‘West Africa shaken by unprecedented violence’

The United Nations (UN) envoy for West Africa and the vast Sahel region told the Security Council on Monday that in recent months, the region has been “shaken by unprecedented violence”.

A “horrific attack against the Inates military camp, in Niger, still haunts the region,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).

“Relentless attacks on civilian and military targets have shaken public confidence,” he added.

International forces in the region have also endured significant losses, Chambas noted.

Concerning violent extremism, he said that the strategy and objectives of armed groups in the region are “in the public domain,” and cited Al-Qaeda militants as using local dynamics to spread extremism.

 In areas under their control, extremists provide safety, protection and social services, further exploiting state weaknesses.

 And some of the most violent local conflicts in the region concern the seasonal movement of livestock by pastoralists, or transhumance, where extremist groups have managed to establish footholds.

While the situation differs greatly from one country or region to the next, man-made factors, such as flooding an area with weapons, combined with a harsh natural environment, expanding deserts and climate change, magnify the tensions related to transhumance.

Against the backdrop that close to 70 per cent of West Africans are dependent on agriculture and livestock-rearing, Chambas stressed that finding ways to ensure peaceful coexistence between herders and farmers is imperative.

Other forms of communal violence are triggered by the nature of the fight against terrorism itself. In some cases, there aren’t enough security personnel to provide adequate protection for an expansive area, resulting in local defense forces or vigilantes, which Chambas called a “double-edged sword”.

The UN envoy maintained that UNOWAS has been advocating for improved legal frameworks and longer-term approaches to help overstretched governments cope.

 In 2019, religious violence has been exceptionally brutal, particularly in Burkina Faso, which has experienced unprecedented anti-Christian attacks, he said, adding similar patterns of targeted religious violence have occurred in Niger.

 “Ideologically-motivated violence can feed on conflicts tearing apart communities over land or water disputes,” said the UNOWAS chief.

He flagged that responses and frameworks addressing multi-dimensional violence are anchored in building partnerships and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

 Also, the Security Council can play a decisive role in accompanying these efforts, according to Chambas. -Xinhua

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