Persisting security challenges in West Africa and the Sahel

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An increase in attacks by extremist groups using sophisticated tactics risks undermining progress in West Africa and the Sahel, the region’s UN envoy told the Security Council this week.

“Military solutions, while necessary, are not sufficient,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) said.

Breaking down some pressing challenges, he said, there have been increased Boko Haram attacks in recent months in the chad Basin, notably against military installations. Violent clashes between farmers and herders continue albeit on a lesser scale.

A state of emergency has been declared in seven of Burkina Faso’s 13 regions against the backdrop of a significant rise in security incidents.

Mass mobilisation of defence and security forces, in Niger has not helped as the country continues to face challenges in the west and south.

Also in Niger as well as Benin and Togo increased attacks and kidnappings by extremist groups heighten security risks.

Against a backdrop of high population growth, worsening youth unemployment and economic austerity measures, including elimination of subsidies in some countries, Chambas stressed “rising insecurity has placed a heavy burden on governments in the region”.

He said UNOWAS was working to advance the region’s long-term stabilisation goals, co-operating with regional partners using the framework of last year’s new UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.

Chambas said “laudable progress” was made in implementing the Council’s 2017 resolution for a regional response to the Lake Chad Basin crisis, “more support is needed to advance stabilisation efforts in the Sahel”.

Elections: “˜A litmus test’

Beyond “persisting security challenges” he praised presidential elections in Mali last year, regional elections in Mauritania and voting across Togo and Cote d’Ivoire, adding “despite appreciable progress in democratic consolidation in the region, continuous efforts are needed to address contentious issues around elections”.

This was of particular importance over the next six months as the region would conduct “several high-stake elections” in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Benin, he called the next cycle of regional elections “a litmus test for the consolidation of democratic gains”.

He was concerned about human rights challenges, particularly allegations of human rights violations by security forces, as well as the re-emergence of self-defence groups, “whose actions have fuelled inter-communal tensions”.

“Through inclusive approaches predicated on national ownership, we must continue to work on addressing governance deficits, extreme poverty and lack of development that feed and sustain armed violence and extremism”, Chambas said.