18 December 2013

West Africa: Insecurity in West Africa

The United Nations is expressing concern over a number of undesirable activities occurring in West Africa, specifically within the Mano River Union region.

According to the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa, the region could witness an increase in political and social tensions if factors that undermine stability are not addressed by West African governments.

In a statement to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said the security situation in the Mano River basin, the Gulf of Guinea and the Sahel, among others continued to be of concern.

He indicated that insecurity in West Africa was compounded by weak and under resourced government institutions and agencies, the porosity of national borders, increased proliferation of small arms and light weapons, high numbers of unemployed young people prone to manipulation by extremist groups, unhindered cross-border movements of armed groups and transnational organized crime.

In the four member states of the Mano River Union (Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone), the Secretary General cited a number of illegal movements of armed groups across porous borders and rising ethno political extremism continued to affect the security situation. In July, ethnic tensions turned violent in Nzérékoré, south-east Guinea, leaving more than 216 people dead, 438 injured and some 30,000 displaced.

In a collective effort to resolve peace and security challenges in the border areas, the UN Chief said the countries that are members of the MRU developed and adopted a cross-border strategy on 25 October 2013, however, it seems that strategy is not effective.

Mr. Ban said piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea increased during the reporting period.

According to him, from January to October 2013, the Global Integrated Shipping Information System of the International Maritime Organization recorded 47 cases of piracy, of which 29 (62 per cent) occurred off the coast of Nigeria. Six ships were hijacked and subsequently released.

Moreover, criminal activities, including hostage-taking, increased in the reporting period, in particular in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

These concerns, the UN says are complex domestic and transnational challenges to stability, peace and security. These are related mainly to factors such as relatively weak state institutions; growing socioeconomic inequalities and high levels of unemployment, in particular among young people; a sharp increase in the activities of transnational organized criminal networks, religious extremism and terrorism in the face of limited national and regional capacity to respond.

The Secretary General indicated that a remarkable paradox of the past decade in West Africa has been the discrepancy between the impressive rate of economic growth - averaging 6.9 per cent per annum compared with the continent's 4.5 per cent per annum - and the limited progress in socioeconomic development and peace consolidation. This state of affairs has eroded state resilience to internal and external challenges throughout the region.

However, the Secretary General warned that these conditions are likely to prevail in West Africa in the coming years.

But should West African countries be unable to effect political reforms and their economies fail to generate employment, the region may witness an increase in political and social tensions, which would compound the challenges.

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