Terrorist Threats in Central Africa Must Be Addressed through Greater Cooperation, Regional Strategy for Stabilization, Mission Head Tells Security Council
Security and other challenges in Central Africa affect West Africa, the Great Lakes, and other subregions on the continent, speakers warned during a Security Council videoconference meeting on 9 December, calling for greater regional cooperation and coordination to address the root causes of instability and safety threats posed by the Boko Haram insurgents and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“Insecurity across Central Africa continued to be a source of concern,” said François Louncény Fall, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), in his briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the mission (document S/2020/1154). These security threats, he said, have negatively affected the Lake Chad Basin and the Gulf of Guinea, as well as the internal situation in some Central African countries.
On Cameroon, he deplored that violence in the country’s north-west and south‑west is now targeting civilians, including students, teachers, and clergy, reiterating the Secretary-General’s appeal to all concerned parties to renounce violence, silence the guns, and stop attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Boko Haram remains a serious threat in the Lake Chad Basin, with the group increasing attacks and kidnappings, he said. Terrorist groups have continued to intensify their attacks in Cameroon and Chad, as seen on 24 and 25 November, when 4 Chadian soldiers were killed and about 16 others were injured after their boat apparently struck an improvised explosive device in the Ngouboua area.
“We cannot stress enough the need to deal with the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin in a comprehensive manner, particularly within the framework of the regional strategy for the stabilization, recovery, and resilience of the Boko Haram-affected areas,” he said. Noting that this strategy has been finalized and the eight most‑affected territories are now developing their action plans, he asked Council members and other partners to provide necessary resources for the rapid implementation of the strategy.
He emphasized that the proximity and similarities between the situations in the Lake Chad Basin and in the Sahel justify joint monitoring, analysis of them, and the coordination of responses to the challenges they face, also underlining the importance of establishing links between the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and the regional strategy for the Lake Chad Basin to avoid duplication, rationalize the use of resources and ensure that the two reinforce each other.
On the Gulf of Guinea, he said organized maritime crime continued to grow, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, and smuggling of migrants, stressing that the responses to these threats will only be effective if they are coordinated between Central Africa and West Africa through the existing interregional coordination centres for maritime security.
Drawing attention to ongoing conflicts between farmers and herders in Central Africa, he said that, on 27 November, the Government of Chad announced that 22 people were killed and 34 others were injured in clashes. He reaffirmed UNOCA’s commitment to continue to support the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in adopting a subregional regulatory framework on pastoralism and transhumance.
LRA is currently present in both Central Africa and the Great Lakes, two regions to which several countries under UNOCA’s purview belong, he said, adding that addressing these threats requires coordination between all affected regions and between the relevant United Nations regional offices.
He also reported that, on 23 November, he and his counterpart from the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) agreed on a set of joint activities to address the situations in the Lake Chad Basin and the Gulf of Guinea and support the implementation of the Lomé Declaration adopted by ECCAS and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at their 2018 summit on peace, security, stability and the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
He said that heads of United Nations presences in Central Africa agreed on 1 December to reinforce coordination in supporting regional efforts to address the impact of climate change, prevent election-related violence, and fight against hate speech. ECCAS has reached a key milestone in its institutional reform process, with the swearing-in of its new Commission on 1 September, including its President, Gilberto da Piedade Veríssimo (Angola). UNOCA has been engaging with the new Commission to identify joint priorities for the years ahead, notably on conflict prevention and regional integration, and enhance coordination of international partners for the implementation of the 2021-2025 strategic plan.
Several countries of the subregion have been preparing for the holding of elections, including Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, and Sao Tome and Principe, he said, encouraging national authorities and all political stakeholders to promote continued dialogue and consensus on the conditions governing the elections.
In the ensuing discussion, many Council members expressed support for UNOCA’s ongoing work on conflict prevention and mediation across Central Africa but voiced concern over the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon, where the conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Some delegates argued that climate change poses a security threat to the subregion and must be addressed through regional and international cooperation.
The representative of the United Kingdom said that she welcomed recent progress in the region, particularly the establishment of the new ECCAS Commission. However, Central Africa continues to face serious political, economic, and security challenges that have been exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19. She commended UNOCA’s ongoing work on conflict prevention and mediation efforts across Central Africa. Expressing concern over the ongoing crisis in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon, she highlighted that the conflict in the region has driven around 770,000 people from their homes and forced 60,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring Nigeria. In September, the United Kingdom announced a further $6 million to fund humanitarian actors in Cameroon, bringing its total humanitarian support to the country in 2020 to $18 million. She condemned the terrorist attacks on civilians in Cameroon’s far north, and across the wider Lake Chad Basin area. On the Central Africa Republic, she noted that the presidential and legislative elections on 27 December will be an important milestone in the nation’s journey towards lasting peace. She urged the Government of the Central African Republic and all political actors to ensure the elections are inclusive, peaceful, free, and fair.
The representative of the United States commended efforts by UNOCA to promote long-term peace and stability in the Central African region. He expressed concern over the dire situation in Cameroon, where the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.3 million at the beginning of 2020, to 6.2 million people. Further, persistent terrorist violence and significant refugee flows continue to pose serious problems in the region, which are compounded by the pandemic. He expressed concern over the “troubling” recent developments, including arson attacks and kidnappings, adding that the 25 October murder of schoolchildren is “particularly abhorrent”. “A political situation is needed to end the violence in Cameroon,” he stressed. Parties must take “bold steps” to build confidence and promote peace, with the support of UNOCA. He expressed strong support for the work of ECCAS in strengthening stability in the Central African Republic, ahead of its upcoming general elections slated for 27 December. He commended efforts by financial institutions to preserve macroeconomic stability in the region. UNOCA can develop viable conflict‑prevention strategies, which encompass a gender perspective.
The representative of Tunisia, speaking also on behalf of Niger, South Africa, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, touched on some encouraging recent developments in the Central African region. Those included ongoing preparations for elections in eight countries; a virtual summit with the Heads of State of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, held on 7 October, and the demonstrated willingness of Burundi and Rwanda to normalize bilateral relations. However, he stressed, “security remains the major concern for all of us, for, without security, there is no peace.” He expressed concern over the outbreak of violence in the north-west and south-west Cameroon and called on parties to put an end to the fighting and engage in dialogue and peace negotiations, as well as accelerate the implementation of outcomes from the Grand National Dialogue. Further, the volatile security situation in parts of the country has been exacerbated by the violent activities of armed groups, including factions of Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), he said. In addition, maritime criminal activities, including acts of piracy, continue in the Gulf of Guinea, although they have declined in the period under review. Human trafficking also remains a concern.
He noted that the instability wrought by the pandemic has led to a “gloomy” overall humanitarian situation in the region, due to an uptick in incidents of human rights violations, abuses against civilians, as well as high rates of sexual and gender-based violence. He commended the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for helping with the return and repatriation of refugees and took note of the voluntary return of Burundian refugees from neighbouring countries. On the Secretary-General’s report, he underlined the importance for continued cooperation between UNOCA and Governments in the region, as well as regional organizations, including the African Union, ECCAS, Lake Chad Basin Commission, and other actors.
The representative of China said that the international community must continue to support the efforts of countries in the region to prioritize their fight against the pandemic. Since the outbreak, countries have adopted strict measures and the pandemic has been alleviated. That said, COVID-19 is still spreading globally, and regional cooperation should not be relaxed. UNOCA should help countries in the region in joint prevention and control, as well as promote cooperation in information, testing methods, and clinical treatment. China has provided the region with anti-pandemic supplies and sent experts to the Member States. The global community must support countries in their economic development, which has been severely affected by the pandemic. The international community should help maintain macroeconomic stability and ensure a smooth and secure industrial chain and supply chain.
The representative of Belgium said that his country is worried about the situation in Cameroon. He welcomes the fact that some progress has been made in the north-west and south-west, but the boycott of local elections on 6 December is striking. Belgium urges all parties to support the call of the Secretary-General and the African Union for a comprehensive ceasefire. To this end, he is concerned by the negative impact of the conflict on women and children. There have been numerous cases of recruitment, murders, grievous bodily harm, and abductions, as well as attacks against schools and hospitals and the refusal to grant access to humanitarian aid. He expressed concern in the spike in the number of attacks and abductions of humanitarian workers and members of the clergy. Protection of United Nations staff and all humanitarian actors must be guaranteed. On the situation in Burundi, he said that the elections have turned a page and a new chapter will be written. The security situation there has improved, he said. There are still challenges to be met, including the return of refugees.
The representative of Viet Nam, also speaking on behalf of Indonesia, expressed grave concern over the unabated violence perpetrated by armed groups and terrorists in parts of the region, particularly in Cameroon and the Lake Chad Basin. “We urge all parties to heed the Secretary-General’s ceasefire call to pave the way for dialogue and to address humanitarian needs,” he declared, noting that instability and the pandemic are deepening the regional humanitarian crisis. Addressing the crisis requires a comprehensive set of measures that support diplomatic, political, and reconciliation efforts. Further, integration at the regional and subregional levels is key to realizing stability and development, he stated, while also calling for sustained technical and financial assistance to allow the Member States to prevent conflict.
Estonia’s representative declared: “Countries across Central Africa continue to face serious political, economic and security challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.” Regional and cross-border cooperation is essential for mitigating the effects of the coronavirus and protecting human rights, he said, lauding such initiatives undertaken by Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the same time, continued attacks by Boko Haram remain a major concern, as do mounting attacks and human rights violations in Cameroon, where some 6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Turning to developments in the Central African Republic, he recognized efforts to ensure safe and timely elections but warned that election-related violence persists.
The representative of France commended the vigorous institutional reform of ECCAS, as well as its recent establishment of a new ECCAS Commission, which reflects a deepening of regional and cross-border cooperation. However, there is pervasive fragility, resulting in security, political, and humanitarian challenges, which are exacerbated by ongoing terrorist attacks. He called for renewed vigilance towards the activities of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, as well as against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Turning to food insecurity, which is worsening, he stressed that human rights must be respected. France condemns attacks against humanitarian and medical personnel. It has committed €1.2 billion to support the efforts of African countries to combat the pandemic and has launched a debt‑servicing moratorium initiative, through the Group of 20 and the Paris Club. “The Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon are benefiting from this initiative,” he said. Turning to ongoing electoral processes in countries in the region, he called for enhanced inclusiveness. “It is key that they take place in a context which guarantees the full participation of all, including women, young, displaced and refugees,” he stressed.
The representative of the Dominican Republic said that, despite the pandemic, progress is evident throughout the region as several States organize elections, including Chad. In that context, the increased focus must be placed on the participation of women in electoral processes. While noting regional efforts to eradicate armed groups and their sources of financing across the region, she regretted that cases of violence continue to be reported against civilians and humanitarian workers in parts of Cameroon. She also voiced concern over lethal attacks by Boko Haram and LRA which are targeting women and girls.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that her country supports the work of UNOCA as it is an important instrument for preventive diplomacy. In this region, the challenges faced are complex and the pandemic has added to this complexity. It is important that timely measures be taken to curb the spread of the infection. On conflict resolution, a key role should be played by regional actors. The Central African region is extremely important in terms of combating the spread of terrorism across the continent. The destructive capacity of Boko Haram has not diminished. It is important to ensure predictable funding for the work of the regional armed forces. Moscow is following the situation in the Central African Republic and supports its President’s efforts to stabilize the Gulf of Guinea, there are ongoing attacks on foreign vessels, some of which involve the taking of hostages, including Russian Federation citizens.
The representative of Germany, pointing to the valuable work of UNOCA in the African region, called for transnational cooperation. Commending the swift response by many Governments in the region to contain the spread of COVID-19, he underscored the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Climate change is another destabilizing factor that leads to food insecurity, conflicts between herders and farmers, and therefore, creates a breeding ground for violent extremism and terrorism, as well as migration and displacement, he stressed, encouraging UNOCA to put an even stronger accent on this issue. Germany remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in several parts of the Central African region and condemns terrorist attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers. On Cameroon, he said cross-cutting challenges reinforce a multifaceted crisis and raised concern over its potential impact on regional security. Germany remains concerned about the recent rise in violence, he said, condemning the 24 October attack against the school in Kumba. Noting that inclusive political dialogue is the only viable path to peace, he supported the Swiss-led mediation process.
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