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Politicians’ actions responsible for coups in West Africa: UN

UN envoy Annadif Saleh says the resurgence of coups d’état, particularly in West Africa is often the consequence of political practices out of step with the aspirations of the populations.

Mr Saleh, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) said this while briefing the Security Council on Monday at UN headquarters in New York.

Mr Saleh, also the UN special representative for the Central African Republic also spoke about the recent wave of attempts and coups d’état in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and Guinea.

He 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.

According to the UN representative, 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 him, “these examples confirm the attraction of democracy, as the surest vector for shaping the future of communities.” Despite these political advances, Mr Saleh mentioned that the security environment had 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 violence 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 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 eight 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).

Mr Saleh further stated that the main result of the challenges was that “millions of children are growing up in difficult conditions, traumatised, 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 continued 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,” added Ms Waly.

Across the region, organised 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.

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