posted on Tue 26 Nov 2019 8:25 PM
Informal Interactive Dialogue on UNOWAS Strategic Review

On 27 November, Security Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue to discuss the independent strategic review of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). The briefers are Abdoulaye Bathily, who led the review and is the former head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA); and Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita. Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Chair Guillermo Fernández de Soto Valderrama (Colombia) may also brief. The meeting has been organised by the co-penholders on UNOWAS, Belgium and Côte d’Ivoire, and comes ahead of next month’s mandate renewal of UNOWAS, which expires on 31 December. The UNOWAS mandate is traditionally renewed for a three-year period through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council.

The review was carried out from 10 September to 17 October. In a 15 November letter, the Secretary-General submitted the report of the review, along with his own observations and recommendations. The Council’s 7 August presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to conduct the review, stressing the need for its independent nature and inviting him “to present to the Council its recommendations as well as his observations on these recommendations, including on potential areas of improvement or new or refocused priorities, including on Counter Terrorism, effects of climate change on security, [and] intercommunal violence as part of a broad prevention and sustaining peace agenda…in order to usefully inform the Council’s discussions on the renewal of the Mission’s mandate”.

This is the second consecutive independent review that the Secretary-General has shared with Council members, having shared last month the independent review of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). Previously, the Secretary-General has only offered his own summaries of the majority of the recent series of independent reviews of UN peace operations, which has been a source of contention and frustration for members. In the case of the MONUSCO review, however, the independent expert did not brief members, as Bathily will do tomorrow.

For tomorrow’s informal interactive dialogue, Bathily is expected to present the review’s findings, and Keita is likely to elaborate on the Secretary-General’s observations. The strategic review was quite positive, finding that UNOWAS plays a critical role in conflict prevention and sustaining peace, and has carried out its mandate effectively. In particular, the good offices activities of Special Representative Mohamed Ibn Chambas to defuse tensions, often in the context of high-stakes elections and in coordination with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU, were found to be the most visible and effective component of UNOWAS’ work.

The review highlighted, however, that the office is facing increased demands and expectations. These include increased demands for its good offices in the context of political or electoral tensions. UNOWAS has also been expected to support post-conflict countries after the closure of UN missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone and, looking ahead, after the possible conclusion of the UN mission in Guinea-Bissau at the end of 2020, and it has taken on a stepped-up role in The Gambia and Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, the region faces evolving transnational threats, particularly from the spread of terrorism as well as organised crime, intercommunal and herder-farmer conflicts and piracy (which are often connected with or exacerbated by terrorist groups). These transnational challenges and the need for UNOWAS to invest more in the good governance and rule of law aspects of its mandate require a reorientation of UNOWAS towards structural prevention, according to the review.

The review further says that UNOWAS should enhance collaboration with ECOWAS, its most important partner, and other sub-regional organisations in West Africa and the Sahel. In the context of the UN development system reforms, it flags the need for UNOWAS to promote greater synergies with the UN system and entities in the region. Meeting these demands requires increased human and financial resources, according to the report and the Secretary-General’s observations.

In his summary of the review, the Secretary-General recommends:

  • Strengthening UNOWAS’s mandate to acquire the agility and capacity needed to allow the mission to be more proactive in the face of existing and emerging threats, to support post-transition countries following the drawdown of UN peace operations, and to scale-up cross-pillar coordination and cooperation for greater coherence in UN interaction with national and sub-regional entities.
  • Reconfiguring UNOWAS to promote better collaboration among UN entities in the region for a greater collective UN impact, especially with the Regional UN Sustainable Development Group, while maintaining a clear division of labour, and enhancing UNOWAS’ collaboration with regional and sub-regional bodies, such as ECOWAS, the Mano River Union (MRU), the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel).

The report of the review additionally includes recommendations such as establishing a UNOWAS presence in Abuja, strengthening the UNOWAS liaison office to the G5 Sahel in Nouakchott, enhancing UNOWAS collaboration with governments of the Lake Chad Basin in addressing the Boko Haram crisis, and supporting a Secretary-General’s proposal from September to create a clearer division of labour around the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS).

Tomorrow’s meeting appears to be an initial opportunity for members to start their consideration of the UNOWAS mandate renewal. Members may express support for the mission’s work, particularly its good offices activities, which they often do during meetings on UNOWAS. But they are more likely to be interested in raising questions and gaining a better understanding of the review’s findings and recommendations. Members may seek more information about what the Secretary-General is proposing, as his own recommendations are quite general compared to some of the more specific proposals in the review. They may be interested in how such proposals should be incorporated in the upcoming mandate renewal.

While the review flags the need for “substantial new human and financial resource commitments”, it does not contain details on estimated new personnel or costs, which members could inquire about. Some members may be hesitant to support proposals that will expand the office, especially given the UN’s current financial situation. Others may indicate their support for the recommendations and for strengthening UNOWAS, given the deteriorating security situation in West Africa and the Sahel. They could flag issues such as the importance of finding ways to create more sustained UNOWAS engagement in countries in between Chambas’ high-level visits.

PBC chair Fernández de Soto may also brief tomorrow, which Germany requested since much of the PBC’s work covers countries in West Africa and the Sahel and the chair could share insights on peacebuilding needs. Because of tomorrow’s tight Council schedule, there has been discussion of limiting the number of briefers; at press time, Fernández de Soto’s participation was still awaiting confirmation.

If Fernández de Soto briefs, he may discuss how the PBC cooperates with UNOWAS. In a January 2017 presidential statement, the Council encouraged such cooperation and asked the PBC to support UNOWAS in implementing the UNISS.  Besides the UNISS, the PBC has long maintained country configurations for Liberia and Sierra Leone and more recently has been engaged with the situations in The Gambia and Burkina Faso. UNOWAS officials have briefed the PBC during relevant meetings and have accompanied PBC delegations visiting the region. The most recent example was a visit this month by Fernández de Soto, the PBC vice chair, the chairs of the PBC’s Sierra Leone and Liberia configurations, Chambas, and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Oscar Fernandez-Taranco to the MRU countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.