posted on Tue 7 Jan 2020 4:28 PM
West Africa and the Sahel: Briefing and Consultations

On 8 January, the Security Council is expected to have its bi-annual briefing on West Africa and the Sahel with Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Consultations are scheduled following the public session.

Chambas will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel and the activities of UNOWAS. As indicated in the report, insecurity and violence in the Sahel continue to worsen, especially in the Liptako-Gourma border region straddling Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Violent extremist and terrorist groups have inflicted heavy casualties on regional armies over recent months and have fueled violence along communal and sectarian lines, which have caused the humanitarian situation to deteriorate. Last month, 71 Nigerien soldiers were killed in an 11 December attack—reportedly the deadliest in the history of Niger’s military—and 35 civilians and seven soldiers were killed in an attack in Arbinda, northern Burkina Faso. The Boko Haram insurgency also continues in northeast Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad Basin region. In addition to expressing concern over the situation, Chambas may reiterate the Secretary-General’s call on the need to prevent the spread of insecurity to the southern coastal West African states; an increasing risk that is flagged in the report.

Members could welcome the growing involvement by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in responding to the regional terrorism threat. At a 21 December summit, the ECOWAS Authority adopted an action plan for the period 2020 – 2024 to combat terrorism that will require an estimated $2.3 billion for military equipment for its member states, training and intelligence sharing. This followed ECOWAS member states committing $1 billion towards counter-terrorism efforts at a 14 September summit in Ouagadougou on terrorism. Council members may be interested in learning more about the ECOWAS action plan, including programmes and funding.

There may also be reference to a summit France will host next week on 13 January with the presidents of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which make up the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), to assess counter-terrorism strategies in the region. France announced plans for the meeting following the deaths of 13 French soldiers when two French helicopters collided during a joint operation against armed elements in Mali in November.

Another area of focus is likely to be political and election-related tensions. During 2020, presidential elections are to be held in six countries in the sub-region: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger and Togo, several of which are expected to be highly contentious. The Secretary-General’s report singles out concern about tensions in Guinea and the deaths of 10 people there during demonstrations in October connected to concerns that President Alpha Condé plans to amend the constitution to run for a third term.

In the context of the upcoming elections, members may express support for Chambas’ good office activities and emphasise UNOWAS’ important conflict-prevention role. Members may echo concerns from the Secretary-General’s report over the instrumentalisation of rule of law institutions for political ends in some countries. They may also be interested in Chambas’ initial assessment from Guinea-Bissau’s 29 December presidential election. Chambas was in Guinea-Bissau for the election and UNOWAS is expected to take over the good offices functions of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), which may conclude at the end of this year.

Members are likely to reiterate the importance of addressing structural causes of instability in the region, such as underdevelopment, poor governance and climate change through initiatives such the UN’s Sahel Strategy, the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme and the Lake Chad Basin regional stabilisation strategy. They may underscore the importance of respecting human rights during counter-terrorism operations, as the Secretary-General’s report flags abuses committed by security forces.

The penholders on UNOWAS, Belgium and Niger, plan to propose a draft presidential statement in connection with the briefing. Among other issues, the statement may be an opportunity for the Council to comment on Guinea-Bissau’s recent election and address the crisis in the Lake Chad basin, which the Council usually considers during its meetings on UNOWAS or the UN Office for Central Africa.

UNOWAS Mandate Renewal

Council members are continuing discussions on the mandate renewal of UNOWAS. Last month, the Council decided to renew the mission for one month until 31 January 2020 in order to have more time to examine the Secretary-General’s proposal for the mandate.

The UNOWAS mandate is traditionally renewed for a three-year period through an exchange of letters between the Council presidency and Secretary-General. The Secretary-General’s proposal follows an independent strategic review of UNOWAS. The review and the Secretary-General’s observations of the report issued in November suggest that the increased demands and expectations of UNOWAS require substantial additional human and financial resources for the mission (for more on the review see our 26 November What’s In Blue story and January 2020 Monthly Forecast).

Having received the Secretary-General’s proposal for the mandate on 19 December, members wanted to be able to study the proposal and have the opportunity to thoroughly discuss it in more detail before finalising the new mandate. Today, Council experts are having a meeting with the Secretariat to gain a better understanding about the Secretary-General’s mandate proposal. Belgium will host a meeting later this week for Council members to further discuss the draft mandate.

In addition, next week, the Council will hold its quarterly briefing on Mali. Members have repeatedly highlighted that implementation of the 2015 Mali Peace and Reconciliation Agreement is critical for stabilising the Sahel. Chambas last briefed the Council (via video-teleconference) on 16 December during a meeting on intercommunal violence and terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel.