December 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2012
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Threats to Peace and Security in the Sahel

Expected Council Action

In December, the Council is expected to hold a high-level meeting on the Sahel, a sprawling territory covering parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea. The focus will be on security, humanitarian, governance and development concerns in the region, perennial problems brought into sharp relief by an unexpected military coup in Mali on 22 March and an upsurge in the activities of terrorist groups in the region.

The Foreign Minister of Morocco, Saad-Eddine Al Othmani, is likely to preside. The Secretary-General and the Special Envoys for the Sahel of the Secretary-General, the AU, the EU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are expected to brief. Several Council members are likely to be represented at ministerial level.

At press time it appeared that the Council would issue a presidential statement following the meeting.

Key Recent Developments

On 13 November, Romano Prodi, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, informally briefed the Council on his recent meetings in Bamako (with Malian officials and regional representatives), Addis Ababa (with AU officials and with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia), Cairo (with the Prime Minister of Egypt and Arab League officials) and Algiers (with the Foreign Minister of Algeria). Prodi’s mission was intended to forge a consensus around a coordinated and long-term approach to the myriad crises of the Sahel.

On 12 October the Council adopted resolution 2071 welcoming Prodi’s appointment. The resolution noted that the Special Envoy “should mobilise international efforts for the Sahel, coordinate the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy on the Sahel and engage actively in defining the parameters of a comprehensive solution to the Malian crisis.”

A report by the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), published on 20 June 2011 (S/2011/388), first alerted the Council to the emerging problems in the Sahel.  The report drew attention to the effects of the instability in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, which was having a “particularly great impact on food security, especially in the countries of West Africa that had already been severely affected by the consequences of the food and pastoral crisis in 2010.” The report noted that insecurity in the Sahel region had increased significantly as a result of the influx of tens of thousands of migrant workers from Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.

It also reported increased terrorist attacks against national armed forces and the kidnapping of foreigners. The report noted that the nature of the insecurity in the region had “evolved from attacks against individuals to actions against state institutions” and that the “sophistication shown in the conduct of operations reflects an increase in the operational capacities of terrorist groups.”

The report, however, noted renewed diplomatic contacts and improvement in the relations between key countries in the region, such as Algeria and Mali, highlighting that on 28 April 2011, Algeria announced the allocation of $10 million in emergency funds to finance development projects in northern Mali in support of efforts to combat extremist groups in the area. The report also suggested that large caches of combat weapons might have been transferred from Libya and fallen into the hands of terrorists or anti-government forces in the Sahel, which could have a destabilising effect on the region.

As a result of the report, on 31 October 2011, the Council adopted resolution 2017, drawing attention to “the risk of destabilisation posed by the dissemination in the Sahel region of illicit small arms and light weapons.” The resolution also underlined a suggestion in the Secretary-General’s 20 June report that countries in the Sahel and UNOWA strengthen their cooperation to address emerging security and humanitarian issues. The findings of this report were amplified by an 17 January report by a UN inter-agency assessment mission that was dispatched to the Sahel from 7-23 December 2011 (S/2012/42).

The phenomenal increase in the Council’s attention to the Sahel, however, is mainly the result of the 22 March coup in Mali. On 5 July, the Council adopted resolution 2056, which, though primarily intended to support efforts by ECOWAS to deploy a stabilisation force in Mali, requested the Secretary-General to “develop and implement” a UN integrated strategy for the Sahel region encompassing security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian issues. The resolution asked the Secretary-General to submit a progress report to the Council by 15 September.

At press time, the substantive strategy had yet to be presented to the Council, but on 17 September, the Council received a briefing from Jeffrey Feltman, head of the Department of Political Affairs, who provided an outline of the developing strategy (S/PV.6836).  On 21 September, Council members issued a press statement (SC/10772) taking note of “the progress made” in developing the strategy.

The concept paper for the meeting on the Sahel that is expected to be held on 10 December was drafted by Morocco and notes that the meeting will help to flesh out an emerging consensus on what the UN strategy for the Sahel should contain. It states that the meeting will help map the scale of the security, humanitarian and development crises in the Sahel and address how to enhance regional cooperation and international support to tackle these crises. It emphasises the urgency of action on the Sahel, suggesting an underlying anxiety that the overwhelming focus on the mainly political and security situation in Mali has tended to overshadow the deep problems of the wider Sahel.

Meanwhile, the security and humanitarian situations in the region have continued to deteriorate. On 20 November, news reports quoted the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s food security and sustainable development programme as saying that 16 million people in the Sahel region are at risk of suffering uncertain food supply and 8 million might need emergency assistance in the coming months.

Key Issues

The key issue for the Council is how to devise a strategy to deal comprehensively with the range of related threats, the security meltdown and the looming humanitarian catastrophe in the Sahel.

Effectively coordinating the various regional initiatives and Special Envoys involved in the Sahel is a related issue. Connected to this is the need to ensure improved information exchange and coordination of efforts among regional countries, regional bodies and other key international players working to address the multifarious problems in the region.


The most likely option for the Council would be to adopt a presidential statement in which it:

  • welcomes the initiatives of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, regional groups, the AU, the EU and ECOWAS to address the problems of the Sahel; and
  • encourages the Secretary-General to produce the integrated strategy for the Sahel.

Another option is simply to hold a debate, exchanging views on the subject, and take no action.

Council Dynamics

The Council appears to be united on this issue. However, there are some differences in emphasis. Morocco, which is organising the high-level event, is supportive of efforts to address the situation in Mali but is keen to have the Council also address the wider problems in the region, including such issues as illicit drugs, arms and human trafficking. It is also concerned with possible links between groups in Western Sahara and radical Islamist elements in the Sahel.

France, on the hand, has taken a more robust approach to the problems in Mali, its former colony, and especially towards the radical Islamists who have taken over the northern part of the country and are holding French citizens as hostages. Like the US and UK, France appears to have taken the position that an approach that primarily focuses on resolving the security and governance crises in Mali is a good starting point for tackling the problems of the wider Sahel.

Togo and South Africa are keen to emphasise the primacy of the regional organisations, the AU and ECOWAS, with the support of the UN and other regional organisations, in addressing the multiple problems of the region, including reuniting Mali and defeating the Islamists.

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UN Documents on the Sahel

Security Council Resolutions  
12 October 2012 S/RES/2071 welcomed the appointment of Prodi as Special Envoy for the Sahel.
5 July 2012 S/RES/2056 requested the Secretary-General to develop and implement a coordinated strategy for the Sahel.
Security Council Presidential Statement  
4 April 2012 S/PRST/2012/9 strongly condemned assaults by rebels in northern Mali and the seizure of power in the capital by elements of the armed forces in Bamako.
Security Council Press Statements  
21 September 2012 SC/10772 took note of the progress made in developing a UN integrated strategy for the Sahel.
10 August 2012 SC/10741 followed statements by the Secretary-General, representatives of ECOWAS and the AU, and the Permanent Representative of Mali.
Security Council Meeting Records  
17 September 2012 S/PV.6836 was a briefing by the DPA head, Jeffrey Feltman, on progress with the development of an integrated strategy for the Sahel region.
8 August 2012 S/PV.6820 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 was the latest Secretary-General report on UNOWA.
17 January 2012 S/2012/42 transmitted the report of the assessment mission on the impact of the Libyan crisis on the Sahel region.
20 June 2011 S/2011/388 was a UNOWA covered the period from 1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011.

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