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Promoting Democratic Transitions in West Africa

Transition Mali President Bah Ndaw (R) is seen with Malii Interim Vice President Colonel Assimi Goita (L) during his inauguration ceremony. (File)

As the number of coups and transition governments have grown in West Africa, so has the importance of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel.

Promoting Democratic Transitions in West Africa
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“As the number of coups and transition governments have grown in West Africa, so has the importance of UNOWAS,” declared Ambassador Richard Mills, Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations. UNOWAS, or the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, is a political mission in Senegal, which engages in preventive diplomacy in the region. In particular, UNOWAS is offering support and advice to the transition governments in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.

Ambassador Mills urged the authorities in Mali to restore constitutional rule by holding timely elections. The government has committed to a 24-month transition timeline ending in March 2024. “We trust the transition government of Mali will turn its full attention to implementing the benchmarks for the remainder of this transition,” said Ambassador Mills.

Ambassador Mills also expressed great concern over an “alarming increase of credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses carried out by the Malian Armed Forces in conjunction with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group. These potential abuses and violations are exactly why we warn countries against partnering with the Russia-backed Wagner Group,” said Ambassador Mills.

In Guinea, “the transition government must support the right of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest,” declared Ambassador Mills. “It is long past time to return the country back to constitutional, civilian-led democracy.”

Likewise, in Burkina Faso, the government has proposed a two-year transition timeline to return the country to democratically elected civilian-led rule. “We encourage partners to prioritize productive engagement with the transition government and to take into account Burkina Faso’s security and humanitarian challenges,” said Ambassador Mills.

Finally, at the regional level, terrorist violence against civilian and military targets in the Sahel remains rampant.

For its part, the United States continues to work with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The Coalition welcomed as new members Burkina Faso in late 2021 and Benin in spring of 2022. The Coalition also announced the formation of the Africa Focus Group in December 2021, which seeks to enhance African Coalition members’ civilian-led counterterrorism capabilities.

“This is a moment of crisis for West Africa and the Sahel,” noted Ambassador Mills. “But it can also be an opportunity – an opportunity to defeat terrorism, promote democracy, and put the people of the region first. Let us all continue to work closely with UNOWAS to do just that.”