posted on Tue 11 Feb 2020 11:32 AM
UNOWAS Mandate Renewal and Presidential Statement on West Africa and the Sahel

This afternoon (11 February), the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, proposed by co-penholders Belgium and Niger. Meanwhile, the Council recently renewed the mandate of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) for three years in late January. The extension of the UNOWAS mandate until 31 January 2023, after a one-month technical rollover of the mandate at the end of 2019, followed last year’s independent strategic review of the regional office. The presidential statement is not directly linked to the mandate renewal, however.

UNOWAS mandate renewal

The mandate of UNOWAS is renewed through an exchange of letters every three years between the Secretary-General and the Security Council. On 19 December, Council members received the Secretary-General’s proposal for renewing the mandate (S/2019/1009), which was set to expire at the end of 2019. Council members decided during an expert-level meeting on 22 December to take more time to consider the proposal by having a one-month extension (S/2019/1010). On 7 January 2020, Belgium hosted a meeting for the Secretariat to brief members on the proposal, and Council members convened on 10 January for further discussion.

Discussions on the Secretary-General’s proposal for the UNOWAS mandate focused largely around streamlining the text. Members felt that there were redundancies in the proposed mandate, and that the organisation of the mission’s functions could be improved. As one example, the Secretary-General proposed creating a new “objective” that would have UNOWAS supporting countries where UN presences are undergoing transitions. Members felt, however, that it was sufficient to highlight UNOWAS support for transition countries within the mission’s objective to monitor political developments and carry out good offices, activities that it conducts in transition countries and other states, and the standalone section on transition countries was removed.

The mandate of UNOWAS continues to be organised around four objectives that can be summarized as: (1) monitoring political developments and good offices; (2) enhancing regional and subregional partnerships to address cross-border and cross-cutting threats in West Africa and the Sahel; (3) supporting, through political advocacy and convening, implementation of the UN’s Sahel Strategy; and (4) promoting good governance, respect for the rule of law, human rights and the mainstreaming of gender in conflict prevention, management and resolution.

In keeping with the Secretary-General’s proposal and findings from the strategic review, there is new emphasis on the mission carrying out its mandate in partnership with regional and subregional organisations and promoting greater coherence in the UN system.

A small but notable difference from the last mandate is the mention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in parallel with the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), in a paragraph on the mission’s role in coordinating the different Sahel strategies. Adding the ECOWAS reference was apparently a way to follow up on the strategic review recommendation for a UNOWAS liaison office to ECOWAS in Abuja—in addition to the liaison office already in Nouakchott to the G5 Sahel—and enable greater consideration of the idea in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which will determine whether to allocate funds to establish the office.

During negotiations, a number of members had concerns that the proposed mandate, with its emphasis on integrating UN system efforts, weakened the political nature of UNOWAS, including its focus on good offices and addressing tensions. The final mandate text softens some of this language. For example, the Council changed the proposal that UNOWAS should carry out good offices to support, among other things, sustainable development—which most members apparently felt was not the mission’s role—to stating that the exercise of good offices be “mindful” of the region’s sustainable development context.

Another difference from the last UNOWAS mandate is a new paragraph referencing climate change, which says that UNOWAS should “[t]ake into consideration the adverse implications of climate change, energy poverty, ecological changes and natural disasters, among other factors”, assisting governments in the region and the UN system in undertaking risk assessments and risk management strategies relating to these factors. The language is based on language from several presidential statements on UNOWAS since 2018, though this was one of the last items members agreed on in their discussions on the mandate.

The Peacebuilding Commission also sought to contribute to the Council’s consideration of the mandate renewal, submitting in December 2019 “observations” on peacebuilding priorities for West Africa and the Sahel. This reflects the PBC’s growing engagement in the region, including with the UN’s Sahel strategy, The Gambia and Burkina Faso, in addition to its longstanding country configurations for Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone (with the last of these set to end early this year).

Presidential Statement

Belgium and Niger circulated the draft presidential statement to the Council membership on 31 January, waiting to do so until negotiations on the UNOWAS mandate had ended. The penholders initiated the statement to follow up on last month’s biannual briefing on West Africa and the Sahel. There were at least two periods for members to submit comments, and the text passed silence this morning.

Among the issues it covers, a key section is on this year’s presidential elections to be held in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, and Togo, and parliamentary elections in Mali. There were differences that had to be reconciled over a proposal to add language elaborating on the situation in Guinea, where protests during the last few months in response to President Alpha Condé’s alleged plans to amend the constitution to run for a third term resulted in at least six deaths in January. The agreed text on Guinea calls on all political stakeholders to resume dialogue without delay with a view to ensuring that electoral processes and political reforms are conducted with broad consensus. It encourages the Special Representative to continue exercising good offices in the country.

The draft statement further welcomes the presidential election in Guinea-Bissau; the Council’s first comments since the second round run-off on 29 December 2019. The draft statement adds that the Council looks forward to the confirmation of the results by the relevant organs in Guinea-Bissau and urges all stakeholders to ensure a peaceful implementation of the election results.