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Greater democratic rule vital to boost security in West Africa and the Sahel

Children ride a bike in Fada, Burkina Faso.
© UNICEF/Frank Dejongh
Children ride a bike in Fada, Burkina Faso.

Greater democratic rule vital to boost security in West Africa and the Sahel

Peace and Security

Democratic and responsible governance is needed to counter ongoing insecurity in West Africa and the Sahel, the UN Special Representative for the subregion told the Security Council on Thursday. 

Khatir Mahamat Saleh Annadif was presenting the latest report of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), which he heads, covering developments over the past six months in areas such as politics, security and human rights. 

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Mr. Annadif highlighted some of the dichotomies across a vast region that continues to “develop at different rhythms”. While citizens in some countries are freely exercising their right to vote, elsewhere “military stakeholders” are trying to dominate the political space. 

“National dialogues are underway in many countries to consolidate democratic governance at the same time that across large parts of the Sahel, men and women are leaving their land, fleeing to safety, and to ensure that their children can receive an education,” he said. 

‘No magic potion’ 

Addressing insecurity, Mr. Annadif said it was “no longer a secret to anyone” that extremist groups and criminals are exploiting weaknesses that have been exacerbated by often inadequate State structures. 

Extremist violence is moving southward, he reported, and has gone from being a phenomenon of isolated incidents to a very real threat in coastal countries. He cited the example of Togo, where a state of emergency has been declared in the north.  

“There is no magic potion to provide an effective rebuttal to this problem of insecurity,” said Mr. Annadif, speaking in French. 

“What we need, rather, is democratic and responsible governance, including the setting up of decentralized administrations which can provide solutions to the day-to-day needs of the population while respecting the social contract for participation, and the mutual commitments between the Government and the citizens.” 

Dialogue and consensus 

The envoy said several countries “are successfully reinforcing foundations of democratic governance”, including The Gambia and Senegal, which recently held local and legislative elections. 

“Furthermore, there is a process of dialogue in a number of countries. This creates political consensus that represents an opportunity to reinforce social cohesion,” he added, referring to Nigeria, ahead of elections scheduled for next year. 

Mr. Annadif said engagement by the UN and regional bloc ECOWAS has also helped to reduce political tensions in Sierra Leone, which will hold elections next June. 

He has also been in contact with the transitional authorities in Burkina Faso and Guinea, stressing the need to return to constitutional order as soon as possible. 

Caught in the crossfire 

Meanwhile, military authorities are facing difficulties in addressing the worsening security situation in the Sahel. 

Mr. Annadif reported that as of May, the number of civilian victims of extremist violence in the central Sahel has surpassed the total figure for 2021. 

“Civilians have been caught in the crossfire between armed groups fighting for supremacy, as well as in anti-terrorist actions carried out by the national security and defence forces,” he said. 

“The information that we all receive on massacres of unarmed and innocent civilian populations, including women and children, convey the tragedy that is unfurling in this part of the world.” 

The violence has had an impact on the humanitarian situation at a time when West Africa is experiencing an “unprecedented” food crisis.  Across the so-called G5 Sahel countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger - some 12.7 million people are facing food insecurity, a 45 per cent increase over last year. 

Protecting coastal States 

Last month, Mali withdrew from the G5 Sahel and its Joint Force on counter terrorism, and Mr. Annadif said there are military redeployments at the moment that jeopardize security provision. 

The UN official continues to advocate with ECOWAS and other partners in favour of the Accra Initiative, a 2017 plan on preventing instability from spreading to coastal countries. 

They are currently finalizing discussions towards establishing a secretariat, and contributing to capacity building through the UN Office on Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).