New York

15 April 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to the Security Council on prevention of conflicts in Africa: Addressing the Root Causes

I am pleased to address the Security Council on the important subject of preventing armed conflicts and addressing their root causes.

Although we are focused today on Africa, there are universal lessons in conflict prevention that apply everywhere around the world.

Conflicts breed where there is poor governance, human rights abuses and grievances over the unequal distribution of resources, wealth and power. Tensions simmer where people are excluded, marginalized and denied meaningful participation in the political and social life of their countries. Unrest flourishes where people are poor, jobless and without hope.

To prevent conflicts, we must strengthen democracy, build stronger, more resilient, accountable State institutions, ensure adequate checks and balances, promote the rule of law and work to establish effective democratic control over the armed forces.

Too often, national pride and the self-interest of political actors and spoilers conspire to undermine prevention efforts.

Issues related to poor governance and the unfulfilled promise of democracy often lead to conflict. Good governance will be the focus of my report on the causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa.


This year, more than 20 African countries hold elections.

The relatively peaceful elections in Kenya were an example of how electoral disagreements can be handled through the legal process without recourse to violence.

In other cases, elections can be a source of instability. The parties may use elections to continue the competition to divide the spoils of war.

That is why it is so important for mediation efforts to ensure that peace agreements are not just pacts between political elites that address the immediate political problem – they must also deal with the underlying causes of conflict and allow all stakeholders to participate.

It is also not enough to reach agreements – they must be fully implemented, monitored and enforced.

This is clear in the case of the Central African Republic. The violation of the Libreville Agreements by parties contributed to the resumption of conflict and, eventually, the unconstitutional change of Government.

The challenges are particularly acute when states are fragile and armed movements operate with impunity across porous borders – often with support from neighbouring states. 

Whether in the Horn of Africa or the Great Lakes, the continent is still afflicted by interconnected instabilities spreading from one territory to its neighbours. 

That contagion has many vectors: economic despair, arms flows, massive population displacements, proxy conflicts triggered by relationships of mistrust, and regional rivalries.

In our increasingly interconnected world, regional action to prevent or address conflicts is all the more important.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, national authorities, regional leaders and the international community are coming together to not only deal with the manifestations of violence, but also address its underlying root causes. 

I am grateful to the Security Council for endorsing the approach of leaders of the region. Their Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region emphasizes the need to address the structural causes fuelling instability in the DRC and commits regional actors to shared responsibilities. The Council’s new mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC is intended to contribute to efforts for the implementation of the Framework, including through the deployment of an Intervention Brigade to deal with the problem of  armed groups.

In South Sudan, decades of political and economic marginalization resulted in organized military and political resistance. The United Nations is committed to helping this young country – even if we have paid a heavy price. I was outraged by the attack last week that killed a dozen people, including five brave peacekeepers. I thank [the] Council for joining me in strongly condemning that appalling ambush and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Since the independence of South Sudan, Juba and Khartoum have made slow but steady progress toward the resolution of post-secession issues, including agreements on border security arrangements, economic relations and oil. But potential sources of conflict remain, including in particular the unresolved status of the Abyei Area.

The conflict in Somalia has multiple, complex causes, including competition for resources and power, a repressive State and the colonial legacy. The crisis is exacerbated by politicized clan identity, easy access to weapons, the presence of a large number of unemployed youth, and a culture of impunity sanctioning the use of violence.

The Federal Government of Somalia has entered a new era of peacebuilding and statebuilding. But it faces daunting challenges to restore confidence in the State and the conditions necessary for peace and stability.

I am also concerned about the situation in the Sahel, where countries have faced decades of complex challenges of poverty, the effects of climate change, frequent food crises, rapid population growth, poor governance, corruption, the risk of violent extremism, illicit trafficking and terrorist-related security threats.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that States of the region have limited capacity to deliver basic social services and protect human rights.

When State authority and security institutions erode, it becomes more difficult to manage borders. In Mali, this has paved the way for transnational criminal organizations and terrorist networks to disrupt regional stability and compromise territorial integrity.

Severe drought and food insecurity in many countries in the Sahel region, including in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, have also created conditions for instability and undermined stabilization efforts.

The United Nations is at a critical juncture in its engagement in Guinea-Bissau. Following the military coup last year, the United Nations has continued to promote inclusive dialogue among national actors towards the restoration of constitutional order.

In all of our efforts across Africa, the United Nations benefits from reinvigorated regional organizations. They are playing a stronger and strategic role as key partners. 

The prompt reaction of the Economic Community of Central African States to the crisis in the CAR showed an increased willingness to formulate joint responses to common problems.

The United Nations is working to strengthen the Southern African Development Community’s conflict prevention and early warning architecture. We are pursuing our ten-year capacity-building partnership with the African Union. We are strengthening our close relationship with ECOWAS on peacebuilding and crisis prevention in West Africa. We are engaging with the African Union, SADC and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region in the search for peace in eastern DRC. And we are partnering with IGAD on the urgent challenge to bring stability to Somalia. 

Above all, it is critical to ensure that the affected communities own and lead conflict prevention initiatives.

Our support for national governments should focus on building the active engagement of community organizations, the private sector, civil society, women and youth in decision making. Their activities can help stabilize communities.

Prevention also demands that we address the culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence. As my Special Representative on this issue has rightly said, sexual violence affects more than isolated individuals – it is an assault on the peace and security of entire communities.

That is why I place such high priority on addressing this destabilizing and dehumanizing crime. I count on the Council to continue giving priority to preventing and addressing sexual violence in conflict.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the Security Council for its engagement in the committed efforts of the United Nations to address the root causes of conflict in Africa.

Through our comprehensive approach, strong partnerships and principled action, we can usher in a new era of lasting stability for the continent and its people.

Thank you.