MS Risk Blog

UN Warns that Conflict is Spreading in West Africa

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This month, the United Nations envoy for West Africa warned that the ongoing conflict in Mali is spilling over to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, noting that a significant surge of attacks by extremist groups have been reported in recent months in the border areas. He further disclosed that insecurity in the Lake Chad basin, where Boko Haram remains active, is proving equally challenging.

Speaking to the UN Security Council, Mohamed Ibn Chambas disclosed that “efforts by member states in the region to deliver on development, improve infrastructure, create jobs and strengthen human security human security are being hampered by traditional and new drivers of conflict and insecurity,” adding that “terrorism and violent extremism, in addition to the humanitarian crisis and threats to state integrity that they generate, have exacerbated traditional threats.” Chambas noted that these factors, along with climate change, a growing youth population and lack of jobs, and unchecked urbanization are pushing a sure in migration and human trafficking.”

In the Sahel region, Chambas disclosed that deadly attacks along the border areas are having an impact on the local economy in the northern provinces of Burkina Faso and in the western regions of Niger. Chambas told the Council that “in the Sahel, persistent instability in Mali is spilling over to Burkina Faso and Niger, with deadly attacks along border area.” He went on to say that the Liptako Gourma region, which encompasses the border areas of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, “has seen a significant expansion of violent extremist and terrorist activities in the past months, including coordinated cross-border attacks against security posts and ransacking of border settlements.” He disclosed that violent extremist groups targeted Burkina Faso’s northern provinces of Soum, Loroum and Yatenga and Niger’s western regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua, which has had “detrimental effects on the local economy.”

Last month, the Security Council adopted a French-drafted resolution that welcomed the deployment of a 5,000-strong force set up by the three countries, along with Chad and Mauritania, to fight jihadists operating in the region. The resolution however fell short of a full UN authorization after the United States raised objections amidst concerns that UN member-states would need to provide funding for the Sahel force.

In January, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger agreed to pool their military and intelligence resources in order to address the cross-border crime, setting up a joint force in parallel with the Sahel operation. The UN has 12,500 troops and police who are serving in the MINUSMA force in Mali, which is considered to be the world body’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission. France also maintains 4,000 troops in the five Sahel countries as part of a counter-terror forces that has been deployed since its 2013 military intervention in Mali to drive out jihadist groups.

Lake Chad Basin

Speaking to the UN Security Council, Chambas also disclosed that the Lake Chad basin has also been affected.

According to Chambas, in the Lake Chad basin, which spans parts of seven countries, “an equally challenging pole of insecurity remains,” despite a multinational task force’s efforts that “have substantially degraded Boko Haram’s capabilities, shrunk its geographical reach, and freed thousands of captives.” He disclosed that recent attacks in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Maiduguri and in Niger’s eastern Diffa region “demonstrate that Boko Haram continues to pose a serious threat in the area,” adding “the mode and sophistication of these attacks have raised suspicions that the Boko Haram militants might have acquired reinforcements.”

West Africa and the Sahel region also face other pressing security threats, amongst them clashes between farmers and herders, transnational organized crime, drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking. According to Chambas, drug smugglers, human traffickers and arms peddlers are able to crisscross the porous borders, effectively establishing a tentative presence before moving onwards to new zones of operation, adding that the countries of the Sahel are in need of “more support” to confront growing concerns over security.