UN report paints a gloomy picture in West Africa and the Sahel

Woman preparing to distribute face masks in Senegal Woman preparing to distribute face masks in Senegal © UN Women

This report is a brief presentation of the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel

On 24 June 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General released his report on the work of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).  The report, which covers the period from 1 January 2020 to 22 June 2020, shows uneven progress in the political situation in the region. It noted efforts that have been undertaken to introduce electoral reforms in Côte d’Ivoire and the submission of the final draft of the constitution to President Adama Barrow in The Gambia. The report further welcomed the submission of the interim report by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission in The Gambia. The report details gross violations and abuses committed under the Government of Yahya Jammeh. 

The report noted with concern the increase in political tensions in Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, and Togo caused by the ongoing electoral processes in these countries. It also noted that Côte d’Ivoire and Benin had withdrawn their declarations on the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. Côte d'Ivoire's withdrawal came after the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights handed down a judgment which called for the Government to suspend the execution of an arrest warrant issued on 23 December 2019 against the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro. Soro was sentenced in absentia for embezzlement and money-laundering. Benin’s withdrawal came after the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights handed down a ruling which called for the Government to temporarily suspend the holding of the local elections on 17 May due to a lack of inclusivity. The report lamented the disruption caused by COVID-19 on the electoral processes in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, and Nigeria.

As far as the security situation is concerned, the Report noted the deteriorating security situation in North West and the Sahel as evidenced by the recurring terrorist attacks on civilians and defence and security forces in Burkina Faso, Mali, the Niger and Nigeria. It, however, noted that the security forces in these countries have stepped up their efforts to combat terrorism.  In Nigeria, the security situation has been exacerbated by the increase in clashes between farmers and herders, kidnappings for ransom, communal violence, and banditry attacks. The report also expressed concerns over the problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the increase in drug seizures in West Africa. 

The precarious security situation and COVID-19 made the humanitarian situation in the region dire. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2020, a new record high of 24 million Sahelians will need humanitarian assistance and protection. Further, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees observed that West Africa and the Sahel host 870,000 refugees and 4.9 million internally displaced persons. The United Nations Population Fund predicted that 19.1 million persons are projected to be food- insecure.  The report also noted that the pandemic could overwhelm fragile health systems in the region, leaving many vulnerable groups exposed.  A Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 issued in May appealed for $640 million to fight the epidemic in the countries of the Sahel.  The report further noted systematic attacks by extremists on civilians; intercommunal and electoral violence; the excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces; and restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and the press, undermined respect for human rights and the rule of law. 

Further, the adverse impact of COVID-19 pandemic on economic growth, poverty and on the implementation of the Sustainable Development was also noted. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that some 119 million children and 4 million teachers are affected in West and Central Africa. The report welcomed the participation and representation of youths and women in political and peace processes. Countries in the region continue their efforts to promote the protection of women and young people; for instance, Senegal promulgated a law that fully criminalises acts of rape and paedophilia. The Report, however, predicted that the outbreak of the pandemic would increase sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, and abuse. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel continued to support national and regional efforts to sustain peace through advocacy and support for inclusive approaches to national dialogues and electoral processes, the promotion of human rights and constitutional and institutional reforms. 

The Secretary-General urged political stakeholders in countries that are preparing for elections to build consensus ensuringinclusive, transparent, credible, and peaceful outcomes. He also called for the international community to assist countries in the region to alleviate the effects of COVID-19. The Secretary-General also called for regional leaders to ensure inclusivity and consensus regarding decisions taken and urged the countries in the region as well as to ensure full accountability for crimes committed during intercommunal clashes. He also emphasised the need for countries to redouble their efforts to address the root causes of terrorism through a more integrated approach, encompassing humanitarian assistance, development aid and security and human rights dimensions. 

 

To know more, please read:

https://unowas.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/sgreportwestafrica.pdf

 

Author: Lloyd Chigowe

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