Unconstitutional changes in West African governments spark concern


The recent resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government and other undemocratic practices in West Africa, especially the situation in Guinea, could have negative implications for peace and stability in the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned.

Last September in Guinea, which witnessed a military coup in December 2008, armed forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators at an opposition rally in the capital, Conakry, killing at least 150 civilians. Aside from the death toll, countless other protesters were raped or attacked by members of the country’s armed forces.

That incident “widened the rift between the ruling military authorities on the one hand and opposition parties and civil society on the other, and led to a significant heightening of tension across the country,” Ban wrote in his latest report on the UN Office in West Africa (UNOWA), made public yesterday.

The international community’s swift reaction to the deadly crackdown, as well as the widespread support for his decision to set up an international probe into the incident, “are indications of our common determination to put an end to impunity in Guinea and in West Africa in general,” he noted.

Ban transmitted the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the incident to the Guinean Government as well as to the Security Council, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in December.

Also last month, President Moussa Dadis Camara survived an assassination attempt, which led to further violence and human rights abuses by security forces, the Secretary-General said.

He warned that the “deteriorating” situation in Guinea could jeopardize the fragile peace processes underway in the nation’s Mano River Basin neighbours Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well threaten the stability of the greater subregion.

The report, which covers the period from July to December 2009, pointed out that the holding of peaceful and credible elections, including in States considered to be particularly fragile, is an encouraging sign that democratic practices continue to take root in West Africa.

But it added that several nations in the region, such as Togo and Niger, continue to be plagued by political crises due to contested electoral processes, unconstitutional government changes or other threats to democracy.

To tackle the threat posed by drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime, Ban stressed the need to enhance UNOWA’s police capacity.

There has been a decline in seizures of narcotics at European airports on flights originating in West Africa. However, that is not necessarily a result of a dip in trafficking, but rather due to a “tactical repositioning” by traffickers, who are no longer using the region only as a transit point.

Traffickers, he said, may be trying to produce narcotics in West Africa, constituting “a most alarming trend and a potentially serious destabilizing factor and threat to West African populations.”