Signs of democratic progress amid violence in West Africa and the Sahel


Positive developments in the democratisation process across West Africa and the Sahel compete with a volatile security situation particularly in areas where terrorist groups are active, such as the Lake Chad Basin, the head of the UN office for the region (UNOWAS) told the Security Council

The spill-over of the Malian crisis into Burkina Faso and Niger and widespread violence by non-state armed groups across has had a devastating impact on local communities according to Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas.

He added allegations of human rights violations by security forces are of deep concern as they undermine the international community’s collective efforts. “I call on governments of the region to prevent such violations and bring perpetrators to justice.

In the Lake Chad Basin, despite gains made by Nigerian armed forces and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State’s West African Province, remain active. To date, more than 2,3 million people are displaced.
“The trend of Boko Haram using female suicide bombers continues,” he explained, noting almost one in five suicide bombers is a child. Chambas called for increased financial support for the humanitarian response in the four conflict-affected countries of the region – Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad – as it remains “critically underfunded”.

The UNOWAS head said violence between farmers and herders is an increasing security threat in the region. “Farmer-herder conflicts are becoming more sophisticated and deadlier, especially in Nigeria’s Middle Belt,” he said, mentioning “scores of deaths” resulting from this conflict in June.

Chambas said addressing security challenges in the region can only be achieved with implementation of comprehensive strategies linking security and humanitarian interventions to development and human rights initiatives.

A United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) has been developed, along with a UN Support Plan to mobilise resources for the 10 countries covered by the UNISS.

Amid the armed violence, the last few months have seen an upsurge in popular discontent in the region manifested through often violent demonstrations calling for political and economic reforms. “We must collectively continue to urge member states to provide an enabling environment for the exercise of the freedoms of expression and assembly critical in consolidating democracy and good governance”.

Citing the abolishment of the death penalty in Benin and Burkina Faso, recent elections in Guinea, the Gambia and Sierra Leone, he noted the region continues on a positive trajectory towards democratisation.
“Democratic gains in the region are not immune to reversal,” he said, citing Togo’s recent political crisis that led to the cancellation of parliamentary elections. “There is a need for democratic consolidation through genuine processes of national reconciliation. This should be the focus of our international engagement.”