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Report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (S/2021/612)

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I. Introduction

1. The present report covers the period from 15 December 2020 to 17 June 2021 and contains an overview of developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel and the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), including with regard to progress made in the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel. In addition, it includes an update on the situation in the Lake Chad basin, pursuant to Security Council resolution 2349 (2017), as well as a feasibility assessment for a joint civilian project to address intercommunal violence in the subregion, in response to the request of the Security Council (see annex).

II. Developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel

2. Following the series of presidential and legislative elections that were held during the previous and current reporting periods (see S/2020/1293), new Governments were installed in several countries of the region. In the Niger, the first-ever transfer of power from one elected president to another took place. In Benin and Ghana, incumbents were sworn in for a second term. In Cabo Verde and Côte d’Ivoire, new parliaments were formed, following their respective legislative elections. In Côte d’Ivoire, that was a significant development, given that all major political leaders and their parties participated in the elections after a decade-long hiatus, in marked contrast to the 2020 presidential election, which certain segments of the opposition had boycotted. Initiatives towards dialogue and national reconciliation have been progressing in several countries, albeit at an uneven and, in some cases, slow pace. Whereas dialogue and consensus-building between political actors in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire have led to gestures and signs of reconciliation, the new permanent framework for political and social dialogue in Guinea has yet to commence its activities. In the Niger and the Gambia, political dialogue and deliberations over constitutional reforms remain deadlocked.

3. The period under review was also marked by a growing perception of democratic reversal across the region, due to widespread views that State institutions and reform processes, as well as restrictions to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, had been manipulated to prevent political opponents from running for office and to constrain the activities of opposition parties, the media and civil society. Concerns over the lack of judicial independence, and its instrumentalization in a number of countries, allegations of arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as the intimidation of journalists and activists, and the use of excessive force to quell civil unrest highlighted the persistent risks of shrinking civic and political spaces. Perceptions of impunity continued to undermine citizens’ confidence in State institutions, against a backdrop of increasing incidence of hate speech.

4. Continued attacks by terrorist and violent extremist groups, kidnapping, banditry and intercommunal violence resulted in further increases in the levels of insecurity and displacement in a number of countries. While the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic was less severe than initially feared, it nevertheless led to an economic slowdown and a sharp rise in poverty, inequality and vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence. Notwithstanding an enhanced subregional response to the pandemic, the roll-out of national vaccination plans has been uneven, slow and marred by vaccine hesitancy and resistance linked to citizens’ mistrust in their Governments or of the vaccines.