West Africa, last year, saw a “significant rise in violent attacks directly related to violent extremism,” the Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Dr Mohamed ibn Chambas, has said in his latest report to the UN Security Council in New York.
“The security situation remains volatile in the entire Sahel, where escalating violence and insecurity have sparked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis leaving a total of 5.1 million Burkinabe, Nigeriens and Malians in need,” he said in his briefing on the activities of UNOWAS.
Dr Chambas singled out Burkina Faso where in the past six months the security situation had deteriorated.
He said 226 security incidents contributed to a rise in the number of internally displaced people from 47,000 in December 2018 to 220,000 and more than 25,000 refugees in June this year.
“The north and east of the country remain the most affected by recurrent attacks of terrorist and armed groups as well as an increase in inter-communal violence with the involvement of seemingly uncontrolled self-defence groups,” Dr Chambas said
“Terrorist groups are furthermore directly targeting schools and forcing health centres to close.
“Today, a total of 2,024 schools and 37 health centres remain closed in Burkina Faso as a direct effect of this crisis.
“Amid this rapid escalation, Secretary-General [Antonio] Guterres has requested a significant scaling up of the United Nations’ response and put in place an Emergency Task Force on Burkina Faso,” he added.
The Task Force will meet immediate needs and tackle the structural causes of the insecurity.
Dr Chambas announced the launch of a $100 million Humanitarian Response Plan, which he said was already being revised because of rising costs.
The Lake Chad Basin, too, has seen an increase in violence from attacks launched by the Boko Haram offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province, despite heightened counter-terrorism efforts, the report said.
He noted that the rise in violence in West Africa had been compounded by the growing links between terrorism, organised crime and inter-community clashes.
The situation was so serious that ECOWAS leaders decided at their June 29 meeting in Abuja to hold an extraordinary summit on terrorism in Ouagadougou on September 14.
“It aims at discussing a concerted security approach for West Africa and the Sahel and represents a unique window of opportunity to harmonise the fragmented security arrangements,” Dr Chambas told the Council.
On the political front, hr said: “Pre-electoral and post-electoral periods…continue to be characterised by tensions, antagonistic contests and disputes, including around non-consensual constitutional amendments.
“Addressing such potential sources of conflict remains a major priority ahead of the upcoming cycle of high-stake presidential elections in West Africa scheduled for next year in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger and Togo.
“Furthermore, tensions around electoral periods derail the necessary attention to the pressing need to address questions of development and inequality,” he added.
Dr Chambas stated that “the journey of democratic consolidation in this region has not been easy and cannot be taken for granted.
“Several countries in the region continue to struggle with human rights challenges.
“I am particularly concerned about the instrumentalization of the judiciary for political objectives in some cases as well as a predominant sentiment of impunity for violent crimes, undermining respect for the rule of law.
“In this sense, I commend the exemplary path chosen by The Gambia, where the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission as well as the National Human Rights Commission have embarked on their challenging tasks in a credible manner that has contributed to transitional justice and social cohesion.”
There is going to be a Strategic Review of UNOWAS, which Dr Chambas hoped would “contribute immensely to respond to our quest for adequate resources to enable us to sharpen our tools for preventing conflicts and sustaining peace”.