Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Intercommunal Violence and Violent Extremism in West Africa

Ambassador Cherith Norman
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 16, 2019


I want to thank SRSG Chambas and Ambassador Chergui for your briefings. And thank you to Cote d’Ivoire for co-hosting this meeting with us. Today’s meeting is a strong finish to your country’s efforts over the past two years to highlight challenges in West Africa. You have been a distinguished partner in this chamber, and your country’s voice will truly be missed. Let me also begin with words of condolences to our friends in Niger, who will join the Council in January. The deepest sympathies of the United States are with the families of the more than 70 Nigerien soldiers who were killed in the December 10 terrorist attack. It is with this latest attack in mind that we meet today to better understand how the international community can prevent violent extremism in West Africa and the Sahel. In West Africa, there has been an explosion in violent extremism and intercommunal conflict as jihadist cells attempt to take root. These groups fuel violence by exploiting local grievances, a lack of state presence, and existing intercommunal tensions. We have seen a dramatic uptick in the tempo and complexity of attacks against security forces in Mali and the Sahel, especially by ISIS-Greater Sahara. Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa continue to also terrorize the Lake Chad region. Meanwhile, the protracted conflict in Libya threatens to further destabilize an already fragile Sahel. This violence has most acutely affected civilians, reducing food security and displacing more than 900,000 people.

When communities feel that they must compete for limited resources, or that they cannot rely on their governments to provide basic infrastructure, economic opportunity, and protection, they are more likely to become aggrieved. Citizens must have confidence that their governments can and will protect them. If not, they will seek out other means of protection, including joining violent or criminal groups. Good governance and capable and accountable security forces are critical to violence prevention. What should we do to reverse this trend and create conditions for peace and stability? The solutions are many, though I would like to highlight a few today. First, a military response alone often fails to address the root causes of violent conflict. Societal resilience to the threat of violent extremism is born from community-led efforts. Second, all communities in West Africa and the Sahel should enjoy inclusive, representative governance. This includes access to essential services and resources, and accountability for leaders who fail to meet these needs. And third, to maintain accountability, civil leaders at every level must have an active role in upholding the social contract between citizens and their governments.

This isn’t just talk – the United States administers numerous programs to support these solutions. In 2017 and 2018, we provided over $5.5 billion in support of long-term stability and security in West Africa. In the Lake Chad region, we provided nearly $470 million in assistance to address underlying drivers of conflict and counter terrorist threats. Our United States Young African Leaders Initiative invests in capacity-building to equip young leaders with the skills to build bridges in conflict and lead democratic societies. Our Prosper Africa initiative supports trade, investment, and livelihoods in urban and rural areas. And the State Department’s Sahel Development Partnership offers a holistic approach to bolster resilience and counter violent extremism. These are just a few examples of how the United States partners with West Africa to foster a more prosperous, democratic, and stable region. But colleagues, to combat regional violence and enhance stability, we need greater commitment from regional governments. The United States supports Nigeria’s efforts to end violence, facilitate the swift and voluntary return of displaced communities, and to bring those responsible for abuses to justice. But I must reiterate the need for unhindered life-saving humanitarian access for relief organizations to serve the people of Nigeria, including the areas most affected by Boko Haram.

We look forward to the advancement of cornerstone political objectives, such as the implementation of the Algiers Accord in Mali. But we remain concerned that the Government of Mali and the Signatory Armed Groups have made little progress implementing the accord. The United States is optimistic about our collective ability to make progress in this vital region, and we believe that, working together – both in this Council and with regional governments – there is no limit to the potential of West Africa and its people that can be unleashed.

Thank you very much.