‘Unprecedented’ insecurity in West Africa and the Sahel, UN Security Council hears

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Although West Africa and the Sahel continues to face unprecedented security challenges, it is still “a land of immense opportunities”, a senior UN official told the UN Security Council on 10 January.

In her briefing, Giovanie Biha, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the UN Office for the region, UNOWAS, urged ambassadors to continue to support a strategy centred on building resilience, promoting good governance, and strengthening peace and security.

Biha presented the latest UNOWAS report covering trends and developments over the past six months.

“Despite efforts by national security forces and international partners, insecurity has again deteriorated in large parts of the region,” she told the Council.

Operations by armed groups, violent extremists and criminal networks forced the closure of more than 10 000 schools, with millions of children affected, and some 7 000 health centres.

These non-state groups are fighting among themselves for supremacy and control of resources, she said, which is pushing States to the margin and causing untold misery to millions who have fled elsewhere to safety.

“Indeed, the central Sahel continues to face multidimensional challenges, unprecedented levels of security and humanitarian challenges, socio-political instability, further compounded by the impact of climate change, and food insecurity which was exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine,” she added.

At the same time, countries along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea have also seen an increase in attacks against their territories, threatening transport routes to landlocked nations further north.

In the wake of the September 2022 coup in Burkina Faso, and another in Guinea a year earlier, UNOWAS has welcomed agreements on the length of political transitions.

“UNOWAS will remain actively committed to the assessment and follow-up mechanism agreed between Burkina Faso and ECOWAS and in the operationalization of the transition timeline in Guinea,” said Biha.

“The UN system will have to continue providing support to the countries concerned by focusing on responding to the grievances that led to those coups taking place.”

Combating insecurity and stepping up humanitarian assistance are particularly important in the context of these urgent challenges, she stressed, noting that millions remain the target of seemingly endless attacks, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso.

She further welcomed efforts in the Gambia to continue implementing recommendations made by the country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.