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West Africa turning in right direction, but political progress remains ‘tenuous’, Secretary-General’s Special Representative tells Security Council

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Security Council
6703rd Meeting (AM)

In Briefing, Drought, Piracy Flagged As Emerging Threats amid Persistence of Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime

The situation in West Africa had taken a turn “in the right direction”, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the subregion told the Security Council today, noting that a cessation of “open conflict” and tensions tied to institutional political unrest had, in some countries, resulted in credible elections.

However, the situation “calls for us to remain wary as progress remains tenuous”, Said Djinnit,Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), said as he presented the Secretary-General’s eighth report on the activities of the Office — entrusted since 2002 with enhancing the Organization’s contributions to peace and security in the subregion — from 1 July to 31 December 2011.

Countries in the subregion remained vulnerable, which could jeopardize peacebuilding, democracy and stability, he said. There had been worrisome developments that could come to the fore, as in Nigeria, which had been a regional linchpin, contributing much to peace and security. At the same time, the successful conclusion of political dialogue and national reconciliation in Togo, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire would be decisive in ensuring that progress in the subregion would be lasting. Encouraging dialogue among the stakeholders in Guinea, he said it was crucial for the protagonists, including the opposition, to demonstrate flexibility so as to reach agreement swiftly on the holding legislative elections.

Mr. Djinnit said that while West Africa had been spared conflict and crises during the reporting period, it had been compelled to tackle the re-emergence of “transport” threats, such as piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The Secretary-General had sent an inter-agency mission to the area in December 2011, in order to determine the scope of that threat and the action needed to tackle it, he said, stressing the imperative need to strengthen cooperation in the subregion and among different national institutions.

The humanitarian and security consequences of the Libyan crisis remained of “great concern” as the conflict had aggravated West Africa’s chronic instability, particularly in the Sahel, he said, recalling that in during a visit in October 2011, he had underscored that countries in the subregion were already facing significant challenges, particularly cyclical drought, food insecurity, unemployment and insecurity in the north. Today, they were bearing new socio-economic burdens flowing from the Libyan crisis, and it was to be hoped that the United Nations would provide additional support in terms of reintegrating returnees.

He emphasized, however, that efforts to shore up subregional security could be useless “if the scourge of drug trafficking and organized crime” undermined State institutions and fragile societies, a situation that must be addressed “with determination and consistency”. Increased political mobilization and wholehearted cooperation in originating, transit and destination countries was “absolutely necessary”, he stressed, adding that the United Nations remained committed to providing an effective response, alongside the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and subregional countries.

Instability flowing from elections was another principal challenge, he said, calling for associated risks and political consequences to be given priority. Building on recent successes, UNOWA would organize — in close cooperation with ECOWAS, the United Nations and others in the subregion — conferences on cross-cutting themes so as to draw optimally on good practices, he said, expressing hope that they would foster efforts towards peacebuilding, democracy and conflict prevention, while building synergies among the on-the-ground work of different players, including political ones.

In the coming months, he said in closing, the Office would mobilize the United Nations system and shore up partners in the subregion as well as regional organizations, including ECOWAS, the Mano River Union, the African Union and civil society, so as to solidify progress and prevent conflicts, which otherwise would undermine the subregion’s decisive steps towards peace, democracy and development.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:25 a.m.


The United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) was the subject of a report of the Secretary-General (document S/2011/811) before the Council today. Dated 30 December and covering the period 1 July to 31 December 2011, it provides an overview of national, cross-cutting and cross-border developments in the subregion and outlines the activities undertaken by the Office in preventive diplomacy and awareness-raising with regard to emerging threats and challenges to regional peace and stability. It also details UNOWA’s efforts to promote subregional synergies in cooperation with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union.

According to the report, there was a decline in open conflict during the reporting period, despite the fragile security situation in several West African countries. Still, the subregion “faces an increase in cross-cutting and cross-border challenges, which could, if left unaddressed, undermine regional stability and ultimately reverse the peace consolidation gains made over the past few years”. Meanwhile, the report commends efforts by the Government of Guinea to stabilize and consolidate peace, noting that its timely holding of legislative elections will reinforce the democratization process. It is paramount, therefore, that the ruling and opposition parties demonstrate flexibility and goodwill to reach consensus on the modalities for holding elections and building public confidence in electoral mechanisms and institutions.

Emphasizing the need to continue regional efforts to prevent election-related violence, which has contributed to instability in several countries, the report says that the Secretary-General is encouraged by the initiatives of the stakeholders to implement the recommendations of the Praia Declaration on Elections and Stability in West Africa. It will be especially important that Governments make every effort to reduce political, ethnic and social tensions while vigorously pursuing policies of inclusiveness and national reconciliation, the report says. UNOWA will support national and regional efforts to achieve those aims, it continues, adding that the Office will reinforce its collaborative relationship with ECOWAS, the Mano River Union, United Nations country teams in the subregion and other partners in the promotion and protection of human rights, the fight against impunity and the mainstreaming of human rights and gender perspectives into electoral and governance processes. In that connection, the Secretary-General calls on Member States to implement the Praia and Bamako Declarations and strategic framework.

In the months ahead, the report states, the fallout from the Libyan crisis is likely to challenge stability in the Sahel, which will require the strengthening of cooperation among the Governments of the area. In light of the possible links between terrorist groups active in West Africa and the influx of weapons from Libya into neighbouring countries, the Secretary-General encourages countries in the subregion swiftly to adopt and implement the draft ECOWAS counter-terrorism strategy and implementation plan. He also calls on Member States, as well as international and regional organizations, to respond generously to appeals for support form Sahel countries that need capacity-building and funds with which to counter destabilization threats.

The report goes on to point out that transnational organized crime, including illicit drug trafficking, remains a major threat to peace and security in West Africa, and encourages the countries there to pursue measures to combat it by implementing the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan against organized crime and illicit drug trafficking, and the West Africa Coast Initiative. At the same time, the rise of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea will require a concerted effort by countries and organizations in the subregion, with logistical, diplomatic, financial and technical support from the international community.

According to the report, the Secretary-General is pleased with the progress made by the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, and urges the parties to respect their schedule of meetings and work towards providing the timely technical, legal and financial support required to advance the delineation of the boundary line. He affirms the unwavering support of the United Nations for efforts by the two countries to overcome all outstanding issues and complete the demarcation by the end of 2012.

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