importance of civil society and the media in encouraging dialogue. Media are also vital to raising awareness of the need for tolerance and social cohesion and to counter the rhetoric of extremist groups, he said. Strong local ownership is needed in all efforts, as is further coordination between all States through the exchange of good practices and information. Mali, Niger and other regional countries are the “last seawall” preventing extremist groups from flooding coastal Africa and establishing an Islamic caliphate, he warned. Partners should increase their assistance in that context and the Council must redouble its efforts to find a lasting solution to the conflict in Libya, which has exacerbated conflict and allowed terrorist groups to take root in the region.
ZHANG JUN (China) said the situation in West Africa is generally stable, with countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire graduating from the Council’s agenda and embarking on the path to sustainable development. However, the region is also facing challenges requiring international support, he noted, emphasizing the need to accelerate development in West Africa through using the full force of increased investment and trade to eradicate poverty. The right to development should be guaranteed for different communities, he said, noting China’s active role in helping the region through infrastructure development and scholarships, among other ways. While the international community must promote the political settlement of hotspot issues, China supports Africa solving African problems “in an African way”, he added.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said his delegation shares the concern of other Council members that Al‑Qaida, Boko Haram and ISIL/Da’esh are strengthening their foothold in Africa. Emphasizing that conflict between farmers and nomadic herders is not a cause of the problem, but the consequence, he said root causes cannot be attributed to domestic economic and political woes. There is need for a balanced approach that embraces all factors, including external intervention, he said, asserting that West Africa is reaping the fruits of the collapse of Libyan statehood due to the intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Without a solution in Libya, it will be virtually impossible to reliably stabilize West Africa and the Sahel, he stressed, noting his country’s military and technical assistance to the region and calling upon other States to bolster multifaceted counter‑terrorism assistance.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the international community must reinforce the resilience of West African countries to emerging threats, including those based on ethnic and religious factors. Religious institutions are particularly important but imams, mosques and madrassas may be insufficiently prepared to play their part, especially when internal governance mechanisms are weak or non‑existent, she noted. It is equally important to strengthen the capacity of local governments to prevent intertribal conflicts and fight disseminated stereotypes, who may be intent on marginalizing social and political groups in order to destabilize the region, she cautioned. Communities marginalized from political processes and suffering from effects of underdevelopment, poor service delivery and high unemployment levels are extremely vulnerable to the influence of violent extremist groups, she said, emphasizing the need to empower them as a vital force of change.
LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) said the threats confronting West Africa are at odds with the region’s potential for sustainable development. Condemning recent attacks, he emphasized the need to tackle the link between terrorism and organized crime as well as the importance of strengthening State capacities in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The sources of logistical support for terrorism, including the trafficking of illicit drugs bound for Europe, must be identified and dismantled, he said, adding that root causes must also be countered. He went on to cite the impacts of climate change, demographic pressures and the absence of effective State presence, stressing that there is no better prophylactic to violent extremism than sustainable development that entails the participation of women and young people.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom), citing his personal experience in the region, said instability in West Africa cannot be solved by the United Nations alone, nor through purely military or counter‑terrorist activities. Corruption, the absence of basic services and the lack of prospects for young people must be addressed, together with the impacts of climate change and cross‑border organized criminal networks, he said. Tackling such challenges requires a comprehensive approach across all three pillars of the United Nations, in addition to coordinated efforts by all partners. Noting his country’s support for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the Multinational Joint Task Force and the G5 Sahel Force, he said the United Kingdom will host a conference in 2020 with the aim of mobilizing high‑quality investment for West Africa and the Sahel. While States must take the lead in delivering for their citizens, security can only be sustained through good governance and the rule of law, which are in turn precursors to investment and growth that lifts people out of poverty, he added.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) noted the lack of basic services and security in West Africa, pointing to the region’s 2,800 closed schools, malfunctioning justice systems, corruption, marginalized populations, disadvantaged youth, severe gender inequality and climate change‑related conflicts. Individual States are responsible for resolving these challenges, although ECOWAS and the African Union are providing critical support, he said, adding that the United Nations must provide holistic support. A military solution is impossible without good governance and respect for human rights as well as international humanitarian law, he emphasized, noting that Germany is working in the region to strengthen confidence in the rule of law, improve the management of migration and to assist in the fight against radicalism and violent extremism.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), extending his condolences over the deaths of Niger’s soldiers, affirmed the complexity of the challenges facing West Africa and the Sahel. Emphasizing the need for good governance, to strengthen development and to build security through coherence among all initiatives, he said Kuwait has contributed $640 million to the region in recent years. In addition to security and development efforts, social integration and peaceful coexistence must be built, he said, adding that UNOWAS must receive adequate support for its efforts to help States in the region build capacity. He went on to stress the importance of that Office for preventing conflict, recognizing also the efforts of ECOWAS and other subregional organizations.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), expressing great concern over the threats in West Africa, extended his condolences to those affected by the attack on Niger’s soldiers. Noting that the causes of instability are well known, he called for “a robust, collective surge of action” to meet the challenges of intercommunal strife, which is then exploited by terrorist groups. The Council must encourage the States concerned to strengthen governance and make progress towards implementing peace agreements, particularly in Mali, he said, underlining the responsibility of States to craft responses to their problems. He pointed out, however, that their means are limited and they require international assistance. Describing his country’s Barkhane initiative and its efforts, alongside Germany, to build capacity in the region and support regional initiatives such as the G5 joint force, he encouraged donors that have not yet honoured their commitments to do so without delay. In addition, he stressed that prevention efforts should encompass traditional procedures where appropriate, as well as media campaigns such as those supported by France. Development must be pursued in order to reduce tension, he added, noting his country’s contributions in education and other areas as part of a portfolio of €1.6 million in the Sahel. Commending the European Union’s efforts, he warned, however, that partnership must be increased urgently in the region in view of the spike in violence.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) emphasized the importance of popular support for initiatives to combat terrorism through collective security efforts. One way to win hearts and minds is to ensure due judicial process in bringing perpetrators to justice and to hold security forces accountable for their actions, he noted. Further violence can be averted through reconciliation, he said, emphasizing the value of mediation and dialogue to ensure that social and economic grievances are heard. He went on to state that security responses must be part of wider strategies to counter violent extremism. By restoring State legitimacy, addressing underlying causes and promoting national unity and cohesion, harmful narratives can be countered and lasting stability built, he said.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic) also extended his condolences over the attacks in Niger, saying that such deplorable actions make it more necessary than ever to resolve the complex challenges of West Africa. Noting the links between terrorism and intercommunal violence, as well as their links to international organized crime, he said shortcomings in governance lay the groundwork for such problems, as do poor living conditions for young people. Emphasizing the role of climate change in exacerbating violence in the region, he urged support for States in developing resilience to climate change. In addition, the flow of weapons must be controlled and migrations managed, he said, stressing that all solutions must be undertaken in coordination with regional organizations. Particularly important is the creation of jobs to mitigate conflict over natural resources, he said, adding that his country has benefited from initiatives targeting rural areas. The Council must remain united to meet the multidimensional challenges posed by violence in West Africa and the Sahel, he said.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said feelings of injustice are a major factor behind instability in West Africa, where the bulk of judgements rendered by formal mechanisms pertain to land disputes. Such judgements are liable to reflect personal interests and corruption, with the State being seen as partial, he said. For Belgium, responses to such feelings lie in strengthening the rule of law by boosting synergies between formal and traditional judicial mechanisms. That would help to counter terrorist narratives while also addressing the root causes of conflict. While the international community can step up its support for security forces, it is incumbent upon States themselves to shoulder their primary responsibility to ensure the security of their citizens, he said, emphasizing the need to conquer and reconquer hearts and minds through respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law.