West Africa recorded over 1,800 terrorist attacks in the first six months of the year resulting in nearly 4,600 deaths with dire humanitarian consequences, and a top regional official said Tuesday that’s just “a snippet of the horrendous impact of insecurity.”
Omar Touray told the UN Security Council that half a million people in the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States known as ECOWAS are refugees and nearly 6.2 million are internally displaced. If there isn’t an adequate international response to the 30 million people ECOWAS assesses need food right now, he said, the number of people in need will increase to 42 million by the end of next month.
Touray, who is president of the ECOWAS Commission, singled out the following drivers of insecurity in the region: terrorism, armed rebellion, organized crime, unconstitutional changes of government, illegal maritime activities, environmental crises and fake news.
“The reversal of democratic gains runs parallel to insecurity that West Africa and the Sahel have been facing for some time now,” he said, and insecurity continues to inflict pain and suffering on millions of people.
For example, Touray said, the 4,593 deaths in terrorist attacks between January and June 30 include 2,725 in Burkina Faso, 844 in Mali, 77 in Niger and 70 in Nigeria. He added that terrorist attacks in Benin and Togo which have coastlines on the Atlantic Ocean are a “stark indication of the expansion of terrorism to littoral states, a situation that poses additional threat to the region.”
Touray said there have been a multiplicity of initiatives to tackle terrorism and insecurity which have had an impact on the ground, but there is a lack of coordination and ECOWAS wants to integrate the various initiatives into a regional plan of action.
ECOWAS military chiefs of staff have held consultations to strengthen a regional standby force “in a manner that will enable it to support member states in the fight against terrorism and against threats to constitutional order,” he said.
Touray said the military chiefs proposed two options, establishing a 5,000-strong brigade at an annual cost of $2.3 billion or deployment of troops on demand at an annual cost of $360 million. He reiterated the African Union’s request for African peace operations to receive funding from the UN regular budget, to which all 193 UN member states contribute.
Touray said the military staff recommendations were made before Mali’s military junta demanded that the more than 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in the country leave, which was followed by the Security Council’s unanimous vote on June 30 to immediately end the mission. Mali has brought in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group to help fight an Islamic insurgency.
‘Further deterioration’ in central Sahel
Touray told the council that ECOWAS leaders “have reflected on the possible adverse impact of the withdrawal on the region and have decided to convene an extraordinary session on peace and security by the end of August.” Ahead of that meeting, he said, Benin’s president will visit Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea and press for “an expeditious return to constitutional order.”
The Security Council was also briefed by the new head of the UN office for West Africa, Leonardo Santos Simão, who said the security situation in the central Sahel, especially the border region of Burkina Faso. Mali and Niger, “has deteriorated further, with multiple attacks against civilians and defense and security forces.” He also said “the southward expansion of insecurity remains a potent threat.”
Simão appealed for “robust and decisive support” for the ECOWAS action plan to eradicate terrorism in the region and for the African Union and efforts by countries to stem insecurity in the Sahel.
US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the council “the United States remains gravely concerned by democratic backsliding across the region” and is “deeply concerned by the spread of instability in coastal West Africa.” He accused the Wagner Group of “committing human rights abuses and endangering the safety and security of civilians, peacekeepers and UN personnel.”
Russia’s deputy ambassador Anna Evstigneeva called the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel “difficult,” pointing to increased activity by fighters from the Islamic State extremist group, subversive activities by Boko Haram, and the spread of terrorist activity to coastal West African countries.