Spotlight: ISS warns UN Security Council of worst-case scenario in West Africa

The UNSC should maintain its focus on the region and take a more pragmatic approach to political and security challenges.

ISS Regional Director for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, was invited to brief the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in January at its biannual meeting on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel.

The invitation reflects the ISS’ track record of over 10 years of research, analysis and policy work with governments, regional organisations like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Conseil de l’Entente, and the African Union.

Théroux-Bénoni urged the international community not to ignore the Sahel as attention turns to emerging threats in West Africa’s coastal states. She said strategies to prevent terror need to recognise the deep regional connections that enable extremist groups to recruit, raise funds and run their logistics.

‘At a time when conditions for development cooperation are getting increasingly difficult, the ISS has provided African insights and analysis on how to engage in the Sahel, including in relation to the wider West African region,’ said Marie Kruse, the Sahel Envoy in Denmark’s foreign affairs ministry.

With Ukraine and the Middle East drawing global attention, the end of the UN’s 10-year peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the dissolution of the G5 Sahel initiative, the UNSC meeting was a rare and vital opportunity to brief the international community. ISS provided insights into growing political, security, environmental, climate and humanitarian challenges in West Africa and the Sahel.

Théroux-Bénoni described the current state of the region as a worst-case scenario of violent extremism, coups and setbacks in regional integration. International responses need to learn from past errors and draw on research evidence and the reality on the ground.

The stability of West Africa is important to the global community for multiple reasons. It has attracted international investment, but is also a base for terrorism, organised crime and the illegal drug trade. Instability in the region is also seen as a driver of migration to Europe.

International responses must learn from past errors and draw on research evidence and realities on the ground

The ISS briefing provided the perspectives needed to stimulate effective domestic, regional and international responses. It gave global visibility to the ISS and its analysis of regional dynamics, and was followed by requests for meetings with UN agencies and national UN representatives.

‘The institute is an important independent African voice which reliably informs international responses to threats and opportunities in West Africa,’ said Leonardo Santos Simão, UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel.

Théroux-Bénoni urged the UN, regional organisations and West African states to better prepare for when militants leave extremist groups, with pragmatic rehabilitation strategies and a commitment to integrating people back into their communities.

Countries in the Lake Chad Basin had in the past been unprepared for waves of defection from Boko Haram, she said. Long delays before militants entered disarmament and reintegration programmes resulted in measures being implemented under pressure.

But the experiences of Nigeria and Niger today offer useful lessons for other countries trying to counter violent extremism. These include incentivising defection, adopting a cohesive regional approach, drafting better legal frameworks and garnering public support.

ISS also urged the international community to work on the substance and not just the speed of transitions from military to civilian rule. Lessons should be drawn from other post-coup transitions, said Théroux-Bénoni. Since August 2020, the six coups in four West African countries were caused by socio-economic pressures, a growing youth population, failed security sector reform, rising terrorism and crime, and governance crises.

Getting the military out of power is important, but we also need to contribute to creating the conditions under which coups become less likely,’ said Théroux-Bénoni.

‘Managing military transitions can either promote stability or set the stage for the next coup, so periods of democratic rupture call for pragmatism in addressing structural fragilities. Coup leaders’ presence in power must be brief, and returning to civilian rule is a priority but not the sole objective.’

For more information, contact:

Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, ISS: [email protected]

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