• January 15, 2024

Challenges to democracy compound instability in West Africa: Top envoy

Briefing ambassadors in the Security Council, Leonardo Santos Simão, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, said that while some nations have made significant democratic strides, others have been subject to military takeovers, posing wider threats to regional stability.

The presidential election in Liberia and the peaceful transfer of power was a decisive political moment for a country where the memories of the civil war are still very present, he said, noting upcoming elections in Senegal and Ghana.

However, post-election events in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau have seen infighting within security services and highlighted the need to shore up the credibility of institutions and processes of democratic governance in a sustained manner, he added.

Commitment to Mali

Mr. Simão warned of “overlapping conflicts” in Mali, where the UN’s peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, completed its drawdown on 31 December 2023, marking the culmination of a decade-long effort to support the West African nation.

As MINUSMA’s mandate ended, uncertainty looms over elections and Mali’s political transition under the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, he said.

“Insecurity remains prevalent in large parts of the country, including attacks on military camps and civilians, with swathes of the country currently blockaded by terrorist groups and rising humanitarian needs,” the UN envoy said.

Deployed in 2013 following a violent insurrection by separatist rebels and a subsequent military coup, MINUSMA played a crucial role in addressing Mali’s multifaceted challenges. Despite suffering over 300 fatalities among its troops and personnel, the mission helped blunt extremist violence and rampant insecurity.

“As we move into a post-MINUSMA Mali, we need to take stock of that decade-long experience and draw lessons required to inform a fast-approaching future. As a legacy of MINUSMA, the UN will continue to maintain a key role in support of the Malian people,” Mr. Simão said.

“We remain committed to deliver.”

UN peacekeeping in Mali: A Look Back on a Decade

Climate change and insecurity

Special Representative Simão, who also heads the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), stressed that the negative impact of climate change in the Sahel region cannot be overstated, with fragile ecosystems bearing the brunt of prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainy seasons.

Mr. Simão noted that extreme weather events are overlapping with the spread of insecurity in the region, exacerbating inter-communal conflicts, increasing social tension, and adding to displacement.

“As wells dry out and lands falls shallow – while floods have devastated other areas – it is often women who are bearing the brunt of the vagaries of climate and conflict,” he said.

“It is imperative that women take their place at the instances of decision-making,”

Building dialogue

In conclusion, Mr. Simão said that his Office is actively engaged in helping build stability, peace, and democratic governance in the region, and bringing together key stakeholders and help them collectively overcome adversities.

In this multifaceted landscape, UNOWAS remains steadfast in fostering dialogue and advocating for democratic principles, despite the challenges that loom large on the regional horizon, he said.

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