Note : Our work in West Africa has been combined with our work in the African Great Lakes region - please visit our Africa regional page for more details.
International Alert has been working in West Africa since 1993 when we started to focus on the protracted conflict in Liberia. Since then, we have worked on a range of projects in the region. Alert’s goal in West Africa is to nurture and promote the culture of peace by influencing and adapting to the dynamics of changes. More specifically, we aim to increase inclusion, reinforce the discourse of positive peace, promote the concept of good governance to build democratic culture and engage with governments at various levels to influence policy development and implementation.
Liberia and Nigeria
The political landscape of the West African region is characterised by a history of conflict. However, the incidence of violence has substantially decreased in recent years. A number of positive developments in building democratic cultures have taken place. Liberia and Sierra Leone, countries that have seen decades of protracted war, had violence-free elections in 2005 and 2007 respectively, with the opposition translating electoral victory into political power in Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries of the Mano River Union, remain amongst the poorest in the world. States are struggling with the transition to peace, dealing with the legacies of war and feeling the increasing impact of climate change. Violent conflict, weak and poor governance, ethnic tension, corruption, systemic inequality and chronic under-development have devastated the region. West Africa is struggling to deal with climate change, poverty, displacement, fractured relationships and communities, collapsed economies, destroyed infrastructure, barely functioning social services and embedded cultures of normalised violence. Historic divisions continue into the present. There is potential for violent conflict.
We aim to strengthen the capacities of communities, civil society and governments at all levels to contribute to an increased level of human security as felt by people living in countries affected by or prone to conflict. Most conflicts in the sub-region are interconnected, with effects that spill over into neighbouring countries. Our work in West Africa is designed to address issues at the local, national, sub-regional and regional levels. By conducting research, engaging in advocacy and building capacity, we work with a wide range of actors to ensure views of people from all regions and sectors of society are heard and aim to rebuild relationships between previously divided communities.
Lack of communication and trust between the government and the governed as well as among and between communities and regions underlie many of the problems facing West Africa. The region could move towards either development and equitable growth or a return to vicious cycles of violence and endemic poverty. A critical determinant of future trajectory will be the manner in which decision making and participation in local and national structures, both formal and informal, becomes more inclusive. In this context, women and young people in particular face enormous challenges. Limited access to education, prevailing poverty and high illiteracy ensure continuing exclusion from decision-making processes. Women often shy away even when presented with opportunities to participate, driven by a strong sense of traditional roles for men and for women, meaning their needs and interests are not taken into account. Young people have to contend with a culture that favours older men and, isolated from decision making, often resort to violence. Our work seeks to address such issues and ensure people feel able to influence policies and society through democratic processes rather than resorting to violence.