Trouble stirs in West Africa

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the significant progress made in consolidating peace and stability in West Africa in recent years are under threat.
In a new report to the Security Council he cautions that the situation remains fragile “as the root causes of conflict in a number of West African countries have yet to be addressed in an effective and enduring manner.”
Several West African countries, notably Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast were wracked – and wrecked – by civil war in recent years and UN peacekeeping missions remain active in the region.  
“The known threats of youth unemployment, food insecurity and rapid urbanization, as well as the challenges posed by corruption, irregular migration, human and drug trafficking, and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, have been compounded by the adverse impact of the global financial and food crises on the subregion,” he says.
West Africa was also affected by severe flooding in the course of the rainy season in 2008, resulting in hundreds of deaths and damage to infrastructure, property and crops in several countries.
“Furthermore, the scourge of coups d`état has re-emerged, as evidenced by the unconstitutional change of government in Mauritania in August, the armed attack on the residence of the President of Guinea-Bissau, João Bernardo Vieira, on 23 November and the move by a group of military officers in Guinea on 23 December to seize power after the death of President Lansana Conté,” the UN chief says.
Regarding food prices, Ban advised that although “global food prices have declined after the sharp increases recorded in recent months and local harvests have generally been good, prices for key cereals throughout West Africa remain well above long-term averages.”
Transnational organised crime, particularly drug trafficking, is increasingly becoming a major source of concern in the subregion. “Several countries reported important seizures of narcotics (cocaine and cannabis) on their territory,
unauthorised aeroplane landings most likely linked to drug trafficking, and arrests of Latin American, West African and European nationals involved in illicit trafficking.
“On a positive note, West African governments are now building their capacity to respond to the challenge at both the national and subregional levels. Drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime are increasingly viewed critically by both governments and the public, and efforts are being made to tackle the problem in a constructive manner.
“The infiltration of drug money into the political arena, for example, featured as a major electoral issue in some election campaigns in the subregion. There is, however, a need for continued awareness-raising at all levels of leadership regarding the harmful impact of drug trafficking and organized crime on governance and security,” Ban said in the report.
The UN News Centre adds that the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), described as a “groundbreaking regional peace-building office based in Dakar” will continue to facilitate closer cooperation among UN agencies, sub-regional organisations and other actors to meet the identified challenges, “as well as election-related issues, security sector reform, human rights, transitional justice, and the rule of law.”