Khatir Mahamat Saleh Annadif presented the latest report from the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), which he heads, covering developments over the past six months in areas such as politics, security and human rights.
Mr. Annadif highlighted some of the dichotomies across a vast region that continues to “develop at different paces”. While citizens in some countries freely exercise their right to vote, elsewhere “military actors” attempt to dominate the political space.
“National dialogues are underway in many countries to consolidate democratic governance even as in large parts of the Sahel, men and women leave their lands, flee to safety and to ensure that their children can receive a education,” he said. .
“No magic potion”
Addressing the insecurity, Mr Annadif said it was “no longer a secret” that extremist groups and criminals are exploiting weaknesses exacerbated by often unsuitable state structures.
Extremist violence is moving south, he reported, and has grown from a phenomenon of isolated incidents to a very real threat in coastal countries. He cited the example of Togo, where a state of emergency has been declared in the north.
“There is no magic potion to bring an effective refutation to this problem of insecurity,” said Mr. Annadif, speaking in French.
“What we need instead is democratic and accountable governance, including the establishment of decentralized administrations who can provide solutions to the daily needs of the population while respecting the social contract for participation, and mutual commitments between government and citizens.
Dialogue and consensus
The envoy said several countries are “successfully strengthening the foundations of democratic governance”, including The Gambia and Senegal, which recently held local and legislative elections.
“In addition, there is a dialogue process in a number of countries. This creates a political consensus that represents an opportunity to strengthen social cohesionhe added, referring to Nigeria, ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
Annadif said the engagement of the UN and the regional bloc ECOWAS has also helped reduce political tensions in Sierra Leone, which will hold elections next June.
He was also in contact with the transitional authorities in Burkina Faso and Guinea, stressing the need for a return to constitutional order as soon as possible.
Caught in the crossfire
Meanwhile, military authorities are struggling to cope with the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel.
Annadif said in May the number of civilian casualties from extremist violence in the central Sahel exceeded the total figure for 2021.
“Civilians have been caught in the crossfire between armed groups fighting for supremacy, as well as in counter-terrorism actions carried out by national security and defense forces,” he said.
“The information we all receive about the massacres of unarmed and innocent civilians, including women and children, convey the tragedy unfolding in this part of the world.”
The violence has impacted the humanitarian situation as West Africa experiences an “unprecedented” food crisis. In the so-called G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – some 12.7 million people face food insecurity, an increase of 45% compared to last year.
Protect coastal states
Last month, Mali withdrew from the G5 Sahel and its Joint Counter-Terrorism Force, and Mr. Annadif said there are currently military redeployments that compromise security.
The UN official continues to advocate with ECOWAS and other partners for the Accra Initiative, a 2017 plan to prevent instability from spreading to coastal countries.
They are currently finalizing discussions for the establishment of a secretariat and contributing to capacity building through the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).