Special Research Report No. 1: Emerging Security Threats in West Africa
Background • West Africa’s Security Vulnerability • General Conclusions • The Emerging Threat from Drug Trafficking • The Emerging Threat from Terrorism • The Emerging Threat of Regional Challenges to Democratic Governance • The Emerging Threat of Piracy • Key Issues for the Council • Council Options • Looking Ahead • UN Documents • Other Relevant Facts • Useful Additional Sources
This special research report provides an analysis of a set of new issues that have been emerging in the West African subregion and possible implications for the Security Council in the coming year(s). It identifies some key emerging threats to peace and security in the 16-state subregion and their linkages to existing security challenges. The report points to a key feature: the fact that some of the new threats are essentially criminal rather than political in nature. However, it explains also the growing political and security implications. The report also highlights action already taken by the Council to recognise these threats and considers options available to the Council to tackle these issues going forward.
The raw material for the study was derived from literature research; field research in a number of countries in the West African subregion (including Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria); and interviews in the region with diplomats, government officials and officials of relevant international intergovernmental bodies (e.g. UN Office in West Africa or UNOWA, UN Office for Drugs and Crime or UNODC, the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS and the AU), NGOs and academics.
Many parts of West Africa have been embroiled in violent conflict from the late 1980s till the first years of the 21st century. Conflict theatres included Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire. This has posed significant challenges to regional peace and security. In response the Security Council authorised a range of peace operations in the four affected countries. Some of these missions have gone through various transformations since their inception in line with the evolution of the situation on the ground in their respective mandated scope of operation. The four country-specific missions authorised by the Council in West Africa are the:
UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL);
UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI);
UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL); and
UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS).
In 2001 the UN established a special regional Office in West Africa (UNOWA) to address the cross-border nature of certain challenges in West Africa and to monitor peace and security issues arising in the region that might require its attention but were not already on the Council agenda.
The threats to subregional stability which assumed ascendancy in the 1990s and first part of the 21st century included military and political adventurism, ethnic divisions and illegal exploitation of natural resources. These were intensified by serious socioeconomic constraints, weak state institutions and the prevalence of illegal arms trafficking and mercenarism.
Most of the countries that experienced violent conflict during the period have now recently entered into an era of peace consolidation and peacebuilding, albeit with continued fragile security. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau are currently all on the agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).
Some of the old challenges to regional peace and security remain, in varying degrees and numbers, in many of the 16 countries that constitute the subregion. However, it has become apparent in very recent times that a number of relatively “new” potential drivers of conflict have been emerging. It is this latter phenomenon that this study has been designed to address, to identify and analyse the key emerging challenges, especially with regard to how these new challenges could impact the work of the Council (and regional organisations) in the current decade and how in turn the Council could respond to them.
Four major emerging security threats have been identified in the West African subregion:
Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime
Challenges to Democratic Governance
It must be noted that at the global level the “emerging threats” are not new issues. However, they have gained prominence in West Africa in recent years due to the significant scale in which they are beginning to be felt in the subregion and the consequent challenges to regional stability that they now pose.
2. West Africa’s Security Vulnerability
Despite the considerable progress made in development and peace consolidation in some parts of West Africa (and in some instances the notable democratic and socioeconomic advances) and notwithstanding the fact that some countries, such as Ghana, have no history of violent national civil conflict, it seems that there are apparent structural deficiencies which have made much of the region particularly susceptible to the emerging threats. These vulnerabilities include weak border control systems (leading to porous territorial boundaries), the inability of criminal justice systems to ensure effective operation of the rule of law and inadequate coordination and information-sharing among relevant national agencies, as well as limited institutional cooperation across borders with neighbouring countries.
The above weaknesses seem to be the result, in large measure, of years of economic mismanagement and lack of social investment, exacerbated by civil wars, which in some contexts have significantly diminished human capital, social infrastructure and productive national development assets. Also, the historical factors of corrosive nationalism and the diverse colonial inheritance, with different legislative and cultural affiliations, as well as with their different national territories often not coinciding with traditional ethnic groups (and some with historical animosities), has contributed significantly to the vulnerability.
These vulnerabilities seem to have exposed the subregion to the emergence of relatively new threats to peace and security and to undermine the capacity of the subregion to respond adequately to the impact of drugs, terrorism and piracy.
Identifiable inter-linkages between the various emerging threats are highlighted in this report, as well as their linkages with the existing security challenges in the subregion. Drug money laundered in the region funds the transit activity including the sustenance and expansion of drug trafficking networks, but is also a latent source of funding for violent insurrections, religious militancy and terrorism. It has also enabled the hollowing of state institutions from the inside out, through corruption of government officials and made affected countries susceptible to becoming “narco-states”. A related latent consequence is the potential for violent reaction resulting from disaffection about the socioeconomic disparities created by the infusion of drug money. Negative trends due to structural deficiencies in the region have meant that the smuggling of arms, drugs and contraband, widespread corruption and poor governance can be exploited by terrorist organisations’ operatives, and the lines between Islamic militancy and organised crime and piracy can become blurred. High levels of youth unemployment, illegal arms trafficking, weak naval policing and socio-political disaffection have provided an enabling environment for criminal gangs engaged in piracy in West Africa. The exploitation of underlying socioeconomic challenges and ethnic differences, as well as possible funding by drug trafficking networks and relatively easy access to illegal weapons have influenced recent challenges to democratic governance in the region.
Efforts to effectively redress the emerging challenges will have to be primarily taken by the nation at immediate risk in the subregion. However, this cannot be effective unless it is buttressed by strategic international partnerships. Continued proactive action by the UN Security Council, since regional peace and security is at stake, would be a helpful contribution.
Renewed momentum in the Council on these issues is therefore an important option, especially if it includes a comprehensive approach to addressing the identified threats as they span interrelations between conflict prevention, peacebuilding and peacekeeping activities and development.
Key elements of a comprehensive approach have been identified in past Council decisions, including the interdependence of the rule of law and human rights with security and development.
Fine tuning the appropriate role for the Council under the UN Charter, in relation to these threats to security in West Africa, and how to respond in partnership with regional and subregional organisations will be a test of the Council’s capacity to adapt to 21st century needs.
4. The Emerging Threat from Drug Trafficking
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has noted that in recent years West Africa has emerged as a key transit point for illicit drugs, in particular cocaine, from Latin American countries to Europe. Not surprisingly, drug-trafficking has also now emerged as a credible threat to the ability of countries in West Africa to maintain peace and security. This is because of the drug traders’ capacity to exploit and further undermine West Africa’s already weak governance, impede its development, and potentially, to reignite its smoldering conflicts.
Growing demand in Europe for cocaine seems to be resulting in increased shipment from South America to Europe. (A contributing factor may also be tightening enforcement and interdiction along the traditional trafficking routes to North America.) Consequently, drug traffickers seem to have turned their attention to West Africa as a transit zone for conveying a range of illicit drugs to Europe, including heroin and cocaine.
The impact of the illicit trade on the local economy can sometimes be dramatic. For example, UNODC estimated in 2008 that in Guinea-Bissau the value of cocaine transported through the country may have been greater than the entire national income.
The ECOWAS Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) has noted that cocaine seizures in West Africa increased significantly since 2003 and 2004. The region’s trans-shipment role for heroin and especially cocaine, as well as on a smaller scale from cannabis production, have resulted in the availability in the region of new sources of revenue derived from the drug trafficking. Small aircraft and ships are mainly used to transport cocaine from Latin America to West Africa. It is then repackaged in the region and sent on, especially to Europe, primarily by carriers or (human) “mules” on commercial aircraft, but also by sea or across the Sahara desert.
Drug money was laundered in the region principally to fund the transit activity including the sustenance and expansion of drug trafficking networks, and it is also a latent source to fund violent insurrections and religious militancy. A May 2010 report by GIABA entitled Corruption–Money Laundering Nexus: An Analysis of Risks and Control Measures in West Africa, noted that there was also growing evidence of wider laundering of drug profits in the region, especially in the property market. The UNODC report also noted that the street value of cocaine passing through the region has been estimated at some $1 billion in 2009, and while it had recently noted some decrease in cocaine quantities passing through West Africa, the weakness of preventive capacity in the region ensured that this route from South America to Europe remained open and a major contributor to illegal earnings for those engaged.
Statistics seem to indicate that the recent drop in drug seizures in the subregion reported by UNODC in 2009 and 2010 may correspond to the growing political recognition of the problem at the global level and the consequential strengthening countermeasures. On the other hand there are worries by many that reduced trafficking could be due to the fact that the networks have adopted new methods, are lying low for a season or are simply not being detected (UNODC indicated that while seizures of narcotics have decreased in the region over the past three years, the drug trade is on the increase, with traffickers resorting to more sophisticated methods, making the narcotics more difficult to intercept). However, the structural weaknesses that were exploited by the traffickers remain and are clearly a factor in the peace and security equation in the region.
A sign of another emerging threat is the appearance of reports of local consumption of cocaine in certain transit countries (e.g. Guinea-Bissau) and the emergence of related addictive behaviour among sections (albeit relatively small) of local population. This has been adding a new layer to the problems that have bedevilled the subregion.
4.1 Selected Recent Developments Relating to Drug Trafficking
The following are a few examples of some recent publicly known cases.
Between 28 May and 1 June 2010, Liberia deported seven people to the US after they were arrested for allegedly trying to ship 4,000 kilograms of cocaine there. The suspects were accused of trying to bribe key Liberian officials to facilitate large shipments of cocaine since 2007. (The deportees were subsequently charged by prosecutors in New York.)
On 8 April 2010 the US accused two high-level military officials in Guinea-Bissau, former Navy Chief Rear Admiral José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto and Air Force Chief of Staff Ibraima Papa Camara, of drug running and imposed financial sanctions and proscribed US citizens from doing business with them under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, commonly known as the “kingpin act.”
On 8 June 2010 Gambian authorities intercepted about two tonnes of cocaine bound for Europe with a street value estimated at US$1 billion, together with large quantities of cash, arms and numerous revealing computer records. Twelve suspected traffickers were arrested.
4.2 Recent Council Action Relating to Drug Trafficking
The Security Council has on a number of occasions recognised the significance of such transnational threats for international peace and security in various parts of the world, particularly the role played by drug trafficking and organised crime in conflicts, including in the specific cases of Afghanistan (S/RES/1817 of 11 June 2008 and S/RES/1890 of 8 October 2009), Guinea-Bissau (S/PRST/2009/29 of 5 November 2009) and Haiti (S/RES/1892 of 13 October 2009), and thematically regarding the continent of Africa (S/PRST/2009/32 of 8 December 2009) and in the context of terrorism (S/RES/1373 of 28 September 2001).
In a presidential statement on 10 July 2009 (S/PRST/2009/20) the Council reaffirmed the importance of addressing illicit drug trafficking and criminal activities by an approach of shared responsibility, and welcomed the West African states’ continued leadership in implementing the ECOWAS Plan of Action (to combat illegal drug trafficking and organised crime) and UNOWA’s role in support of the implementation of this plan. UNOWA facilitates and monitors the implementation of the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI) project, launched on 8 July 2009, on behalf of the UN. WACI brings together UNODC, DPKO, DPA, and INTERPOL, as well as UN peacekeeping and political missions in West Africa (like UNOWA, UNIPSIL, UNIOGBIS, UNOCI and UNMIL) to assist ECOWAS and countries of West Africa (like Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone) to strengthen their capacity to prevent and combat transnational organised crime. Particular emphasis is being placed on developing transnational organised crime units and providing specialised training.
Regarding specific Council interest in the impact of transnational crime on West African and African regional peace and security, on 5 November 2009, during the Austrian presidency, the Council invited the head of UNODC to brief on the problem of illicit drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau and the West African subregion (S/PV.6212). He noted that while over the preceding 18 months drug seizures had dropped in the region, this trend had to be interpreted cautiously, especially since demand for cocaine persisted. The Council adopted a presidential statement reiterating the importance of consolidating democracy, security, the rule of law and national reconciliation to ensure sustainable peace in Guinea-Bissau (S/PRST/2009/29).
On 8 December 2009 during a thematic debate on the topic “Peace and Security in Africa: Drug trafficking as a threat to international security” organised by Burkina Faso, Council members stressed the importance of strengthening transnational cooperation to stem the global trafficking problem in view of the serious threats posed by drug trafficking and related transnational crime to international security in different regions of the world, including Africa. There was, at that time, a general consensus on the need for a follow-up to these discussions (S/PV.6233 and resumption 1).
During the 8 December meeting the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2009/32) which was significant in terms of the Council’s approach to the issue. The statement was seen as the first coherent political commitment by the Council to address the global drug menace based on “common and shared responsibility.” The Security Council identified drug trafficking, on a trans-regional basis, as a “serious threat”, along with related transnational organised crime, to “international security in different regions of the world.” It stressed the “importance of strengthening trans-regional and international cooperation” to tackle the “world drug problem.”
On 24 February 2010, at the initiative of the French presidency, the Executive Director of UNODC made a presentation to the Council in which he drew attention to the implications of transnational threats to regional and international security with a view to galvanising political will to enhance UN capacity to prevent and control such threats. In a presidential statement that day (S/PRST/2010/4), the Security Council invited the Secretary-General to mainstream the issue of organised crime—particularly drug trafficking—into conflict-prevention strategies, conflict analysis and integrated-missions assessment and planning, as well as peacebuilding support.
4.3 Council Dynamics Relating to Drug Trafficking
In 2009 Council members seemed generally eager to articulate a collective vision of the significance of these “non-political” transnational threats to global security. This was reflected in the Council’s 24 February 2010 statement (S/PRST/2010/4).
However, despite the Council’s recognition of the significance of the threats posed by drug trafficking, it has been generally discussed in the context of thematic debates, with some country-specific cases only being touched on when renewing mandates or considering update reports by the Secretary-General (e.g. Guinea-Bissau).
There has been an apparent loss of momentum in highlighting the issue in recent times. This may be partly due to the fact that there is currently no country seeking to take the lead on the issue of drug trafficking, which has resulted in it receiving no direct attention since early 2010. This dynamic has been partly compounded by the fact that non-permanent Council members who took up the issue in previous years (e.g. Burkina Faso) have since completed their two-year tenure in the Council. France has been the only permanent Council member to take up the issue in recent years, as it did in the context of the briefing of the Executive Director of the UNODC in February 2010.
5. The Emerging Threat from Terrorism
Over recent years it has emerged that, in addition to drug traffickers, and the related organised crime elements, terrorist groups have begun exploiting structural state weaknesses in the West African subregion, including especially the porous borders and socioeconomic discontent. It seems that the other negative trends which are problematic in the region—the smuggling of arms, drugs and contraband, widespread corruption, poor governance and a history of hostage taking for ransom in the Sahelian region—have provided an opportunity for the entrance of terrorist organisations with operatives, and the lines between Islamic militancy and organised crime are becoming blurred.
5.1 Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
AQIM is the most well-known and verifiable terrorist group whose operation affects West Africa. AQIM is a terrorist organisation with its origins in Algeria (in North Africa). It has spread its operations to Mali, Mauritania and Niger (all in West Africa). It seems AQIM operatives have learned their techniques from Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan, and AQIM is gaining a foothold in lawless parts of regions in that part of the Sahara, with nomadic tribes, where local loyalties take precedence over other allegiances.
In Mauritania, in December 2007 four French tourists were murdered by attackers linked to Al-Qaida. In February 2008 gunmen alleged to have links with AQIM opened fire on the Israeli embassy in the capital, Nouakchott. In September of that year twelve Mauritanian soldiers were killed in an ambush claimed by AQIM. In August 2009 AQIM claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack directed at the French Embassy. In December of that same year Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Italians, weeks after kidnapping three Spanish aid workers. Mauritania adopted new anti-terrorism law in July 2010 to enhance the powers of national security forces to combat AQIM. In September 2010 the Mauritanian air force launched attacks at suspected Al-Qaida militant bases in Mali, after kidnappers crossed into Mali with seven foreigners who had been abducted in Niger.
In Niger, in December 2008 the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Niger, Robert Fowler, and his aide was kidnapped by Al-Qaida. (They were both subsequently released in April 2009.) In April 2010,a French national was kidnapped near the borders with Mali and Algeria, with Al-Qaida claiming responsibility. The hostage was killed after a failed French rescue raid in Mali. In September 2010 seven foreigners were kidnapped in northern Niger. In January 2011 two French nationals, kidnapped by suspected AQIM militants, were killed in a rescue attempt involving French military forces.
In April 2010 Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria established a joint command to deal with the threat of terrorism.
Hezbollah and, more recently, the Taliban have both been identified as having had some form of operational or opportunistic links in the region, especially through money laundering. The widespread population of Lebanese descent found in many countries along the coast of West Africa may also include some with links, at least of a financial nature, to Hezbollah.
The connected threats of money laundering and the financing of terrorism are of significant concern in West Africa. The May 2010 report by GIABA noted that because the size of the informal economy in West Africa (constituting the equivalent of about 60 to 70 percent of the formal regional GDP), the nature of tax evasion in the region, the problem of corruption (which has a corrosive impact on state capacity, with state officials using their positions of privilege to aid in laundering) and the region’s role as a drug transit point, money laundering and the financing of terrorism would be particular problems.
GIABA specifically notes that “one area of concern in West Africa is that the Lebanese political party, Hezbollah, has something of a funding network in the region. While much of the charitable fundraising carried out in the region is undoubtedly legitimate, concerns about the use of some funds to support terrorist acts is a major concern. Other concerns about terrorist financing relate to the activities of Al-Qaida in the Mahgreb, which operates in the Sahara desert”.
5.3 The Taliban
On 10 and 12 February 2011 five alleged Taliban operatives were arrested by Liberian security personnel and subsequently transferred into the custody of the US. The five have since been charged in the US in connection with a plot to assist the Afghan Taliban by sending weapons to their insurgents and transporting tons of Afghan heroin through West Africa. The five arrested men were reported to have operated drug trafficking networks in Benin and elsewhere in the region. (Two Americans linked to the plot were arrested in Romania and were charged with conspiracy to sell automatic rifles, air-to-surface missiles and other weapons to the Taliban to support their operations.)
These particular arrests, while achieved as a result of a security operation by Liberian and US undercover agents posing as Taliban, nevertheless confirm the general threat that exists and the way that the subregion’s vulnerabilities could be exploited by terrorists elsewhere to further their purposes including using the area to launch attacks both subregionally or elsewhere.
5.4 Council Dynamics relating to Terrorism
Much of the Council’s ongoing attention to the issue of terrorism has been through its three counterterrorism committees: the 1267 Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee, the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC, or the 1373 Committee) and the 1540 Committee on WMD and terrorism. These committees now report to the Council in regular twice-yearly joint briefings.
Of these, the CTC has the broadest focus. Resolution 1373 of 2001 created the CTC and mandated that member states implement measures to counter terrorist activities, including criminalising the financing of terrorism, denying safe haven or support for terrorists and sharing information with other governments on groups planning terrorist acts. The CTC and the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) support this mandate by visiting countries to monitor progress, providing technical assistance to help match member states to assistance programmes and potential donors, generating country reports to provide a snapshot of the counterterrorism situation in countries and organising special meetings to develop closer ties with international, regional and subregional organisations.
There appears to be broad agreement among the P5 that the issue of terrorism requires ongoing attention and joint support. The CTC and CTED are viewed as key to this effort. During the most recent joint briefing (S/PV.6424) to the Council in November 2010, just prior to CTED’s mandate renewal, China welcomed the efforts of CTED while Russia noted that CTED had increased the transparency of its work and supported a continuation of that practice. France said it viewed CTC’s overall effectiveness as dependent on CTED and the UK stated that CTED should continue to adapt to the evolving threat of terrorism and focus more on how states can better counter violent extremism. The US expressed strong support for CTED and said the directorate should intensify its regional and thematic approach while developing regional capacity.
Such an approach has been apparent in CTED’s current and planned activities. Prior to its renewal in December 2010, CTED submitted a report to the CTC (S/2010/569) that noted it had continued its involvement in regional outreach. The report noted that CTED increasingly prefers regional approaches because they have the potential for greater impact than outreach to a single state. For example, CTED continued to develop a relationship with the African Centre for Studies and Research on Terrorism because the centre is facilitating cooperation throughout Africa through its own training programmes. CTED has also worked to develop relations with other regional organisations. In Africa these have included the AU, ECOWAS, the IGAD Capacity-Building Programme against Terrorism, the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa and the Southern African Development Community. The report noted that while CTED itself does not have the capacity to provide training to the African states that need assistance, it can act as a catalyst for training through regional institutions. CTED has expressed its intention to pursue future initiatives in east Africa, organise workshops on border control in West Africa and southern Africa and to work to establish a regional counterterrorism strategy among ECOWAS states.
Recent challenges to democratic governance in West Africa in the form of elections related disputes (e.g. Côte d’Ivoire) as well as the resurgence of coups d’état (e.g. Guinea) have in some cases threatened deterioration in national security apparatuses, with consequent threats to peace and security in fragile neighbouring states.
6.1 The Conundrum of Democratic Elections based on a “Winner Takes All” Principle
Democratic elections can be vital building blocks in developing a stable state based on principles of representation of and delivery for all the people, the rule of law and good and accountable governance. They can also help in some cases in consolidating peace in post conflict societies. However, this is not necessarily true in all cases of post conflict peacebuilding. The quest to achieve more representative and legitimate institutions in West Africa, through the holding of national elections, has suffered some notable setbacks in recent years, with some violent reactions. This raises concerns about an emerging pattern of retrogression from a genuine commitment to democratization: alienation of sections of the citizenry from the key political players and the generation of further grievances, which encourage recourse to violence by disaffected groups with arguments of exclusion and bad governance.
The fiercely competitive nature of party politics has been a factor threatening stability in the region in large part because there is a widespread perception of elections as a “winner takes all” event. This perception, against a backdrop of palpable inter-ethnic tensions, raises the stakes and risks for all those involved.
Countries like Ghana have successfully transitioned from one government to another through credible democratic elections. However, in a sense this may be the exception rather than the rule. Nigeria’s 2007 elections left much to be desired. The 2010 presidential elections in Guinea led to the outbreak of violence along ethnic lines that threatened to engulf the country in civil war, with potential security risks for its neighbouring countries.
In Côte d’Ivoire, the case of the election dispute over the outcome of the 28 November 2010 presidential elections, which was designed to help bring closure to the country’s peace and security challenges, has graphically underlined the problem. The refusal of the camp of Laurent Gbagbo to cede office, following UN certification of the results in favour of his opponent Alassane Ouattara, led to a four-month long tense standoff and widespread violence against civilians. There was a real fear that the country would unravel into full scale civil war, with a possible domino effect on its neighbouring countries, especially those that are recently emerging from conflict like Liberia and fragile states like Guinea.
The zero-sum-game increasingly being adopted by some key political actors seems to be producing a trend in which democratic elections are being used as occasions to exploit underlying socioeconomic and ethnic differences to reinforce bids for power.
This seems to be accompanied by an upsurge in violence which increasingly is being seen in periods when general elections are being held in countries in the region. Partisan security forces have become part of the problem and the judicial machinery often seems complicit or to be turning a blind eye to electoral rigging and violence. The judiciary also in some contexts seems influenced by the “winner takes all” culture, leading to pervasive impunity and weak rule of law.
6.2 Renewed Propensity to Unconstitutional Changes of Government
Another factor in the emerging threats to stability, which may be linked to or even result from the “winner takes all” culture, has been a renewed pattern of unconstitutional changes in government by coups d’état in West Africa in recent times. While coups d’état are not new phenomena in West Africa’s chequered political history, the recent unconstitutional changes in government have given rise for concern especially since the post-Cold War era coup attempts have also led to violent civil strife (e.g. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire) and affected stability in neighbouring countries.
In Guinea a military junta seized power on 23 December 2008 after the death of long-serving President Lansana Conte. The coup was widely condemned internationally. Both the AU, on 29 December 2008, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on 10 January 2009, decided to suspend Guinea until the return of constitutional order in the country. The intense domestic pressure and political response including mass democratic protests was surpassed by the killing of over a hundred civilians by security forces. However, following strong international pressure, including a presidential statement by the Security Council about possible prosecution of the junta leaders found to be responsible for the killings before the ICC, the coup leaders relented on their bid for power and held elections leading to the eventual choice of a civilian president.
In August 2008 authorities in Guinea-Bissau uncovered an attempted coup d’état, allegedly organised by the then navy chief of staff, Rear Admiral José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto. Bubo Na Tchuto, who was suspended and kept under house arrest, subsequently escaped to Gambia where the national authorities reported his arrest and sought the assistance of the UN to return him to Guinea-Bissau.
During the weekend of 22 November 2008 the then president of Guinea-Bissau, João Bernardo Vieira, escaped unharmed in an overnight attack on his home by mutinous soldiers. In a subsequent dramatic turn of events that threatened Guinea-Bissau’s fragile democracy and security situation, both the chief of the armed forces, General Batista Tagme Na Waie, and President Vieira were assassinated on consecutive days, 1 and 2 March 2009. The Council and other international bodies condemned the assassinations. (At the time regional security implications were also of concern, including Guinea-Bissau’s border with Senegal’s restive Casamance region, an area where a long separatist struggle had been highly influenced by Guinea-Bissau’s politics. There were concerns that further unrest in Guinea-Bissau could undermine the cross-border cooperation that has bolstered peace in Casamance.)
On 28 June 2009 presidential elections were held in Guinea-Bissau, followed by a run-off on 26 July, with Malam Bacai Sanhá of the governing African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde emerging as the winner with 63 percent of the votes. He subsequently appointed Carlos Gomes Júnior as Prime Minister.
However, the election did not produce a return to political normalcy in Guinea-Bissau. A major military insurrection took place on 1 April 2010. The mutiny was orchestrated by former deputy Army Chief of Staff, Major General António Indjai, with the apparent support of the former navy chief, Bubo Na Tchuto, who had returned to the country from exile in Gambia in December 2009. (Bubo Na Tchuto had returned from Gambia where he had fled following his implication in a failed coup attempt in August 2008 and had until 1 April been living under protective asylum within the premises of the headquarters of UNIOGBIS.)
Indjai initially detained Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior together with the then Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Zamora Induta, with about a dozen of the latter’s perceived (mostly military) allies. Following a spontaneous gathering of hundreds of civilians on 1 April 2010 to express support for the prime minister, call for his release and oppose the mutiny, Gomes Júnior was released. Induta remained in detention. (He was eventually released in December 2010, following various international calls, including by the Security Council through various statements, for the government to either bring him to trial or release him.)
On 1 April 2010 the Council issued a press statement expressing concern about the military incidents that had taken place that day in Guinea-Bissau. It urged all parties to avoid acts of violence, uphold constitutional order and respect the rule of law.
President Sahna and Prime Minister Gomes have since continued in their constitutional capacities with the president describing the insurrection as “confusion between soldiers”, but both seem to be in enfeebled positions. De facto power seems to continue to reside, at least to some extent, with Indjai who has been subsequently appointed head of the armed forces of the country. The dropping of treason charges against Bubo Na Tchuto and his appointment as head of the country’s navy seemed to confirm reports of his increasing influence in state affairs.
On 6 August 2008 in Mauritania, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former chief of staff of the Mauritanian army and head of the Presidential Guard, took power from Mauritania’s first democratically elected president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, in a coup. On 19 August the Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the overthrow and demanding the immediate release of Abdallahi and “the restoration of the legitimate, constitutional, democratic institutions” (S/PRST/2008/30). The Council also said it opposed any attempts to change governments through unconstitutional means and added that it would monitor the situation. The military junta did not comply. Presidential elections were eventually organised by the junta in July 2009, with its leader Abdel Aziz prevailing as the winner.
In early 2009 Niger witnessed what some described as a “constitutional coup”. President Mamadou Tandja had ruled Niger for more than a decade when he was toppled by a coup in February 2010. Tandja sought to extend his stay in power in 2009 by changing the constitution to allow him to seek a third term, with his supporters citing the relative socioeconomic gains that he had made. Niger’s Constitutional Court thrice ruled that Tandja’s plans for a referendum on the issue were illegal. However, Tanja responded by disbanding both the court and parliament, and assumed emergency powers. A referendum was subsequently held in August 2009, with Tandja winning. But the opposition described the referendum results as rigged and accused the president of staging a coup.
InOctober 2010 a referendum was held in Niger and approved a new constitution drawn up to restore civilian rule. Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in January 2011. A run-off presidential race was held on 12 March 2011 with opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou emerging as the winner with 58 percent of the votes.
6.3 Council Dynamics on Challenges to Democratic Governance
The willingness and ability of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to act in concert against coups on the African continent, in recent years, have stood in contrast to the lack of quick and effective support to the PSC by the UN Security Council. In early 2009 the AU had expressed its “deep concern over the resurgence of the scourge of coups d’état on the Continent, which constitutes not only a dangerous political downturn and a serious setback to the democratic processes, but also a threat to peace, security and stability” of the continent and called on its members “to react and firmly and unequivocally put an end to this scourge.” It also requested its partners to support the decisions taken by its organs on unconstitutional changes of government. However, despite AU PSC calls for Council support of its decisions, there has been reticence in the Council to support AU sanctions by adopting its own corresponding targeted sanctions or even by putting issues on its agenda for discussion.
China and Russia have been reluctant to impose sanctions as a matter of policy, citing the potential to infringe on the sovereign rights of states. The other permanent Council members—the UK, the US and France—have been reluctant to make condemnation of coups an automatic Council practice. The lack of an apparent threat to peace and security has often been raised to justify inaction.
On 5 May 2009 the Council did issue a presidential statement expressing its “deep concern over the resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government in a few African countries” (S/PRST/2009/11). The statement was the first of its kind in recent years, and was initiated by Uganda (which then chaired the Council’s Ad-Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa), in close consultation with the two other African countries then members of the Council (Libya and Burkina Faso) and, therefore, appeared to be a coordinated African initiative derived from the earlier decision by the AU.
It is fair to say that most Council members have been concerned about the escalation of violence in the lead up to elections in the subregions, especially when it pertains to developments in countries that have recently emerged from violent civil conflict or could potentially slide into conflict. This has been reflected in some of its statements and resolutions calling for key players in each political context to exercise restraint in their activities to avert the outbreak of violence (e.g. On 17 September 2010 the Council issued a press statement expressing concern about the violent political clashes in Guinea that occurred in early September and regret about the postponement of the second round of presidential elections, while urging the Guinean government to ensure a calm and peaceful electoral environment [SC/10035]). However, there have been serious differences of opinion among key members as to how far the Council should go beyond voicing concerns. Western members and some African members have preferred a more vocal response to such developments, Russia and China and have been inclined towards a more cautious approach citing the sovereign rights of nations.
7. The Emerging Threat of Piracy
The West African coast has been listed among the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) top seven piracy hotspots in the world in its 2009 Annual Report. Piracy in West Africa has both political and economic causes. It often occurs in places where there is a lack of law enforcement on the seas, excessive poverty and resentment of commercially successful vessels. The coasts of parts of West Africa fulfill these three criteria. Our interviews in the region suggest that, apart from the situation in Somalia (in East Africa), West Africa has some of the most volatile and dangerous seas in Africa.
Among the other factors contributing to the emergence of piracy off the Western Africa coast have been the proliferation of arms in the region (due to recent history of civil wars and weak state controls), as well as high levels of youth unemployment. Unemployed youths have been lured into criminal groups engaged in piracy, or the theft of crude oil (referred to as illegal oil bunkering).
The International Chamber of Commerce’s Commercial Crime Services has, for instance, highlighted some areas in the subregion, including Lagos and Bonny River (Nigeria), Conakry (Guinea) and Douala Outer Anchorage (Cameroon), as being piracy prone areas and cautioned mariners to be watchful when transiting those areas.
It has been estimated by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) that the majority of incidents of piracy (54 percent) in West Africa between 2001 and 2008 occurred in Nigeria. In the case of Nigeria, piracy is linked to the large scale of oil bunkering which is sold to vessels offshore. This trade has drawn in illegal oil buyers and arms traders in the Gulf of Guinea coast off Nigeria.
In November 2010 an unsuccessful attempt was made by unidentified armed men to board a sea vessel conveying logistical supplies for the UN Mission in Liberia in the waters off the coast of Liberia.
Given the increasing number of off-shore oil resources that have been discovered along the coast of West Africa (e.g. in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia), an area of particular concern could be attacks along these poorly policed territorial waters by pirates, either on oil rigs or against commercial vessels.
7.1 Effects of Piracy
The effects of piracy are quite far reaching. In the immediate subregion pirates have been reported to use proceeds from their activities to arm rebel groups (e.g. in the Niger Delta of Nigeria), thus posing a direct threat to the stability of affected countries. Piracy further adversely impacts domestic economies and, therefore, impacts political stability. Disruption of the fishing industry harms local economies and leaves people more susceptible to further impoverishment. As pirate attacks increase, states that cannot effectively combat pirates lose their economic capacity also because trading companies begin to avoid their territorial waters and ports, searching for safer alternatives. This negatively impacts the flow of foreign direct investment and trade.
Where pirates are allowed to operate successfully, it could be at the expense of the wider global economy, including the loss of goods meant to be traded between countries. This not only harms the countries themselves, but also provides a disincentive to companies wishing to ship their goods across international waters, with a consequent effect on global economic activity. Thus, as has been seen in the case of Somalia, piracy can actively hinder international economic development and reduce the benefits of globalisation for both developing and developed countries.
7.2 Council Dynamics relating to Piracy
The Council’s attention regarding the issue of piracy has been primarily focused on developments relating to Somali pirates. Legal issues have been a key focus for the Council in relation to Somali piracy and in particular how to ensure prosecution of suspected pirates and imprisonment in the case of convictions since few countries are willing to take this on. There has also been a growing recognition among Council members of the need to address piracy’s root causes.
However, the Council had been apprised of the threat presented by piracy in West Africa. In his 7 July 2009 briefing to the Council on the situation in West Africa, the head of UNOWA, Said Djinnit, mentioned piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (together with other issues such as terrorist activities in the Sahel band and governance problems) as an emerging threat that could jeopardise ongoing peace efforts in the subregion. On 10 July 2009 the Council in a presidential statement expressed concern about the fragile nature of progress in the West Africa, particularly with regards to the emerging threats to security in the subregion.
Since 2009, however, the Council focus has been absent. This is perhaps due to the relatively more pressing nature of the issue of piracy elsewhere in the Gulf of Aden, but also probably due to lack of requisite attention to or awareness about the latent threat that piracy poses to peace and security in West Africa.
What mechanisms (or tools) exist for the Council to focus on the emerging threats to peace and security in the subregion?
Do the tools provide a mechanism for monitoring the current security threats?
Is there a political willingness in the Council to contribute to addressing the emerging threats?
Can the Council work in partnership/concert with other stakeholders (e.g. ECOWAS/AU) to deal with the issues?
Is the Council able to develop an effective integrated subregional approach which goes beyond thematic generalisation?
The question of the relationship with the AU (and the African economic communities and mechanisms) is not only about who should have the lead. Another key dimension relates to capacity in the AU, ECOWAS and the UN, as well as in Council permanent Missions to effectively follow up and curb these threats.
A major issue is whether the Council can be more than a cheerleader and if so, what does that mean in terms of innovative working methods and how does the Council get beyond simply repeating the general positions of the past (essentially repeating agreed upon past language) or whether the opportunity can be taken to begin to take decisions on concrete action and new processes for better addressing the emerging threats to security in future specific cases.
Another issue in some Council members’ minds may be the financial implications of tasks mandated for UN operations related to development and medium and long-term peace.
8.1 Collaboration between the Council and Peacebuilding Commission
Another major issue which is highly relevant to any discussion of response to emerging threats in West Africa is that of collaboration between the Council and PBC. Given the analysis of the emerging threats, the strengthening of democratisation, state institutions and improving the socioeconomic situations in countries in the West African subregion which are recently emerging from conflict are obvious immediate responses. The input of the PBC is therefore a crucial dimension for any concerted strategy by the Council. Thematically there is no doubt that the Council accepts this important connection. In resolution 1947 of 29 October 2010, the Council recognised the role of the PBC as a dedicated intergovernmental advisory body to address the needs of countries emerging from conflict towards sustainable peace. However, it is unclear how strong this connection is when it comes to individual cases.
Four countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau) out of the current six countries on the PBC’s agenda are located in the West African region. They all form one contiguous geographical area, attesting to the regional contagion effect of conflicts and instability and dangers of security relapse in any one country. Guinea is the only country among them that has not experienced civil war, and thus is without any Council mandated UN mission. However, the recent military takeover and tensions and violence surrounding the last national democratic elections highlighted the problematic undercurrents, including ethnic tensions that could threaten subregional peace and security.
There is an increasing trend in the Council of recognition (at the thematic level at least) that in order to achieve medium and long-term peace a comprehensive approach is imperative. There is therefore a need to address the root causes of violence including social and economic factors. There is also the need to encourage this comprehensive approach to the issues of peace and security and to explore options for the Council to cooperate with other organs in the UN system.
The Council has recently held a number of closely related debates which also addressed the interconnectors between peacekeeping, peacebuilding and the need for a comprehensive approach to peace and security:
On 12 February 2010, during a Council debate on the topic “UN Peacekeeping Operations: Transitions and Exit Strategies” under the presidency of France, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2010/2) highlighting the importance of basic services and long-term development in order to achieve a successful transition from peacekeeping to other forms of UN involvement.
On 16 April 2010, under the presidency of Japan, the Council discussed strategies to prevent the recurrence of conflict and adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2010/7) recognising that sustainable peacebuilding requires an integrated approach, which strengthens coherence between political, security, development, human rights and rule of law activities.
On 23 September 2010, during a Council debate on the topic “Maintenance of International Peace and Security” under the presidency of Turkey, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2010/18) underlining the need to address the root causes of conflict, taking into account that development, peace, security and human rights are interlinked and mutually enforcing.
On 13 October 2010, under the presidency of Uganda, the Council held a debate on “Post-Conflict Peacebuilding” and adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2010/20) reiterating the importance of peacebuilding as a cornerstone for sustainable peace and development and recognising priority areas in peacebuilding, such as provision of basic services, management of natural resources, restoration of the rule of law, respect for human rights and revitalisation of the economy.
On 21 January 2011 under the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council considered the topic of “post-conflict peacebuilding: institution-building” and adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2011/2) recognising that an integral part of post-conflict stabilisation is long-term institution-building, including those institutions that foster economic and social development, in order to achieve sustainable peace.
On 11 February 2011, under the presidency of Brazil, the Council held a debate on the “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: the Interdependence between Security and Development” and adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2011/4) which stressed the need to take into account the economic and social aspects of conflict, in addition to the political dimensions of maintaining international peace and security.
However the Council is yet to actively implement the recommendations applicable to it within the report submitted to it by the three co-facilitators of the 2010 review of the UN peacebuilding architecture. Inviting the chairs of the PBC country configurations to participate in its deliberations on the work of Council’s involvement in situations on the ground was a particularly important recommendation, especially in terms of a strengthened partnership between the Council and the PBC. The report of the co-facilitators put forward a number of recommendations, including several regarding the PBC and the Council that could be highly valuable in the current context:
strengthening the PBC’s relationship with the Council, including the latter seeking the advice of the PBC when peacekeeping mandates are being established, reviewed or are approaching a drawdown;
a more expansive use of existing Council procedures;
a revised process for referring countries to the PBC agenda, including “a wider range of situations for referral: that could include…sectoral or regional situations”; and
utilising the full potential for a preventive role offered by the PBC’s existing mandate.
9.1 Drug Trafficking
A major issue that remains to be addressed by the Council with regards to drug-trafficking in West Africa will be to demonstrate a sustained commitment to trans-regional responses and preventive solutions, as well as dealing with this threat to regional stability problem when considering actual situations in specific countries, including those on its agenda. Therefore, options before the Council regarding drug trafficking include:
regular briefings from UNODC, including to the groups of Council experts considering the country-specific situations on the agenda so as to be better informed about how the Council can contribute to addressing the issue of transnational criminal threats to peace and security in specific West African situations;
a schedule of biannual public thematic briefings by UNODC in conjunction with UNOWA; and
developing a specific partnership with regional organisations on the issue in the spirit of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. This could include:
a) to regularly include elements on transnational crime issues, and drug trafficking especially when renewing existing mandates of missions in the subregion and setting up new ones;
b) insisting on its routine coverage of the issues in reports by the Secretary-General on the countries in the subregion;
c) meeting with the PBC, to actively pursue the issue of legitimate economic alternatives to transnational crime and drug trafficking, and encourage the local actors to highlight the need for the citizenry to desist from participating in these negative parallel economies; and
d) expansion of the scope of the sanctions in affected countries to deal with banned substances and its facilitators, as well as those that support terrorists; and
e) requesting updates on the work of the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI) to inform its decisions to curb the threat of drug trafficking in West Africa.
The Council may wish to pay particular attention to the December 2010 report of CTED, which noted that states in West Africa (inter alia) face problems in achieving counterterrorism objectives, including comprehensive implementation of resolution 1373, due to a lack of capacity, resources and infrastructure and competing developmental priorities. The Executive Directorate proposed to:
pursue initiatives already launched or planned including replicating its model of the Nairobi workshop on border control (held in June 2010) in West Africa, as well as working to establish a regional counter-terrorism strategy and plan of action among ECOWAS states, supported by a unit within the ECOWAS Commission; and
to send staff members on short-term assignments to carry out specific activities in the field, for example by placing an Executive Directorate officer in the ECOWAS secretariat for several months to assist in the development of its subregional counter-terrorism strategy. It might also be possible to accept officers on secondment from ECOWAS and the AU on common activities, for the duration of the activity in question (e.g. organising a conference or workshop).
(CTED itself does not possess the capacity to remedy the problem West African states are facing. However, given the emerging threat in the region, an option for the Council is to request a specific briefing from CTED on West Africa to highlight the problem. This could be followed by a decision that CTED should extend its facilitation role in the region and use its relationships with an increasing number of donors, to promote capacity-building through regional or subregional institutions. The Council could also address the need for sustained training in needed fields, for instance in border management.)
9.3 Challenges to Democratic Governance
As outlined above, the Council has on a few occasions in recent times issued statements conveying its concerns about violence, including elections-related violence in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Further options available to the Council include:
a more proactive and supportive partnership with regional organisations using its conflict prevention working group;
a thematic debate on lessons learned from elections in the subregion and some conclusions regarding improvements in electoral systems safeguards, planning and ensuring improved security; and
taking up systematically the question of referrals of cases to the ICC in specific cases where electoral disputes have led to serious crimes against civilians;
building a strong country-specific partnership with the PBC in countries from the West African subregion on its agenda, perhaps utilising its conflict prevention Working Group, to proactively support measures to curb elections related violence; and
galvanising international efforts to secure the integrity of elections (e.g. building local capacity to increase transparency and bolster safeguards) and tackle impunity for electoral crimes.
An option for the Council regarding the issue of unconstitutional changes of government in the subregion is taking decisions on identified potential threats to regional peace and security to promptly and unequivocally, especially when there is leadership from ECOWAS:
take a more active role in seeking to deter coups d’état in specific countries and encourage or support regional mediation, or similar activities, at early stages of such incidents perhaps through its conflict prevention Working Group; and
adopt its own targeted sanctions in support of the AU or ECOWAS sanctions.
Options before the Council in relation to the threat posed by piracy include:
inviting the IMO and ECOWAS, to brief it on the issue of piracy in West Africa and the links with regional peace and security;
holding an open debate about ways to proactively prevent and curb piracy in the subregion;
encouraging the formation of a “Contact Group” on West African piracy; and
drawing on its lessons learnt from Council action on the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia before pirates begin to apply lessons from Somalia in West Africa.
10. Looking Ahead
The Council in 2009 began, in an apparently determined way, to highlight the emerging security threats in West Africa. The essence of the conclusions about the four key threats in this report is the ongoing nature of the threats, their inter-linkage and complexity, as well as the risks associated with them, that for over twelve months the Council has not been paying particular attention to. There are options for addressing them in a timely and adequate manner, in order to avoid a reactive stance and pattern of dealing with issues only in a crisis mode. There are also a range of tools to appropriately deal with the challenges posed by threats to democratic governance, drug trafficking, terrorism and piracy in West Africa.
In terms of general Council dynamics, the general positionstaken by some of the permanent members of the Council regarding the various threats that have been flagged, may have to be re-examined against the backdrop of the specific context of the West African subregion and its peculiar vulnerabilities. The views of non-permanent Council members will also be important in terms of preventing related conflict or adequately containing their outbreak.
Selected Security Council Resolutions
Selected Presidential Statements
Head of UNOWA
Said Djinnit (Algeria)
Head of UNOCI
Choi Young-Jin (Republic of Korea)
Head of UNMIL
Ellen Margrethe Løj (Denmark)
Head of UNIOGBIS
Joseph Mutaboba (Rwanda)
Head of UNIPSIL
Michael von der Schulenburg (Germany)
Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee
Hardeep Singh Puri (India)
Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office
Judy Cheng-Hopkins (Malaysia)
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Crime and Stability: Case Studies of Transnational Threats (Vienna, February 2010)
Mainstreaming Crime Control in Peace Operations and Development, International Peace Institute, February 2011
Transnational Organized Crime and the Palermo Convention: A Reality Check, International Peace Institute, December 2010
Implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in West Africa, by Jason Ipe, James Cockayne and Alistair Millar, Center on Global Counter-terrorism, Cooperation, September 2010
Implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in North Africa, by James Cockayne, Jason Ipe and Alistair Millar, Center on Global Counter-terrorism, Cooperation, September 2010
Election-Related Disputes and Political Violence (Strengthening the Role of the African Union in Preventing, Managing and Resolving Conflict): Report if the AU Panel of the Wise, International Peace Institute, July 2010
Threat Assessment of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in West Africa, ECOWAS Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) Report, May 2010
Corruption – Money Laundering Nexus: An Analysis of Risks and Control Measures in West Africa, GIABA, May 2010
International Maritime Organisation, Reports of Acts of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Annual Report – 2009, 29 March 10 Ref. T2-MSS/188.8.131.52
The Invisible Tide: Towards an International Strategy to deal with Drug Trafficking Through West Africa, James Cockayne and Phil Williiams, October 2009
Cocaine Trafficking in West Africa: The Threat to Stability and Development (with special reference to Guinea-Bissau), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, December 2007
Transnational Organised Crime in the Western African Region, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2005