UNOWA (West Africa)
Expected Council Action
In July, the Council will hold its semi-annual briefing and consultations on the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA). Said Djinnit, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to West Africa and the head of UNOWA, is expected to brief. UNOWA’s mandate—renewed through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Council—expires on 1 December 2016 (S/2013/759).
Key Recent Developments
Since the Council last met on UNOWA in December 2013, the region experienced increased violence, perpetrated primarily by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The conflict, which worsened compared with 2013, caused more than 1,500 deaths in the first quarter of 2014, according to an Amnesty International report.
This included a 14 March attack by Boko Haram in Maiduguri, in which an estimated 600 people died, mostly prisoners on the loose killed by security forces. UNOWA issued a press statement on 4 March condemning attacks in Borno state from 1-3 March that resulted in more than 80 deaths. A bomb blast in Abuja on 14 April, which killed at least 75 people, prompted a Council press statement condemning multiple terrorist attacks in Nigeria on 13-14 April (SC/11352), its first statement on a Boko Haram attack since 25 January 2012 .
However, it was the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok, on 14-15 April, triggering protests both in Nigeria and internationally, that eventually brought closer attention to the group in the Security Council. Following a 5 May attack on a marketplace that killed hundreds, the Council issued a press statement on 9 May calling for the release of the girls, noting for the first time the threat that Boko Haram poses regionally and stating its intention to consider measures against the group (SC/11387).
On 8 May, the Secretary-General announced that he was sending a high-level representative to Nigeria. Djinnit was dispatched to Nigeria from 12 to 15 May and announced that the UN would provide an integrated support package, including assistance for the abducted girls once they were released and for their families and communities, as well as increasing support to address socio-economic problems in the north. Djinnit undertook a second visit to Nigeria from 4 to 9 June.
A 17 May summit on Boko Haram, organised by France in Paris, brought together Nigeria, neighbouring Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger as well as the UK, the US and the EU. They agreed, among other things, to seek Security Council sanctions against Boko Haram, the splinter group Ansaru and their leadership. On 22 May, the 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee added Boko Haram to the sanctions list (the draft narrative summary noted its links with Al-Qaida-affiliated groups in Mali), and on 26 June, the Committee approved the addition of Ansaru and Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, subjecting them to financial and arms sanctions. A follow-up summit was held in London on 12 June, which Djnnit attended (S/2014/425). Amidst the increased attention, Boko Haram has escalated attacks, with up to 500 people reportedly killed in villages in Borno state on 2-3 June, its deadliest attack since the group emerged in 2002.
While Djinnit has become increasingly occupied by the Boko Haram crisis, UNOWA continued its work on a range of other issues. It was active in implementing the UN Sahel Strategy, which was under UNOWA’s “overall authority” after the departure of Special Envoy Romano Prodi on 31 January and the appointment of a substitute. (For further details, see “Peace and Security in Africa” in the June 2014 Forecast.)
On 22 May, Djinnit and Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, attended a high-level donor conference in New York to raise funds for the transnational crime units under the West Africa Coast Initiative at which close to $1.4 million was raised.
As part of efforts to address drug trafficking in West Africa, the West Africa Commission on Drugs released a major report on 12 June. The report urged West African governments to reform drug laws and policies, including decriminalising low-level offences, avoiding militarisation of efforts to combat drug trafficking and providing more treatment for drug users as West Africa increasingly becomes a region for drug consumption and not just transit. It further urged law enforcement to focus more on pursuing high-level corruption and major traffickers and called on consuming and producing countries outside the region to provide greater assistance to West African states.
UNOWA continued to monitor developments across the region in the run-up to presidential elections to be held in at least eight West African countries from 2014 to 2016, with particular attention to political tensions in Burkina Faso and Niger.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman visited Senegal, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea from 15-18 April.
A critical issue is how the Council can become more engaged in dealing with Boko Haram, which is not only wreaking violence in Nigeria but was or is present in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Mali and Niger.
Transnational problems of drug trafficking, organised crime, arms trafficking and violent extremism across the region constitute further important issues. A related issue is progress with the Manu River Union security strategy to address cross-border movements of armed groups and weapons trafficking and the Gulf of Guinea anti-piracy strategy.
As is common for UNOWA briefings, the Council might hear the briefing and take no action.
Conversely, the Council could issue a statement on the threat of Boko Haram, welcoming recent agreements at the Paris and London meetings and UNOWA’s role and good offices, including for addressing structural problems of poverty, human rights and governance.
A statement could also express support of the Secretary-General’s recommendation in his 11 December 2013 report on UNOWA (S/2013/732) to establish an analytical unit in UNOWA to improve its capacity to inform its good offices efforts.
The Council has largely refrained from making pronouncements on Boko Haram, due to sensitivities from Nigeria, even before it became a Council member in January. Nigeria has long considered the conflict an internal issue and has opposed suggested Council statements in the past to condemn attacks by the group. It was not until more than three weeks after the Chibok kidnappings, that, prompted by a huge public outcry and worsening attacks, the Council issued a press statement on the incident. Since the Secretary-General’s 8 May announcement that he was dispatching a high representative to Nigeria, Nigeria has gradually reconciled to increased international attention to the crisis.
France, the UK and the US have stepped up military and intelligence assistance to Nigeria and its neighbours to support efforts to confront the group as part of the agreements reached at the Paris summit. Chad also has a strong stake in the conflict, with Boko Haram operating across borders. It committed itself at Paris and London to greater cooperation with Nigeria and to developing a regional counter-terrorism strategy to combat Boko Haram.
During consultations last December, most members apparently expressed support for UNOWA’s proposed analytical unit. Whether the Council endorses the unit may depend on the larger financial contributors, such as France, the UK and the US, which have sought to cut-back UN spending and are sensitive to any proposed UN budget increases due to their own fiscal problems.
Nigeria is the penholder on West African issues.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNOWA
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|18 December 2013 S/PRST/2013/22||This presidential statement was on drug trafficking in West Africa and the Sahel.|
|Security Council Letter|
|23 December 2013 S/2013/759||This letter from the Security Council president to the Secretary-General extended UNOWA’s mandate until 31 December 2016 and requested semi-annual reports.|
|11 December 2013 S/2013/732||This report was on the activities of UNOWA from 1 July 2013 to 31 December 2013.|
Useful Additional Resource