posted on Thu 3 Mar 2016 6:17 PM
Council Visiting Mission to West Africa

Tomorrow Council members will begin a visiting mission to Mali, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. This will be the Council’s third visit for both Guinea Bissau (2003 and 2004) and Mali (2000 and 2014), and its first to Senegal, where the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) is located. During the four-day mission, Council members are expected to reaffirm their commitment to stability in the region including by following up on the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. In meetings with key actors in Guinea-Bissau, Council members are expected to express concern over the rise of political tensions in the country. They will also meet with Senegal President Macky Sall, the current chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and senior officials of UNOWAS.

Mali
The Mali leg of the mission will be led by France and Senegal. As well as the leadership of MINUSMA, including Special Representative and head of MINUSMA Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Council members are expected to engage with Malian stakeholders in Bamako, with a possible visit to other towns north of the capital, depending on the security situation.

Given concerns over the slow pace of the implementation of the Agreement and the difficulties in the work of its follow-up mechanisms, the key objective of the visit seems to be to urge the government of Mali, and the Platform and Coordination coalitions of armed groups, to press ahead with the implementation of key provisions of the Agreement in order for the people of Mali to begin to enjoy the dividends of peace. Council members are expected to urge the parties to take the measures needed to advance the deployment of joint security patrols in the north of Mali and the cantonment, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed combatants, as well as the decentralisation process, consistent with the provisions of the Agreement. In this context, Council members will try to get a renewed commitment by the parties to work in good faith to achieve these objectives and to commit to a specific timeline.

The security situation is expected to feature prominently in the discussions. The wider reach of terrorist groups in central and southern Mali has heightened the sense of alienation among some communities regarding a political process that only included the government and armed groups. The increased insecurity in places like the town of Mopti, which hosted many people internally displaced by the conflict, are contributing to communal tensions, the formation of self-defence militias and a perception of disenfranchisement given the limited peace dividends so far. MINUSMA, its contractors and other international actors, including NGOs, continue to be targeted by Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist groups through improvised explosive devices, ambushes, suicide bombings and other attacks. Some 51 MINUSMA peacekeepers have died as a result of malicious acts against the mission since its establishment in 2013. The latest deadly attack took place on 12 February, when the MINUSMA camp in Kidal was targeted and seven peacekeepers were killed.

Council members are likely to discuss with Malian stakeholders whether the mission’s mandate needs be refined to better address the challenges of the situation on the ground. Although the mission has almost reached its full operational capacity, it is finding it difficult to address new protection threats to civilians given the resources needed to ensure force protection and convoy escorts. The Secretariat is planning to conduct a strategic review of the mission mid-March, and its results are expected to be conveyed to the Council ahead of MINUSMA’s mandate renewal in June. Council members might also discuss the AU proposals for the establishment of a counter-terrorist force in Mali and in the region.

During the meetings, some Council members may raise issues of accountability for violations and abuses of human rights, such as incidents of sexual violence in armed conflict, including against children. They are also expected to assess the contribution of Malian civil society, especially through women’s organisations, in the peace process and the implementation of the Agreement. Mali was the first country situation considered by the Informal Expert Group recently established in accordance with resolution 2242 on women, peace and security, in part due to the upcoming visiting mission and the strategic review of MINUSMA.

Guinea-Bissau
Angola and Senegal are co-leads for the Guinea-Bissau leg, which comes amidst a prolonged political crisis that began last August when President José Mário Vaz dismissed the government of Prime Minister Domingo Simões Pereira. Since then, tensions across government institutions and within the largest political party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), has produced a political impasse that is severely undermining the promising gains that Guinea-Bissau had been making after elections in 2014 restored constitutional order.

Mediation efforts by ECOWAS and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) have so far been unable to end the dispute. During their visit, Council members are expected to convey the message that political leaders need to resolve the impasse. They are likely to stress that this should be done through dialogue, fully respecting the country’s laws and constitution, while putting the needs of the Bissau Guinean people first. The uncertain situation has caused donors to hold back disbursing most of the $1.2 billion that was pledged for the government’s national reform and development programme in March 2015.

In Bissau, Council members will meet with the leadership of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Mission for Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), including Special Representative and head of UNIOGBIS Miguel Trovoada, who will update members on the latest political developments.

Meetings are planned with Prime Minister Carlos Correia and other cabinet members, the Speaker of the National Assembly, and the heads of parliamentary commissions. Since 23 December, the National Assembly has been at the center of the country’s political crisis when fifteen members of the PAIGC abstained on the vote for the government’s national programme and prevented its adoption. Legal and political wrangling continues to raise questions about whether these representatives will retain their seats. At the National Assembly, members will meet with former Prime Minister Simões Pereira as the leader of PAIGC and PAIGC parliamentary leaders. Members will also meet the head of the main opposition Party for Social Renewal (PRS), and PRS parliamentary leaders. It seems that before they leave Bissau, Council members will meet with President Vaz to deliver their key messages.

During their visit, members are planning to have a meeting with the diplomatic community in Guinea-Bissau, including representatives of ECOWAS, the CPLP, the AU and the EU, as well as the UN Country Team. A meeting is also planned with civil society groups, including from women, youth and human rights organisations..

Dakar and the UN Regional Office for West Africa and the Sahel
The final leg of the mission will be to visit the UN Regional Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). This leg is being led by Angola. Members are to meet with Special Representative and Head of UNOWAS Mohamed Ibn Chambas and UNOWAS Deputy Special Representative Hiroute Guebre Sellassie. The main focus of these discussions is expected to be the peace and security challenges in the region, such as elections across West Africa in 2016, which have often proven to be a trigger for conflict in the region, and the threat of terrorism. Chambas and Sellassie are expected to discuss the office’s conflict prevention efforts and implementation of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. Members are likely to be interested in the merger of the UN Office of West Africa and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel, which members approved in January (S/2016/89), resulting in the new name and an expanded role for the office. The UN West African regional office will now be responsible for the implementation of the Sahel strategy, with Sellassie (formerly the Special Envoy for the Sahel) reporting through Chambas. Members will also meet with the diplomatic community in Dakar to discuss regional issues.

Council members will meet with Senegal President Macky Sall in his capacity as ECOWAS Chair. Likely topics for discussion are ECOWAS’ conflict prevention efforts across the region, in particular in relation to upcoming elections, and its efforts to combat terrorism. Members may be interested in hearing about Sall’s experiences as part of the AU high-level delegation which was in Burundi last week to meet with the different stakeholders.

What’s in Blue will be reporting from the ground during the visiting mission. Please follow our Dispatches from the Field for the latest on the Security Council visiting mission.