posted on Wed 8 Jul 2020 6:47 PM
Council Meeting on West Africa and the Sahel

Tomorrow (9 July), Security Council members will hold an open videoconference (VTC) meeting, followed by a closed VTC session, on West Africa and the Sahel. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), are the expected briefers.

A key focus of tomorrow’s session is likely to be the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region. In his 23 June report on West Africa and the Sahel, the Secretary-General stated that he is “deeply concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the peace, stability and socioeconomic development of the countries” of West Africa and the Sahel. Terrorist groups in the region have sought to exploit the pandemic for propaganda purposes, while using the conditions created by the virus to increase attacks, according to the Secretary-General.  He further warns in his report that the pandemic threatens to reverse the gains of recent years in economic growth, poverty reduction and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The pandemic is also expected to severely affect high-stakes elections in the region, a point Chambas emphasised in a 22 April meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission. Presidential elections are planned later this year in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger. Continuing terrorist attacks and intercommunal violence are expected to pose challenges for the elections in Burkina Faso and Niger. Violence tied to regional and municipal elections in October 2018 in Côte d’Ivoire caused at least seven deaths, and tensions persist over electoral reforms. In Guinea, the Secretary-General’s report noted that “political tensions continued to rise ahead of the presidential election anticipated in October”, while electoral violence at demonstrations related to the 22 March legislative elections and constitutional referendum to allow President Alpha Condé to possibly run for a third term had resulted in at least 31 deaths and scores wounded. Chambas may call on stakeholders to build consensus around political processes, particularly in light of the pandemic that has already caused some delays in electoral preparations.

Attacks by terrorist groups and intercommunal conflict continue to destabilise West Africa and the Sahel, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. On 11 June, 12 Ivorian security personnel were killed in an attack in northeastern Côte d’Ivoire at a border post with Burkina Faso, demonstrating the expanding threat posed by terrorist groups to the wider region. The incident followed the first joint operation conducted by Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso in May along their border. Nigeria, which has continued to battle terrorist group Boko Haram during intensified military operations over recent months in the Lake Chad Basin, also faces additional security challenges flagged in the Secretary-General’s report, including high rates of kidnapping for ransom, communal violence and banditry.

Council members are likely to underscore the importance of assisting regional security initiatives to combat terrorist groups, such as the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Joint Force and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which operates in the Lake Chad Basin. A 30 June summit of the G5 Sahel—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—was held in Nouakchott to review recent efforts to intensify the fight against terrorism, attended by French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, with other European leaders participating remotely. Council members may further echo the emphasis placed in the Secretary-General’s report on “redoubling efforts to address root causes” of instability by integrating efforts to promote development, improve governance and protect human rights.

Members are also likely to call for greater international assistance to address the worsening humanitarian situation in the region. According to OCHA, in 2020, a record high of 24 million Sahelians will need humanitarian assistance and protection. The number of people displaced by fighting in Burkina Faso continues to increase and now totals 848,000. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance in Mali during 2020 is expected to reach 4.3 million in total—an increase of one million over the same period in 2019. In the Lake Chad Basin, which includes parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, some 2.7 million people have fled their homes, including 2.4 million internally displaced persons and 292,000 Nigerian refugees. While $2.5 billion is required to provide life-saving assistance and protection to 17 million people in the Sahel, only 15 percent of the required amount had been received as of late April.

Some Council members are expected to underscore the significance of the climate-security nexus at tomorrow’s meeting. Civil society briefer Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is likely to provide an additional perspective on this issue. When Ibrahim addressed the Council in May 2016 during a briefing on terrorism, desertification and climate change in the Sahel, she linked the socioeconomic consequences of climate change to stability and security. Ibrahim highlighted changes to the land from desertification around Lake Chad and its impact on agriculture and herding and described how this had exacerbated poverty and caused conflict over depleted resources.  She said that this disruption to livelihoods and rise in poverty have also helped Boko Haram recruit fighters.

As is the regular practice for these semi-annual briefings, co-penholders Belgium and Niger are expected to propose a presidential statement, which the Council may adopt later this month.