September 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2012
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Expected Council Action  

In September, the Council will likely be briefed in consultations by Jeffrey Feltman, the head of the Department for Political Affairs, on an integrated strategy for the Sahel region encompassing security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian issues, as requested in resolution 2056. (On 26 September, at the margins of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General will host a high-level meeting on developments in the Sahel, including Mali.)

A Council press statement will be the likely outcome.

Key Recent Developments

On 8 August, the Council was briefed on developments in Mali since a military coup overthrew the democratically-elected government of the country on 22 March and on the ongoing strategic planning efforts following the request of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for a Security Council mandate authorising the deployment of an ECOWAS stabilisation force. The briefers included Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Salamatu Hussaini-Suleiman, Commissioner for Political Affairs for Peace and Security of ECOWAS. The Secretary-General’s language was bleak: “a regional pillar of democracy has completely fallen away from the constitutional path, undermining years of progress.” He furthermore noted that “an already terrible food and nutrition emergency [has grown] even worse, exposing thousands more people to severe shortages of food, water and basic services. In areas where there was previously stability and peaceful coexistence, extremism, criminal activity and violations of human rights have gained ground”.

Limited progress has been made in restoring constitutional order in the country. “Mali’s socio-political forces remain divided over support for the transitional arrangements and, more broadly, over future prospects for the country,” he said. “The military junta reportedly maintains a strong influence over the transitional process. It has retained control over the security and defence forces and continues to violently repress fellow soldiers suspected of having supported the attempted counter-coup of 30 April.” He added: “I strongly encourage the government of Mali to develop an overarching political strategy to return the country to constitutional order and re-establish state authority in the north. The strategy should clearly spell out responses to genuine socio-economic and political grievances, the modalities for political dialogue and negotiations, and the aims of eventual military action against extremist forces in the north.”

For her part, Hussaini-Suleiman noted that “terrorists and criminal networks” were trying to consolidate, and were committing “atrocious war crimes” in the north of the country. She said that the “objective of those terrorist groups and transnational organized criminals is clear, namely, to create a safe haven and a coordinating centre in the north of Mali for continental terrorist networks, including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, MUJAO, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.” If that objective is realised, she added, then “no country in Africa, or indeed outside the continent, will be safe.”

Prior to the briefing, Council members had received a note verbale from the Permanent Mission of Côte d’Ivoire—the current chair of ECOWAS—containing a detailed ECOWAS concept paper for deploying a stabilisation force in Mali. According to the note verbale, ECOWAS proposes to deploy a force of 3,245 troops— to which Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541) and Senegal (350) would be the biggest contributors—in three phases. The objectives of these phases would be, respectively, securing the transitional government in the capital, Bamako; restructuring and retraining the Malian army; and then launching an operation on radical Islamist forces in order to regain control of northern Mali. The note verbale stated that the overriding legal basis for the stabilisation force is the restoration of sovereignty and regaining territorial integrity in the north of Mali, where 10 percent of Mali’s population of 15 million live. The note verbale put the cost of the operation—which involves both military and humanitarian aspects—at about $410 million. (The note verbale is not exact about the mission’s duration, stating only that the humanitarian component will be tackled in six months, and the entire mission will transition “after an acceptable level of stability has been achieved.” By that time, ECOWAS will hand over responsibility to the AU and the UN.)

On 10 August, Council members issued a press statement (SC/10741) encouraging ECOWAS to prepare “detailed options for the objectives, means and modalities” of the proposed regional stabilisation force and indicating that the note verbale did not clarify crucial issues. The statement demanded that the members of the National Council for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE), the military junta that staged the 22 March coup, “cease their continuous interference in the political process.” The statement called on the transitional authorities of Mali to “ensure the full restoration and preservation of the constitutional order, including effective civilian control over the security and Armed Forces.” Members took note of the ECOWAS technical assessment mission that visited Mali from 6-18 July 2012, with the participation of the UN and the AU, and encouraged ECOWAS to have the transitional government “clarify its position”.

In this regard, a clear request from the government of Mali has been the key for Council support of the ECOWAS mission. This, however, was put in doubt during a 9-13 August meeting of ECOWAS military commanders and the government of Mali in Bamako. While transitional President Dioncounda Traoré is open to the idea and is making progress towards a new political consensus in the country, the military appears hostile. The transitional Defense Minister, Col. Yamoussa Camara, an ally of coup-leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo, told ECOWAS commanders that the stabilisation force should not be deployed in Bamako and should not take the lead over the Malian army in reconquering the north. (The ECOWAS note verbale described the army as having a “collapsed command and control system” and low morale. It is, according to the note, infiltrated by “extremist elements” and is crippled by “misplaced professional ego/pride.”)

The problems in the wider Sahel region—which spans some 8 million square kilometres between Mauritania and Libya in the north and  Burkina Faso and Nigeria in the south—were examined by a UN inter-agency assessment mission from 7-23 December 2011. The mission’s report (S/2012/42), which described the impact of the return of about 420,000 migrant workers to Mali, Niger and Mauritania, predicted serious instability in the region also because weapons from Libya are finding their way into the hands of separatist and jihadist guerrillas.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is to devise an overarching strategy to tackle the multifaceted problems of the Sahel, in particular the growing spread of terrorist groups and terrorist activities in the region.

In this context, restoring constitutionality in Mali and re-establishing its territorial integrity is a particularly pressing issue.

Tackling the perennial humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region, as well as the massive human rights violations, especially against women and non-Muslims in the Islamist-controlled parts of Mali, are further key issues of concern.


Options for the Council include:

  • issuing a press statement after the briefing welcoming the Secretary-General’s initiative in organising the high-level meeting on the Sahel; or
  • issuing a presidential statement requesting the appointment by the Secretary-General of a Special Envoy for Mali as a first step towards forging a more effective approach to the complex issues facing the country.
Council Dynamics

Though there is consensus among Council members on the need for urgent action to tackle the multiple crises in the Sahel region, including re-establishing constitutional order in Mali and ensuring the re-establishment of the state’s authority over the northern half of the country, there is little agreement yet on practical action. ECOWAS proposed that its stabilisation force begin to deploy to Bamako and other towns in southern Mali in October or November, with the build-up of a strike force to be complete by January 2013 and the campaign to recover the north to be launched in February. Some Council members fear those four months could easily become extended, allowing the Islamists groups, Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest, Ansar Dine and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, enough time to become entrenched in the difficult semi-arid terrain. Other Council members fear that a premature offer of military aid to the regime in Bamako, in which the coup members appear to be influential, could be a retreat from the AU’s and the Security Council’s policy of zero tolerance for military coups.

Council members also want any military operation in Mali and the region to include non-ECOWAS neighbours, specifically Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco, who would have clear strategic interests in such an operation. France, which has taken the lead on Mali in the Council, has a long-established programme of support for African peace operations—the RECAMP initiative—with pre-positioned supplies at a base in Senegal, and is the most robust in advocating support for ECOWAS. It appears that both France and Morocco, though, would want to see a clear attempt at negotiation with some of the elements in the north, since outright military victory by ECOWAS in the north is doubtful.

The UK has the lead in the Council on Yemen.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution  
5 July 2012 S/RES/2056 This resolution expressed the Council’s full support for the joint efforts of ECOWAS, the AU and the transitional authorities in Mali trying to re-establish constitutionality and territorial integrity.
Security Council Presidential Statement  
4 April 2012 S/PRST/2012/9 The Council issued a presidential statement on the situation in Mali.
Security Council Press Statement  
10 August 2012 SC/10741 This press statement followed statements by the Secretary-General, representatives of ECOWAS and the AU, and the Permanent Representative of Mali.
Security Council Meeting Record  
8 August 2012 S/PV.6820 This was a meeting on Peace and security in Africa focusing on Mali.
Security Council Letter  
13 June 2012 S/2012/444 This letter was from Ambassador Baso Sangqu (South Africa) containing the joint communiqué issued after the sixth consultative meeting between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council.
Secretary-General’s Reports  
29 June 2012 S/2012/510 This was a Secretary-General report on West Africa.
17 January 2012 S/2012/42 This transmitted the report of the assessment mission on the impact of the Libyan crisis on the Sahel region


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