posted on Thu 12 Jan 2017 5:04 PM
Briefing and Consultations on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel

On Friday (13 January), the Security Council will receive a briefing from Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), which will be followed by consultations.
Chambas’ briefing will be based on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in West Africa and the Sahel and the activities of UNOWAS (S/2016/1072). The report covers a range of issues, including political developments since July 2016 and the continued terrorism threat in the region posed by groups expanding their activities from Mali and the Boko Haram conflict in the Lake Chad Basin.

Members perceive positively UNOWAS’ good offices and conflict prevention activities performed by Chambas. Some may particularly welcome his recent efforts in Ghana, undertaking four missions between October and December 2016 to defuse tensions ahead of the 7 December presidential election in which challenger Nana Akufo-Addo defeated incumbent President John Dramani Mahama. Members may seek his views on situations over the next 6 to 12 months that could pose a threat to the region. Some may highlight challenges on the links between transnational organised crime, such as drug trafficking and piracy, and terrorist groups. However, the two main topics of discussion are expected to be the current political crisis in The Gambia and the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS). The situation in the Lake Chad Basin was discussed separately today (12 January) and is therefore unlikely to be covered in detail tomorrow.

The Gambia
Council members have been following the situation in The Gambia closely. Council members strongly condemned President Yahya Jammeh’s decision to reject the 1 December presidential election results in a press statement (SC/12616) at the start of the crisis, and held three meetings in quick succession on the situation last month. On 21 December, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2016/19) welcoming decisions at a 17 December summit of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), where West African leaders agreed to “undertake all necessary actions to enforce” the election results and guarantee president-elect Adama Barrow’s safety and protection.

Since then, Jammeh has called the ECOWAS decision an “act of war” and rejected ECOWAS’ neutrality as mediator. Jammeh maintained that the crisis must be resolved based on the ruling by the Supreme Court on an appeal that his party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), has filed challenging the results. At the time that the APRC submitted the appeal, the Supreme Court had only one sitting judge. Six new foreign judges appointed since then were expected to enable the Supreme Court to review and issue a decision on the petition on 10 January. This week, however, The Gambia’s chief justice said that a ruling would be postponed until May, which is apparently the earliest that all the judges would be available to hear the case.

On 10 January, Jammeh announced he was appointing the APRC’s Secretary-General to serve as mediator in the crisis, and that he would work with the minister of justice and the National Assembly to draft a general amnesty bill. Jammeh thanked ECOWAS, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the AU and the UN “for their kind words and support to The Gambia even if some were mistaken”. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, whom ECOWAS appointed as mediator, announced this week that he would go to The Gambia on 13 January along with ECOWAS chair Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former Ghanian president Mahama. Members will be interested in any initial feedback that Chambas might have about the mission, and in discussing options to convince Jammeh to give up power.

ECOWAS Commissioner Marcel De Souza has raised the possibility of military intervention, and on 23 December regional standby forces were placed on alert. While Senegal has not raised this in Council discussions on The Gambia, within ECOWAS, Senegal appears to be the strongest proponent of such an option. Council members have so far stressed the need to exhaust mediation efforts. During tomorrow’s meeting, members could seek more information on the options that ECOWAS is considering if Barrow’s inauguration does not take place at the end of Jammeh’s term on 19 January. Chambas, who has been coordinating UN efforts with ECOWAS and the AU, stated in a December interview that sanctions were a possibility if Jammeh stays beyond his term. Some members could highlight the importance of the Council continuing to support and coordinate responses with ECOWAS and the AU.

UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel

Following the Council’s decision last year to create UNOWAS by merging the UN Office for West Africa and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel, the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) commissioned an independent evaluation of the UNISS, which was conducted in October and November 2016. The evaluation determined that the strategy’s implementation has been a “failure”. Among the reasons were the inability of the UN agencies to work in a regional and joint manner as the UNISS had envisaged, and the lack of resources. While it questioned the Council’s decision to endorse the UNISS without member states’ ensuring financial resources, it noted that official development assistance to the G5 Sahel (made up of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which are the core countries of the UNISS) increased by 21% from 2009 to 2014, suggesting that donors increasingly view UN agencies as less cost effective.

The evaluation said the strategy had correctly identified the region’s problems when it was developed in 2012. It recommended, however, that since the strength of the UN, in particular of DPA, was as a convening body, rather than in undertaking programmatic activities, the strategy should be rebranded into an issues-based consultative platform that brings together the different actors in the region beyond the UN system. It noted there were 17 different Sahel strategies developed by different multilateral organisations, regional bodies and countries. A greater focus on coordinating such efforts could reinvigorate the cooperation promised in November 2013 when then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured the region with the heads of the AU, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the EU Commissioner for Development. The evaluation said that the countries of the G5 Sahel support the idea of the UN coordinating the overall international response.

This past weekend, the evaluation was distributed to members. While some members have consulted with DPA on its findings, it seems that Council members believe the next steps regarding the UNISS are primarily for the Secretariat to determine. They will be interested in hearing more from Chambas on how DPA intends to proceed. Some members may note the importance of not undermining UNOWAS’ good offices functions. The recent mandate renewal of UNOWAS until 31 December 2019, which included for the first time a role in implementing the UNISS, was drafted generally enough so as to encompass any final decisions the Secretariat takes based on the evaluation and its recommendations.

In discussing the UNISS, some members may recall that three and half years since the Council adopted the strategy, the situation in the Sahel has arguably worsened. In light of the Council’s open debate on conflict prevention and sustaining peace earlier this week, some members could suggest the importance of the Council remaining focused on the region to prevent a further deterioration. Members may highlight that the Sahel should remain high on Chambas’ agenda, encourage regional countries to remain focused on addressing underlying drivers of instability, and encourage, in line with the evaluation’s recommendations, closer cooperation among actors in the region.
In line with last year’s Council and General Assembly resolutions on sustaining peace (S/RES/2282; A/RES/70/262), Chambas is likely to highlight DPA’s pilot approach to sustaining peace that has been developed with UNOWAS, the UN Country Team and the Peacebuilding Fund for Burkina Faso’s post-transition period. Members may be interested in further information on this pilot, which is outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.