December 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 November 2007
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United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA)

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to receive a letter from the Secretary-General advising his intention to extend the mandate of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), due to expire on 31 December (perhaps for another three years). The Council is unlikely to meet on this issue. A response to the Secretary-General about extending UNOWA’s mandate is likely to be prepared by the president and circulated under the ”silence procedure” (by which a measure is accepted unless objections are raised within a given timeframe). If there are any objections, an experts’ meeting is a possibility. 

Recent Developments
On 18 May, the Council received a report from an independent review of UNOWA that assessed its activities and performance in carrying out the major functions it has been assigned. It has also been provided feedback from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other main international partners, including those from the UN system, on the work of UNOWA. The report mentioned UNOWA’s impact in terms of its good-offices functions, its efforts in harmonising the work of the various special political and peacekeeping missions in the subregion, its analysis of youth unemployment, the work of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, the impact on the proliferation of small arms and on the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power. There was little mention of UNOWA’s provision of a regular forum for special political and peacekeeping missions in the subregion to deliberate on common challenges and cross-border issues. In addition, it did not elaborate on strategies or options for cooperation between UN missions to ensure their improved cohesion and maximum efficiency.

On 4 September, the Secretary-General wrote to the Council advising his intention to temporarily assign Lamine Cissé, former head of the UN Support Office in Central Africa Republic, as head of UNOWA. His predecessor, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, was appointed as Special Representative for Somalia.

Key Issues
The key issue is whether the Council may be willing to lend wider support to the mandate of UNOWA, beyond simply renewing its mandate. The current situation in the region continues to show considerable cross-border challenges to peace and security in the region. The issue is whether the work of UNOWA needs to be further fine-tuned as an important feature of the Council’s multi-pronged effort towards conflict prevention and resolution.

While past practice for the Council has been simply to endorse the Secretary-General’s recommendation for an extension and request additional information on UNOWA’s work, options for Council members include:

  • using the UNOWA extension as a practical case for furthering its thematic discussions on conflict prevention and including language that would stimulate the focus on the regional perspective;
  • deciding to formally insert periodic reviews on progress with intermission cooperation measures undertaken by UNOWA (and others in the area) and assessing the work of UNOWA to recommend possible adjustments to its mandate;
  • responding to the issues raised in the recent independent review’s recommendations, including those on UNOWA’s future policy and practice; and
  • encouraging a deliberate and enhanced utilisation of UNOWA’s studies of trends in the subregion (e.g. youth unemployment) to harmonise related efforts by various partners in contributing to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in the subregion.

Council Dynamics
The Council has not formally considered the independent interim review report on UNOWA since its release in May, possibly because it has not been an issue of priority, especially since continuation of UNOWA’s mandate had already been agreed during its 2006 mandate review process. The report was originally expected to be submitted in July 2006 but it was received ten months later, and has not been considered by the Council in the more than five months that have elapsed since its release. Unlike the previous 2004 review of UNOWA, which was prepared internally by UNOWA and the Secretariat, the latest report was done by an independent consultant appointed by UNOWA in consultation with the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services to avoid replicating the previous exercise and to ensure objectivity of scrutiny of UNOWA’s work.

In the past Council members have criticised UNOWA’s effectiveness and have indicated willingness to consider changes to both its mandate and structure within the mandate review process.

The Council’s continued support of UNOWA appears to have been influenced in part by the view that it is a novel experiment to bridge the gap between UN country-level capacity to respond to issues in the region and intervention from UN headquarters. Also the cost of mounting stand-alone operations in several countries in a single region has been an additional incentive for the Council to support UNOWA’s work, intermission cooperation and strengthening ECOWAS.

Furthermore, the recent growth in UN peacekeeping operations and the resulting scarcity in human and financial resources are making the consolidation of regional approaches more attractive to Council members. The Council seems to be interested in the idea of an analogous office in Central Asia and a similar facility jointly for Central Africa and the Great Lakes region.

In terms of the procedure for renewing UNOWA’s mandate, the practice to date, has been through an exchange of letters. The Secretary-General is expected to write to the Council informing it of his intention to extend the mandate of UNOWA for a period. In turn, the Council then indicates concurrence (in effect, endorsement) through a letter, and may request further information and voice opinions on the work of UNOWA.

No particular Council member appears to be in the lead on the issue of UNOWA at the moment, although African members have tended to play that role. None of the present elected members were on the Council three years ago when the mandate of UNOWA was last a major focus.

Besides setting up UNOWA in 2001 and subsequent renewal of its mandate in 2004, substantive action on regional and cross-border issues by the Council has been limited to a presidential statement and little mention in its country-specific resolutions. There seem to be divisions in the Council, along with some degree of scepticism and sometimes a lack of understanding, on how best to approach regional solutions, especially regarding intermission cooperation. Within the Council and also among troop-contributing countries, there appear to be concerns with legal and managerial implications of that possibility. Achieving an appropriate balance without diverting the main focus of peacekeeping operations in the region away from country-specific activities seems to be an underlying concern.

(For more information relating to this issue see our 15 March Update Report on Cross-Border Issues in West Africa).

UN Documents

Selected Presidential Letters

  • S/2004/858 (25 October 2004) was the letter of the president of the Security Council welcoming the Secretary-General’s decision to extend the mandate of UNOWA.
  • S/2001/1129 (29 November 2001) welcomed the intention of the Secretary-General to establish UNOWA for three years from January 2002 to 31 December 2004, subject to a review after its first year of operation.

Selected Secretary-General’s Letters

  • S/2007/522 (27 August 2007) was a letter conveying the Secretary-General’s intention to temporarily reassign General Lamine Cissé as the officer-in-charge of UNOWA.
  • S/2005/16 (14 December 2004) was the Secretary-General’s letter to the Security Council conveying the intended mandate functions and activities of UNOWA from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2007.
  • S/2004/797 (4 October 2004) was the Secretary-General’s letter indicating his intention to extend the mandate of UNOWA for three years.


Selected Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2007/294 (18 May 2007) was a midterm review of UNOWA during its January 2005 to 31 December 2007 mandate period.
  • S/2007/143 (13 March 2007) was the report on cross-border issues in West Africa.
  • S/2004/797 (4 October 2004) was a review of activities and performance of UNOWA spanning the January 2003 to July 2004 period.

Selected UNOWA Studies and Concept Papers

  • Working Document on Sanctions in Africa (June 2007)
  • Security Landscape and Peace Consolidation in West Africa (March 2007)
  • Youth Unemployment and Regional Insecurity in West Africa – A UNOWA Issue Paper, Second Edition (August 2006)
  • Life after State House: Addressing Unconstitutional Changes in West Africa – A UNOWA Issue Paper (March 2006)
  • Youth Unemployment and Regional Insecurity in West Africa – A UNOWA Issue Paper, First Edition (December 2005)
  • Elections scheduled between April 2005 and December 2007 in West Africa (April 2005)
  • Security Sector Reform and Conflict Prevention in West Africa: Challenges and Opportunities – Dakar Workshop (November 2004)
  • The Regional Impact of the Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire (April 2004)

These studies and concept papers are available at

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General

Lamine Cissé (Senegal)

UNOWA: Size and Composition

Staff Strength: nine international civilians; nine local civilians

UNOWA: Duration

29 November 2001 to present; mandate expires on 31 December 2007

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