Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh, who also heads the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), commended the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for its engagement with the crises in Mali and Guinea and said UNOWAS supports all efforts for a return to constitutional order as soon as possible.
Mr. Mahamat Saleh believes that West Africa and the Sahel continue to make progress in many areas but warned that the subregion is “struggling with insecurity, which risks reversing hard-won advances.”
The Special Representative shared some progress with the Council members, such as the state of border negotiations between Cameroon and Nigeria, and elections in Gambia and Cape Verde.
For the Special Representative, “these examples confirm the attraction of democracy, as the surest vector for shaping the future of communities.”
Despite these political advances, Mr. Saleh believes the security environment has become more worrying.
In Burkina Faso, for example, there are “incessant” attacks by terrorist groups; while in Mali and Niger, large-scale attacks against military and civilian targets continue.
In Nigeria, an upsurge in crime between farmers and herders coincides with extremist violence in the northeast; other incidents, although small in scale, have occurred in the north of Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo.
For Mr. Mahamat Saleh, these events demonstrate that the “threat of acts of terrorism moving from the Sahel towards the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea is a reality.”
One of the major consequences of the security situation is a multifaceted humanitarian crisis, with rising food prices and increasing poverty.
Right now, more than 38 million people risk running out of food by the next lean season, a 23 per cent increase from last year.
The growing insecurity has also led to massive population displacement.
In November 2021, there were more than 8 million refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and stateless persons in West Africa and 4.1 million in the G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania).
For Mr. Saleh, the main result of all these challenges is that “millions of children are growing up in difficult conditions, traumatized, malnourished, poorly cared for, and without education.”
The Director-General of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Fathi Waly, also briefed Council members.
She said the Gulf of Guinea continues to be a priority concern, with incidents along the West African coast accounting for the majority of kidnappings at sea for ransom, occurring worldwide.
A new study by maritime security research group, Stable Seas, conducted in partnership with UNODC, estimates that piracy and armed robbery at sea are costing the Gulf of Guinea States $1.94 billion every year.
Port fees and import tariffs lost due to decreased shipping activity are estimated at $1.4 billion per year.
“These billions represent lost potential, and funds that could otherwise be invested in licit economies and in developing coastal communities, funds that are needed now more than ever in the continuing COVID-19 crisis”, Ms. Waly said.
Across the region, organized crime, facilitated by corruption, is also perpetuating instability, violence, and poverty.
“Lack of opportunities and frustration drive more youth to piracy and crime, and leave them more receptive to radicalization narratives”, the UNODC chief warned.
People and drug trafficking
These desperate conditions also render more people vulnerable to human trafficking.
According to the 2020 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 59 per cent of trafficking victims registered in West and Central Africa, are children, and 27 per cent are women.
Rising non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids and drug use disorders are harming health and public safety, as the region continues to be heavily affected by illegal tramadol imports.
At the same time, Ms. Waly informed, West Africa has emerged as a manufacturer of methamphetamine, mainly destined for markets in East and Southeast Asia.
Greater security threats are being posed by cocaine trafficking, with West Africa serving as a major transit area for onward shipments to Western and Central Europe, as well as cannabis resin trafficking.
“The value of these illicit flows exceeds the national budgets of some transit countries, which is highly destabilizing in this complex security situation”, Ms. Waly said.
More sanctions for Mali
Also on Monday, the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS decided to uphold sanctions already imposed on Mali and on transitional military authorities, who seized power in a coup last May, and impose additional measures.
ECOWAS leaders noted the failure of the military authorities to stick to an agreement to hold Presidential elections before 27 February of this year, contrary to a deal reached in September of 2020.
In a statement, the Authority said it “deeply deplores the obvious and blatant lack of political will from the Transition authorities”.
It also says the new calendar, submitted on 8 January, and setting the duration of the transition for a total of five and a half years, is “totally unacceptable.”
“This calendar simply means that an illegitimate military transition Government will take the Malian people hostage during the next five years”, the statement says.
Among the additional sanctions, the Authority decided to close land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Mali, and suspend all commercial and financial transactions, with the exception of food and pharmaceutical products, medical supplies and equipment, and petroleum products and electricity.