posted on Wed 7 Jan 2015 3:20 PM
UNOWA Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (8 January), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), will brief the Security Council, followed by consultations. Council members will be considering the Secretary-General’s semi-annual UNOWA report (S/2014/945). No outcome is expected.

Chambas will likely elaborate on a number of issues covered in the report related to UNOWA’s regional conflict prevention, advisory and capacity building role. He will likely address the increasing instability caused by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the region, as well as his mediation efforts in Burkina Faso, following the ouster of President Blaise Compaoré after he sought to amend the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term. Chambas is also expected to discuss UNOWA’s monitoring of the political dynamics in West Africa, especially given upcoming presidential elections in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Nigeria and Togo, and political tensions in Benin and Niger. Other issues include the recent attempted coup in Gambia (Chambas is planning to soon visit the country), efforts to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and the work of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, which assists in the demarcation of the two countries’ border. The Ebola crisis in the region, particularly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, will also likely be covered.

Council members are likely to raise concerns about terrorism across the region, in particular in the Sahel and in Nigeria. Particularly worrying to several Council members is Nigeria’s worsening conflict with Boko Haram. Over 10,000 people were killed in Nigeria in 2014 due to Boko Haram-related violence, primarily in northeast Nigeria, where the group has been able to seize, and hold since last summer, sizeable territory and population centers. Additionally, 1.5 million Nigerians have been displaced by the violence, and around 160,000 people have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Some members may highlight the importance of strengthening support to countries in the region to combat Boko Haram. In this context, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) being formed to fight Boko Haram by the members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria) and Benin will probably be discussed. Chad and Nigeria may use the opportunity to call for support of a draft resolution that Nigeria shared with Council members in December endorsing the MNJTF and calling on member states to provide financial and material support to the mission. (On 25 November, the AU Peace and Security Council had called for a Security Council resolution “authorising” the deployment of the MNJTF and for the Secretary-General to establish a trust fund to sustain the force’s operations.)

After Council members initially reacted to the draft resolution, negotiations were put on hold. There was no consensus and there were concerns about the lack of a fully articulated concept of operations for the force and about the language on financial provisions. It seems that some members have suggested that a presidential statement may be a more appropriate product, arguing that it is not necessary for the Council to authorise the deployment of the MNJTF in a resolution, citing the example of the 29 June 2012 presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/18) that welcomed the regional task force established to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army. Tomorrow’s meeting may renew the momentum for further discussion on a draft text that supports the MNJTF.

The deployment of the MNJTF has been slow, due to disagreements among the five countries over conducting cross-border operations and a shortage of funding for the force. The latest set-back occurred on Saturday (3 January) when Boko Haram overran the force’s headquarters that had been established in Baga, Nigeria. The Secretary-General in his recent report, recommended that the Council should stand by Nigeria and provide whatever support is necessary to prevent further destabilisation, while also calling on Nigeria to ensure that its security forces more scrupulously uphold human rights standards in responding to the Boko Haram threat.

Another key issue that members are expected to highlight during tomorrow’s consultations is the elections that will take place in a number of countries across the region in 2015. Amidst Nigeria’s worsening violence with Boko Haram and a sharp decline in government revenues due to the global drop in oil prices, the country is scheduled to hold general elections in February. These are expected to be contentious, especially if election results are close and the large displaced population is unable to vote or if insecurity in the northeast impedes the electoral process there. Likewise, members may raise concerns about presidential elections scheduled for March in Togo, which experienced large scale demonstrations on 21 November 2014 in which protestors called for constitutional reforms that would prohibit the president from running for a third term. Similarly, tensions in Benin have also been heightened by concerns that the president may amend the constitution to enable himself to run for a third term in 2016. Niger is also experiencing tensions, where the speaker of the National Assembly fled the country in August on the day that a warrant for his arrest was issued and several members of opposition parties were arrested, though later released on bail, over recent months. Members may be interested in Chambas’ assessment of the risks of violence or instability in these countries, and UN efforts to mitigate these risks. Additionally, some members may also be interested in hearing Chambas’ assessment of the transition that has been established in Burkina Faso and the prospect for holding elections as scheduled in November to restore constitutional order.

Recent instability in Gambia may also be raised in the meeting. On 31 December 2014, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed Council members in consultations on the failed coup in Gambia. Tomorrow Council members may seek Chambas’ insights on possible human rights violations as the government seeks to arrest the perpetrators.

Another matter that members could inquire about is the progress in establishing an analytical unit within the political affairs section of UNOWA. The Secretary-General proposed to create the unit in his 11 December 2013 report (S/2013/732), describing it as necessary to better inform UNOWA’s good offices and preventive diplomacy work. Council members in turn looked forward to the early implementation of this recommendation in a 9 July 2014 press statement (SC/11466).

Finally, the Ebola epidemic may be a part of the discussion as well, with some members possibly reiterating the importance of sustained international efforts to combat the disease.

Additional issues frequently highlighted during the UNOWA meetings—which may also enter into the deliberations tomorrow—include efforts to strengthen the region’s ability to address transnational organised crime and drugs and arms trafficking.

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