Security Challenges Threaten to Derail Democratic Strides in Central African Region, Briefers Tell Security Council
Marking both democratic strides and worsening security conditions, the situation in the Central African region remains something of a mixed picture, senior officials told the Security Council today, voicing particular concern over terrorist attacks, population displacement and the resurgence of old armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, noted that while several countries of the region are on track to hold elections in 2022 and 2023, notable challenges threaten to derail those efforts. In Cameroon, the crisis emanating from Boko Haram splinter groups and displaced persons fleeing neighbouring countries has only grown, with the situations in the country’s north-west and south-west regions of particular concern as violence flares. In Chad — which is undergoing a transition following political turmoil in 2021 — “the most important challenges lie ahead” as constitutional talks begin. Meanwhile, heinous attacks continue against civilians and Government troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and bilateral relations between Kinshasa and its neighbours are deteriorating.
Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo, President of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), describing the political and security situation in Central Africa as generally stable, highlighted some positive developments. The rule of law continues to be strengthened, with democratic governance and the promotion and protection of human rights now embedded in the institutional landscape of the region’s countries. However, he deplored the deteriorating situation on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, caused by a resurgence of the “March 23 Movement” — known as M23 — which has sparked the largescale movement of displaced persons and mutual accusations of support to rebel groups by both countries. Noting that initiatives are under way in the region to reduce tensions and bring those States to the negotiating table, he said non-State armed groups are also present in north-west and south-west Cameroon.
Meanwhile, civil society representative Jeanne-Danielle Nicole Nlate pointed out that numerous conflicts across Central Africa have led to instability, low levels of regional integration and cooperation, weak State institutions, corruption, poverty and disenfranchisement. Old conflicts have resurfaced in the Great Lakes region, particularly affecting Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and Cameroon. In some cases, these conflicts have led to tensions between neighbours accused of stoking such conflicts, as was the case recently with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Against that backdrop, she said civil society groups have played an important role in promoting peace and respect for human rights and she called on the United Nations and its partners to provide political, material and financial support to their work.
As Council members took the floor, many expressed support for regional countries’ democratic efforts and attempts to combat conflict and armed groups, while also echoing the briefers’ concerns.
Gabon’s representative, also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, welcomed the measures taken by several States in the subregion to prepare for upcoming elections in 2022 and 2023. Noting that national dialogue can reduce social and political tensions, he also welcomed Chad’s organization of a dialogue in Doha and expressed hope that the platform will open the way to an inclusive peace agreement. Additionally, he welcomed the recently improved diplomatic relations between Burundi and Rwanda; Cameroon’s adoption of a measure to consolidate the decentralization process and build the capacity of local institutions; and the ongoing process in Nairobi to fight against the insecurity generated by armed groups in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As well, he echoed the briefers’ concerns over emerging bilateral tensions and the impacts of climate change, especially on already serious humanitarian challenges facing the region.
The representative of Norway called attention to the annual list of the world’s most neglected displacement crises — recently published by the Norwegian Refugee Council — of which three of the top five are in the Central African region. For a second year running, the Democratic Republic of the Congo “tops” the list, while in Chad a food emergency was recently declared. She also expressed concern about the situations in north-west and south-west Cameroon and about the grave risk posed by piracy. “Moving forward, the region should remain in the driver’s seat, with already commendable efforts being scaled up,” she stressed, describing the security situation around the Lake Chad Basin as alarming and warning that the impacts of climate change are only worsening the situation.
Mexico’s delegate acknowledged progress made towards regional governance and political dialogue in some Central African countries, while noting that flashpoints of violence, precarious economic recovery and the effects of climate change call for international solidarity. To attain progress towards stability in the region, he called for focused efforts to fight the illicit flow of weapons, the creation of conditions conducive to opposition groups freely expressing their opinions, and a strengthened response to urgent humanitarian crises. He added that the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) must have solid leadership to carry out its tasks and voiced his hope that a new Special Representative will be swiftly appointed to succeed François Louncény Fall, whose mandate recently ended.
Also speaking were representatives of United Kingdom, United States, France, India, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Russian Federation, Ireland, China and Albania.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:16 p.m.
MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, introduced the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2022/436) and paid tribute to the outgoing Special Representative of the Secretary-General, François Louncény Fall, whose mandate ended last week. Outlining the latest developments, she said several countries in the subregion are preparing for crucial elections — including the Republic of the Congo, Angola, Sao Tome and Principe and Equatorial Guinea — while presidential elections are expected in 2023 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Chad is also expected to hold elections at the end of its transitional process. “All stakeholders must work towards conditions conducive to free, fair and peaceful elections, in line with democratic processes,” she stressed, noting that the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) is supporting such efforts.
However, she went on to say that some countries in the subregion continue to face challenges that risk derailing their political processes and impacting their neighbours and the wider region. In Cameroon, the crisis emanating from Boko Haram splinter groups and displaced persons fleeing neighbouring countries has only grown, with the situations in the country’s north-west and south-west regions of particular concern as violence flares. Urging the international community to step up support to national efforts to end that crisis, she also noted that in Chad “the most important challenges lie ahead”. She expressed hope that the Doha dialogue process will yield a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in line with international standards. Expressing concern about the recent killing of some 100 people in the country, she called for efforts to address the root causes of instability, adding that UNOCA is working to strengthen the coalition of civil society organizations in support of peace and stability in the region.
“The Central African Region continues to face persistent security challenges that are best addressed through regional cooperation,” she continued. However, heinous attacks on civilians by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are harming bilateral relations between States and contributing to the rise of hate speech. She welcomed the mediating role of the President of Angola in that regard and urged all parties to lay down their arms and join the Nairobi diplomatic process. Central Africa also remains one of the world’s regions most severely affected by climate change, as manifested by clashes between farmers, herders and fishermen in several countries. Highlighting that designated terrorist groups and affiliated and splinter groups are exploiting those challenges, she said UNOCA continues to work with countries and other partners to increase coherence in their responses to violent extremism and in support of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes.
Noting that maritime security also remains a key challenge, she called for initiatives on that front to be further strengthened. In that vein, she welcomed the Council’s recent adoption of resolution 2634 (2022) addressing the situation in the Gulf of Guinea. These issues and others were discussed at the recent ministerial-level meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa. Among several events, ministers and heads of delegations exchanged views on Chad and adopted a declaration renewing their support for that country’s transition process. Also adopted was a declaration reaffirming support for the Central African Republic’s national reconciliation and reconstruction efforts. UNOCA will continue to support those efforts, providing support for capacity-building and the participation of civil society — especially women’s groups — in political processes throughout the region. Noting that UNOCA has continued to demonstrate the utility of United Nations regional offices in the fields of preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention, she stressed that it will continue to do so under the guidance of a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General when one is appointed.
GILBERTO DA PIEDADE VERISSIMO, President of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), described the political and security situation in Central Africa as generally stable. Among the recent positive developments, he noted that the security situation at the borders between Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi had improved, as well as diplomatic relations between these two countries and Rwanda. He also called attention to the recent holding of the first permanent joint cross-border security meeting between Gabon and Cameroon, as well as a technical meeting to verify their maritime border between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While observing that no major incidents occurred on borders between ECCAS member States during the period under review, he nevertheless deplored the deteriorating situation on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda by the “March 23 Movement” group — known as M23 — which was thought to have been defeated in 2013. Those events sparked the largescale movement of displaced persons and mutual accusations of support to rebel groups by both countries. Initiatives are now under way in the region to reduce tensions and bring those States to the negotiating table, in an effort to reach a solution to the challenges posed by armed groups on their border.
Against that backdrop, he recalled that the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a “state of siege” in the affected region and is working with Ugandan armed forces to attempt to disrupt the activities of armed groups. Those rebel groups are also present in north-west and south-west Cameroon, he said, reporting that the presence of rival factions of Boko Haram, Allied Democratic Forces and other groups demonstrate the significant presence of terrorist groups across the region.
Noting that the rule of law continues to be strengthened in the Central African region, he said democratic governance and the promotion and protection of human rights are now part of the institutional landscape of the countries of the region, despite repeated violations committed by armed groups. However, he expressed concern about the resurgence of intercommunity conflicts, accompanied by hate speech often used for electoral purposes. This constituted a threat to the security and stability of States, particularly in Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, cattle migration for criminal purposes and maritime piracy were also among the threats in the region.
He also reported that all States in the region, with one exception, have signed the Protocol of the African Peer Review Mechanism. He welcomed the fact that all States respected the timetable for their elections in 2021, adding that it is “a clear sign of collective ownership of our shared values and the deepening roots of democracy in the region”. Nonetheless, he expressed concern about growing mistrust between some stakeholders, as well as the postponement of the inclusive national dialogue in Chad and the ongoing discussions in the Central African Republic with a view to amending the Constitution — particularly in regard to article 35 on the number of presidential terms allowed — which threaten to raise tensions in an already fragile country.
JEANNE-DANIELLE NICOLE NLATE, Vice-President of the Coalition des Organisations de la Société Civile d’Afrique Centrale pour la Préservation de la Paix, la Prévention des Conflits, la Résolution et la Transformation des Crises, pointed out that varied conflicts across Central Africa have led to instability, low levels of regional integration and cooperation, weak State institutions, corruption, poverty and disenfranchisement across the region. Old conflicts have resurfaced in the Great Lakes region, particularly affecting Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and Cameroon. In some cases, these conflicts have led to tensions between neighbours accused of stoking such conflicts, as was the case recently with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated fragilities and vulnerabilities across the populations of Central Africa.
Against that backdrop, she said that civil-society organizations have played an important role in promoting peace, respect for human rights and the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000). Expressing concern over the human-rights situation in Central Africa, she underscored that women are most affected by violations, with their rights to life, fair legal proceedings and freedom of expression and opinion being most abused. This hierarchy of rights demonstrates that people in the subregion are concerned about strategic rather than practical needs, she said, stressing the importance of respecting their dignity. Civil society is working to address these issues, and she welcomed the support provided by ECCAS and its partners — particularly UNOCA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — in allowing the Coalition to operate and build capacity towards this end.
She went on to detail the actions conducted by civil society on the ground, including observing elections, defending the rights of those affected by violence, providing support to refugees and internally displaced persons, advocating for the free movement of goods and persons throughout Central Africa and promoting entrepreneurship. However, civil society faces challenges in the region that prevent it from fully playing its role, including lack of financial resources, weak institutional capacity and a civic space that is closed, restricted or supressed. Noting that Governments often consider civil-society organizations as the opposition, she called on the United Nations and its partners to provide political, material and financial support to such organizations so that they can continue their important work.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), underscoring that the ongoing crises in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon require urgent attention, noted that the United Kingdom has given $25 million of humanitarian aid over the last five years. Inclusive, peaceful and credible political processes are critical for building and sustaining peace in the subregion. UNOCA has an important role to play, he said, reiterating her country’s support to Chad’s ongoing transition to civilian and constitutional rule. He also voiced concern about violence and human rights violations still being committed in the Central African Republic — including by Wagner Group mercenaries — which continue to compound an already acute humanitarian situation. The activities of all security actors operating in the country should be coordinated by the Government, he stressed, while pointing out that the Russian Federation’s illegal and unjustified war in Ukraine is exacerbating economic pressures and food insecurity in Central Africa and beyond.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon), also speaking for Ghana and Kenya, welcomed the measures taken by several States in the subregion to prepare for upcoming elections in 2022 and 2023. Such elections provide an opportunity to consolidate democratic gains and authorities should take all measures necessary to organize free, credible, transparent and inclusive elections. Noting that national dialogue can reduce social and political tensions, he also welcomed Chad’s organization of a dialogue in Doha and expressed hope that this platform will open the way to an inclusive peace agreement. Additionally, he welcomed improved diplomatic relations between Burundi and Rwanda; Cameroon’s adoption of a measure to consolidate the decentralization process and build the capacity of local institutions; and the ongoing process in Nairobi to fight against the insecurity generated by armed groups in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He expressed concern, however, over emerging tensions between that country and Rwanda, reiterating the African Union’s calls for resolving differences through diplomatic means with the support of regional and subregional mechanisms. He also detailed the challenges Africa is facing, including terrorism and violent extremism, cross-border crime, the persistence of armed groups, maritime insecurity, exploitation of natural resources and intercommunity violence. Central African States are aware of these issues, and efforts to strengthen ECCAS’ peace and security architecture can reduce the risk of crises spreading across the subregion. More so, climate change is exacerbating humanitarian crises and eroding security across Central Africa, he said, spotlighting the need to preserve the rainforest in the Congo Basin. As increasing extreme weather events are impacting agricultural production, the international community must respect its commitments to finance policies for adaptation and mitigation.
JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico), while acknowledging progress made towards regional governance and political dialogue in some Central African countries, noted that flashpoints of violence, precarious economic recovery and the effects of climate change call for international solidarity. He called on UNOCA to continue supporting the transition in Chad; contributing to a political solution for the violence prevailing in parts of Cameroon; and supporting the organization of municipal elections in the Central African Republic, also spotlighting that country’s recent abolition of the death penalty. To attain progress towards stability in Central Africa, he called for focused efforts to fight the illicit arms trafficking flowing towards and within the region; to create the appropriate conditions for opposition groups to freely express their viewpoints and participate in the public space; and to respond to the urgent humanitarian situation in the region to prevent greater tragedies. He added that UNOCA must have solid leadership to carry out its tasks, expressing hope that a new Special Representative for the region will be appointed as soon as possible.
RICHARD M. MILLS (United States) spotlighted the climate crisis and food insecurity, two issues that are exacerbating existing challenges in the Central African region. Describing the former as a “threat multiplier”, he encouraged UNOCA to take climate into account, in line with its mandate. Some 2.2 million people in the Central African Republic are projected to experience high levels of food insecurity in 2022 due to conflict and population displacement. Those challenges have been worsened by the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. He underlined the importance of a peaceful, timely transition to a civilian Government in Chad and urged all combatants in Cameroon to help pave the way for a national dialogue without preconditions. In addition, he urged the Government of the Central African Republic and all security actors in that country to deconflict their actions with MINUSCA and ensure their actions do not harm civilians. Condemning the actions of terrorist groups associated with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, in the region, he also voiced concern about the activities of the Moscow-based Wagner Group, which threaten the safety and security of peacekeepers and prevent them from protecting civilians.
SHERAZ GASRI (France) expressed her hope that the ongoing talks in Doha will help pave the way for a peaceful future in Chad. She expressed support for mediation and reform initiatives aimed at a resolution of Cameroon’s political crisis. In Burundi, progress has been made in protecting human rights, leading the European Union to lift financial restrictions; such steps must continue. Efforts must also be redoubled throughout the region to protect women and other civilians, she said, condemning attacks by non-State armed groups on civilian populations and United Nations personnel. Hailing the creation by ECCAS of a network of women mediators, as well as the promotion of young people’s role in peace processes, she said that same inclusive spirit should guide all upcoming elections throughout the region. Regional integration must also be strengthened. In that vein, she urged countries to extend their cooperation in the fight against climate change and the illegal exploitation of natural resources, while recalling the creation by France and other partners of the Tropical Forest Preservation Alliance.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) expressing hope that upcoming elections in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe and the Congo will further deepen democracy in the region, with greater participation of women. Despite the positive trends, complex political and security challenges still exist in the region, he said, stressing that inclusive political processes, including electoral reforms, are necessary to strengthen political institutions. On the security front, terrorist groups such as Islamic State-West Africa Province have continued to expand their activities, mainly in the Lake Chad region, he said, also strongly condemning terror attacks perpetrated by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and the Lord's Resistance Army. Noting the impacts of the Ukraine conflict and climate change on the region, he stressed that no artificial link should be drawn between climate change and security-related issues without any firm scientific basis. He also noted that his country has contributed credits worth $2 billion for projects in critical sectors such as agriculture, transport, power and water supply.
GHASAQ YOUSIF ABDALLA SHAHEEN (United Arab Emirates) stressed the need to follow a comprehensive approach to tackle security threats that undermine stability and affect regional development and economic integration, including cross-border and regional ones such as organized crime, extremism, terrorism and piracy. On that point, she stressed the need to address maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, which is a strategic imperative for the economy and security of the region. Further, it is critical to continue promoting inclusive political dialogue in non-mission settings and coordinate with local actors to consolidate peace, resolve tensions and prevent or mitigate political crises. She went on to underscore the importance of understanding the impacts of — and potential solutions to — the repercussions of climate change in Central Africa, welcoming UNOCA’s initiatives towards this end. Also highlighting the need for continued international support to affected countries, she reported that her country provided around $55 million between 2016 and 2022 to help alleviate suffering in the region.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) cited the numerous positive developments in the Central African region, including the peaceful transfer of power in Sao Tome and Principe, regional elections in several countries and the efforts of the Government of Burundi to normalize relations with its neighbours and with the international community. Among other things, he expressed hope that the pre-dialogue between political actors from Chad in Doha will allow for the convening of an inclusive national dialogue. The Central African region faces multidimensional and cross-border threats to peace and security, particularly terrorism, including the presence of ISIL and Boko Haram. Further, the situation in Cameroon is concerning. That country is not only directly affected by the violence in the Lake Chad Basin, but also has been facing protracted conflicts in its English-speaking regions, he added. Turning to social-economic developments, he pointed out that rising food prices may plunge large numbers of people in the region into acute poverty amid the recovery from COVID-19.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said the situation in Central Africa is characterized by terrorist threats, conflicts and a lack of sufficient military capacity to protect civilians. Radical Islam is becoming more popular with the population and terrorist groups are carrying out serious attacks. Calling for strengthened cooperation between regional States, she welcomed UNOCA’s work, while also voicing concern about a high number of raids on commercial vessels in the Gulf of Guinea. More monitoring and capacity-building is needed, as are better early warning systems to detect potentially dangerous phenomenon in maritime communications. Welcoming new anti-piracy initiatives and spotlighting the Russian Federation’s contributions in that area, she went on to reject politicized statements made by delegations today that blame Moscow for the global food crisis. In fact, that crisis existed prior to the start of the situation in Ukraine and has been worsened by the introduction of unilateral coercive measures by Western countries. In addition, Western States’ notions of governance — imposed around the world through military interventions — have also worsened those conditions for decades, she said.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said the national dialogue in Chad was key to its political transition. Reiterating the call for the link between climate change and security to be appropriately recognized in the Security Council’s work, she highlighted the effects of climate change on the stability of the region. Such effects included a rise in intracommunal clashes due to water shortages and floods and drought leading to significant population displacement. She went on to express concern about the dire humanitarian situation, increasing food insecurity, and higher rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the region, urging all parties to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance. Turning to human rights, she noted that violations and abuses against civilians in Cameroon are persisting, with 700,000 students having been deprived of their right to education due to attacks against schools.
TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) called attention to the recently published annual list of the Norwegian Refugee Council on the world's most neglected displacement crises. Out of five crises, three were in the Central African region: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Chad. Adding that the situation in the Central African Republic also remains a challenge, she stressed that while preventive diplomacy rarely reaches the headlines, it serves a critical purpose in such cases. For a second year running, the Democratic Republic of the Congo “tops” the world’s most neglected displacement crises, while in Chad a food emergency was recently declared. She also expressed continued concern about the situations in north-west and south-west Cameroon. As well, piracy remains a grave risk. “Moving forward, the region should remain in the driver’s seat, with already commendable efforts being scaled up,” she stressed, describing the security situation around the Lake Chad Basin as alarming due to the activities of armed groups, terrorists and violent extremists. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are only worsening the situation, she added.
DAI BING (China) welcomed the improved security situation in the Central African Republic; promotion of national dialogue and decentralization in Cameroon; advancement of a national dialogue in Chad; and the ongoing preparations for upcoming elections in several Central African countries. He called on the international community and UNOCA to continue supporting regional States in solving their own problems, strengthening national governance and building capacity in accordance with their specific situations. Expressing concern over the security situation in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he urged increased regional trust and cooperation, along with increased provision of international resources and assistance to counter-terrorism efforts. Further, developed countries must honour their climate-finance commitments and enhance the resilience of regional countries to adapt to climate shocks. He added that the international community must ensure adequate humanitarian funding to the region and not reduce investment in or attention to Central Africa due to other crises.
ALBANA DAUTLLARI (Albania), President of the Council for June, speaking in her national capacity, commended the positive developments in the region, including improved relations between Burundi and its neighbours, as well as the progress achieved domestically in safeguarding civil and political rights. However, she expressed concern about reports of attacks, torture and disappearances of political opponents allegedly attributable to law enforcement authorities. In Cameroon, dialogue is being hindered by tensions in the north-west and south-west regions, where political violence persists and clashes are still raging between State forces and non-State armed forces, she said, condemning attacks on civilians and humanitarian staff. While welcoming efforts towards enhancing a national dialogue in Chad and the republican dialogue in the Central African Republic, she noted that the security situation in the latter remains highly volatile. In addition, climate security has a deep and sizable impact on the region’s stability, she said, pointing to tensions among communities, the rising number of displaced people and the increase of those in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. She also highlighted the socioeconomic impact of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which might be fuelling popular frustration in the region.
* The 9057th Meeting was closed.