Despite progress in West Africa and the Sahel, particularly regarding democratic and peaceful political transitions, the security situation in the region remained a grave concern, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in the region said on Thursday.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas said following a notable decline in Boko Haram attacks in the first half of 2017, there had been an uptick in the number of such incidents since September, with a peak of 143 civilian casualties in November.
Chambas, who is also the Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), also introduced the Secretary‑General’s report (document S/2017/1104).
“Boko Haram’s use of children as suicide bombers had increased fivefold from 2016, reaching 135 such cases in 2017,” he said, adding that although 700 people abducted by Boko Haram had recently escaped captivity, the group continued to kidnap innocent people.
“More than 2 million displaced persons are still desperately waiting for an end to the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin,” he stressed.
He said the exponential spread of intercommunal and farmer‑herder conflicts, which had claimed hundreds of lives, was a “ticking time bomb”, “which unattended,” he continued, “could escalate beyond the community level”.
Despite those worrying trends, the trajectory of successful democratic elections across West Africa continued, he said, pointing to the large number of people who had participated in peaceful 10 October and 26 December elections in Liberia. “I applaud the Liberian people and their leaders for their recourse to exclusively legal means to settle all electoral‑related disputes,” he said, efforts that had strengthened democratic institutions.
Looking ahead, he said attention must be paid to upcoming elections in Sierra Leone and Guinea. In Togo, opposition parties continued with street protests, while a lack of consensus on how to implement constitutional reforms could threaten legislative and local elections to be held later this year, he stressed.
Following his briefing, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire highlighted that the peaceful presidential elections and democratic transfer of power in Liberia had created hope that the country had “turned a corner” and ended decades of military and political crises. The events there provided a good example to Africa and the West African region, in particular.
Nevertheless, while such progress was promising, he expressed concern about the prevalence of threats from terrorism and violent extremism, which were linked to transboundary organized crime, trafficking in migrants, drugs, weapons and human beings. Those challenges were compounded by poverty and unemployment, particularly among the youth in areas where the State had difficulty carrying out its sovereign functions.
Equatorial Guinea’s delegate underscored that climate change was having a severe impact on the region, particularly on animal husbandry and agricultural production. Desertification due to climate change had led farmers and ranchers to migrate, stoking further tensions, he emphasized.
Peru’s representative focused on preventative diplomacy, stressing that UNOWAS stood out for its capacity to prevent conflict, while its monitoring and early warning functions had helped to reduce tensions in a number of countries in the subregion. That capacity should be strengthened and leveraged, he said, describing the Office as an appropriate platform to coordinate regional and subregional efforts.
Sweden’s delegate, meanwhile, stressed that adequate resources must be made available as UNOWAS was asked to do more, including in support of the transitions from peacekeeping to non‑mission settings in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.