Despite positive political developments in West Africa and the Sahel — including recent elections in the Gambia and Senegal — the Security Council heard today that a series of coups d’état requires strengthened State institutions and a return to constitutional order to consolidate democratic gains, as members also highlighted proliferating terrorist activity and urged increased support for regional security arrangements to address persistent insecurity.
Khatir Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s report on the Office’s activities (document S/2022/521), highlighted the juxtaposition in the Sahel region between citizens freely exercising their right to vote and military stakeholders trying to dominate the political space. He also detailed other challenges threatening the region, including increasingly irregular rainfall that is negatively impacting agriculture and generating conflict around increasingly rare resources. Further, extremist violence — exploiting often-inadequate State structures — is spreading southward, transforming from a phenomenon of isolated incidence to a real threat in coastal countries.
“There is no magic potion to provide an effective rebuttal to this problem of insecurity,” he said, underlining the need to establish democratic, responsible governance, including decentralized administrations that can provide for the daily needs of local populations. While recent efforts in several West African countries to reinforce the foundations of democratic governance and promote dialogue to reinforce social cohesion are encouraging, recent reports indicate that freedom of the press is decreasing in many countries alongside a narrowing civic space. Further, allegations of human rights violations and instrumentalization of the judiciary undermine confidence in both institutions and the electoral process. Against that backdrop, he said that UNOWAS will continue to advocate for cross-cutting, holistic solutions, with the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel playing an essential role towards this end.
Rabab Fatima (Bangladesh), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, expressing concern over recent military takeovers in the region, also underscored the importance of strengthening democratic institutions in countries under transition. The unprecedented level of insecurity in the Sahel requires sustained, coordinated support by the United Nations system to build and sustain peace in the region, including through the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and improved cooperation among country teams. She also noted the Secretary-General’s calls for predictable, sustained financing for counter‑terrorism operations and urged increased support for the implementation of the Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram-affected Areas of the Lake Chad Basin Region.
Rabia Djibo Magagi, Coordinator of the Alliance for Peace and Security said that, while people in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger frequently hear about the increasing power of national armies, “we are powerless in the face of massacres of civilians, which are increasing exponentially”. “We must do things differently,” she stressed, calling for people’s protection to be at the heart of any response to the security crisis in those countries. This requires knowing where to invest most urgently — either in a principally military response whose limitations are apparent, or in children’s education and health facilities forced to shutter due to lack of staff and resources. People in the Sahel “feel left to our fate”, she added, calling on the Council to convince Governments to stop talking about the need to eradicate terrorism, and rather, talk about “eradicating the reasons that lead young people to pick up weapons and kill others”.
In the ensuing discussion, while Council members welcomed successful efforts to consolidate democracy in the Sahel — including recent elections in Senegal and the Gambia — they expressed concern over the deteriorating security and humanitarian situations in the region. Many stressed that transition processes following a spate of coups d’état must result in credible elections and a return to constitutional order, welcoming recent negotiations between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Mali and Burkina Faso regarding timetables for transition. Members also spotlighted the need to strengthen regional security cooperation to address heightened threats from terrorism spreading throughout West Africa and the Sahel.
Ghana’s representative, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, welcomed democratic progress in the region, but — spotlighting the roll-back of democracy in countries such as Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso — underscored the urgent need to restore constitutional order in the Sahel. Transitional authorities in Mali must implement an electoral timetable to ensure a definite return to constitutional rule, he said, also calling for funding and logistical support for regional arrangements, such as the Accra Initiative and the G5 Sahel joint force, to address increasing terrorist activity that is now expanding to neighbouring countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo.
The representative of India also sounded caution over the southward expansion of terrorism from the central Sahel region, encouraging countries of the region to re-energize their security cooperation and calling for sustained, predictable support for regional security initiatives. He went on to say that, while positive developments in electoral and administrative reform “augur well for the next electoral cycle in 2023”, the consolidation of democracy has been overshadowed by successive coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
On that point, Mexico’s representative stressed the need to resolve governance problems and strengthen State institutions in the region, as this vacuum is used by extremists. Expressing concern over an excessively military approach to addressing this threat, however, she said such approach must be complemented by the provision of basic services and respect for human rights law; otherwise, these efforts will be doomed to fail. Towards this end, regional efforts must urgently address the pandemic, food insecurity and climate change.
Similarly, the representative of Brazil, Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity to highlight the close link between the political, security, economic and humanitarian dimensions of a crisis, as lack of progress in one domain directly impacts the others. Citing the Secretary-General’s report, which demonstrates how the coup in Mali has impacted the fight against terrorism, he welcomed agreement between that country and ECOWAS on a timeframe for returning to constitutional order, along with progress towards a transition timeframe in Burkina Faso. Adding, however, that authorities in Guinea have not accepted an ECOWAS mediator, he urged them to engage with the opposition and regional partners with a view to return to civilian rule.
Also speaking were representatives of Ireland, United States, Norway, United Arab Emirates, Albania, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France and China.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at noon.