Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), has noted that West Africa has gained considerable ground in consolidating peace and democratic governance over the past decade.
This contrasts to previously having been ravaged by deadly/long years of conflict, widespread human rights violations and political instability.
These hard-won gains, he said, have generally brought stability to the region and enabled positive economic growth and development with a promise/potential to reverse the trend of widespread poverty and youth unemployment, and to promote sustainable livelihoods, good governance and democratic practice.
“Despite the slowing down of the global economy, the West Africa region has in recent years been the fastest growing economy in Africa with well above an average 6% (2012) and 5.6% (2013) growth rate.
However, there continues to be a growing disparity within countries on human development compounded by governance and security challenges — including transnational crime such as arms, drug and human trafficking and terrorism. The challenges faced throughout the West African region are complex and diverse,” he noted.
Dr. Chambas was the Guest Speaker at the 3rd Kofi Annan-Dag Hammarskjold Annual Lecture and Seminar at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra this week, on the topic “The Growing Challenges of Peace and Security in Africa: A West African Perspective”.
He observed that the fall-out of the 2011 Libyan crisis and subsequent spillover of the conflict continue to have a devastating impact on neighbouring countries in the Sahel.
Meanwhile, the structural problems faced by Sahelian countries in the area of economic development and democratic governance can also cause political disruptions, especially where an ever-growing youth population is frustrated by lack of opportunities and outlook for the future.
Dr. Chambas said this problem was undoubtedly a contributing factor last year, when Burkina Faso nearly plunged into a crisis following a popular uprising that saw the expulsion of the country’s President of 27 years in just two days.
“Indeed, the root-causes of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria can also be traced in parts to the Sahel-bred security threats and their consequences in the region. While the ongoing joint efforts are achieving concrete result, the long-term solution lies substantially in comprehensively addressing the root-causes of fragility in the Sahel region.”
Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas also cited the Gulf of Guinea as another area of instability in West Africa, which also straddles countries in the Central Africa region. He notes that many West African countries, including Ghana, have joined the club of petroleum oil producing countries — and minerals like oil can be a source of potential tension, just as diamonds were in Sierra Leone.
He said the petro-dollars from oil is attracting the attention of pirates and other interest groups who have embarked on the phenomenon of oil bunkering at high seas — taking a great toll on the security of oil and commercial vessels.
He added that 2015 and 2016 are the years of another cycle of elections in West Africa, and the Burkinabe experience underlies the volatility of electoral processes and contests in the sub-region.
He praised Nigeria for setting a positive pace, since the peaceful execution of general elections in a country of 175 million underlines how political leadership and commitment to non-violence and the non-instigation by party leaders can serve as a key factor in avoiding electoral violence.
For Ghana, Dr. Chambas advised it, as the country prepares for the 2016 general elections, to have as Head of the Electoral Commission a person with high integrity, professional competence, independent-mindedness and who is mindful of personal dignity and a legacy in consolidating Ghana’s rich experiences in the conduct of elections.
He expressed joy and satisfaction that Boko Haram has been pushed out of its strongholds, even though attacks still continue with over a million displaced people left largely unaddressed with no current prospectives of return.
Dr. Chambas concluded his lecture by paying glowing tribute to the two distinguished peacemakers on whose legacies the annual lecture was instituted: Dag Hammarskjold and Kofi Annan.
The Australian High Commissioner to Ghana, Joanna Adamson, chaired the function and praised the contribution to international peace and security of the two great diplomats who were the second and seventh Secretary-Generals of the United Nations Organisation — and both were recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
She said both men worked to resolve complex and controversial crises in Africa. Hammarskjold lost his life in a plane-crash over what is now Zambia. The involvement of the UN in the Congo was controversial and the circumstances of the plane-crash have remained mysterious to this day.
At the time of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, Kofi Annan was Head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping operations. The role of the UN in Rwanda at this time was likewise controversial. Adamson noted that though the contributions of both men were great, it however did not make peace and security permanent fixtures in Africa.
Last year (2014), the Security Council devoted over 50 percent of its time to African matters; and of the UN’s 16 peacekeeping missions, 9 are located in Africa.