UN Office for West Africa
Expected Council Action
In January, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), will brief the Council, followed by consultations. Members will consider the semi-annual UNOWA report. UNOWA’s mandate expires 31 December 2016 and is customarily renewed through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the president of the Security Council.
Key Recent Developments
Over the preceding months, Chambas continued to play an active role in mediating political tensions ahead of elections in Burkina Faso and Guinea. Much of the region also continued to endure violence caused by the conflict with Boko Haram as well as other extremist groups.
In Burkina Faso, a coup was carried out on 16 September 2015 by the Republican Security Regiment (RSP), an elite military unit created under former President Blaise Compaoré. The coup occurred less than a month before scheduled presidential and legislative elections meant to conclude Burkina Faso’s political transition, which was established after nationwide protests in October 2014 led to Compaoré’s resignation. Ahead of the coup, tensions existed over changes to the electoral code that banned candidates who had supported Compaoré’s constitutional amendment for a third term, and two days before the putsch, a commission recommended disbanding the RSP.
The rest of the armed forces remained loyal to the transitional government. After the army advanced on Ouagadougou and threatened to use force against the coup perpetrators, an agreement was reached that led to the reinstatement of the transitional authorities on 23 September. The RSP was subsequently disbanded. Members of the regiment who refused to disarm were captured in a raid on their main base on 29 September. According to the government, the coup resulted in 12 dead and 271 wounded, mostly during clashes between protestors and the RSP.
Elections, which were rescheduled for 29 November 2015, took place successfully. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, a former prime minister who had strongly opposed Compaore’s bid for a third term, won the presidential race with 53.49 percent of the vote. His party, the Movement of People for Progress, won a plurality but not a majority of the seats in parliament.
Ahead of Guinea’s October 2015 presidential elections, the situation there was also tense. Earlier in the year, the government decided that long-delayed local government elections would not be held until 2016, which opposition parties believed would give incumbent president Alpha Condé an advantage in his re-election bid. (According to the deal brokered by then-UNOWA head Said Djinnit in July 2013, local government elections, which were last held in 2005, should have occurred in 2014. These were never organised due to the Ebola epidemic.)
Protests in spring 2015 over the sequencing of the presidential and local elections led to six deaths. The opposition withdrew from an inter-Guinean dialogue process on 26 June 2015. Further consultations, however, resulted in a deal on 20 August. The government and opposition agreed to the presidential election as scheduled and to hold local elections in the first half of 2016. Additionally, the opposition would appoint representatives to local government administrations ahead of the presidential election, and commitments were made for reforms of the electoral commission and updating the voter roll. In the run-up to the vote, the opposition claimed that the government was not living up to the deal. The presidential election was held on 11 October. Amidst some election-related violence, which according to Amnesty International involved 13 deaths and at least 80 injured in the election’s immediate run-up and aftermath, Condé was re-elected with 58 percent of the vote.
Boko Haram continued to pose a serious threat despite the formation of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Having been driven out of most of the territory that it held in Nigeria’s northeast at the start of 2015, Boko Haram has reverted to mostly asymmetric warfare, which it has carried out on a regular basis, with frequent suicide bombings and raids on villages. Boko Haram attacks have increasingly spread into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, particularly after forces from Chad and Niger temporarily deployed to Nigeria in early 2015. In August 2015, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari set what was widely perceived as an unrealistic December 2015 deadline for defeating the group. By early December, the government acknowledged that was not possible. According to the Secretary-General’s 12 November report on the UN’s Sahel Strategy, the conflict is Africa’s second-largest displacement crisis, having uprooted 2.5 million people, 2.1 million of whom are in Nigeria.
Nigeria has experienced other sources of violence. Hundreds of members of a Shiite Muslim sect were reportedly killed by security forces in the northern town of Zaria during the weekend of 12-13 December 2015, which the chairman of Nigeria’s national human rights commission described as a massacre. According to the government, the deaths occurred when Shiite Muslims attacked the convoy of Chief of Army Staff General Tukur Buratai. Protests in Nigeria’s south-east, for an independent state of Biafra, turned violent on 2 December 2015, resulting in the deaths of eight demonstrators and two police.
A key issue is Chambas’ good offices activities, including in Guinea and Burkina Faso and as the Secretary-General’s High Representative for Nigeria. Relevant to these is the risk of instability during the presidential and legislative elections in early 2016 in Niger (due to political tensions, as well as security threats posed by Boko Haram) and Benin.
The threat of Boko Haram and regional and international efforts to combat the group is a related key issue, as is the humanitarian crisis created by the conflict.
Other important issues are transnational threats posed by terrorist groups in the Sahel, organised crime, drug and arms trafficking, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and lingering risks from Ebola.
The Council could issue a statement:
- commending UNOWA’s mediation efforts in Burkina Faso and Guinea and highlighting the importance of continued cooperation with regional and other international actors for UNOWA to carry out its good offices role;
- expressing concern over the continued threat posed by Boko Haram to the region and commending regional efforts to combat the group, while encouraging international assistance to the MNJTF and to address the humanitarian crisis and underlying causes of the conflict; and
- emphasising the Council’s intention to monitor upcoming elections across the region in 2016.
A statement could additionally recognise the importance of UNOWA’s having adequate resources to fulfil the functions of its broad mandate.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members seem to value greatly the good-offices role of Chambas and are pleased with UNOWA’s work, considering the mission a useful tool for preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution. On Burkina Faso, Chambas was closely involved throughout the political transition and sought to maintain close coordination of UN positions with the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). During the transition, including the coup, Chambas and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman often updated members on developments in consultations organised under “any other business”. Chambas further played an active role throughout 2015 in Guinea and as the Secretary-General’s High Representative for Nigeria. Going forward, UNOWA may take on a closer role in support of elections in Niger and elsewhere.
The election of Senegal, which hosts UNOWA, as a non-permanent member may provide a new Council dynamic. Its president, Macky Sall, is the current chairman of ECOWAS, which often works closely with UNOWA. It remains to be seen how the Council’s new composition will affect its consideration of the Boko Haram conflict. Outgoing member Chad played a key role in pushing for greater Council engagement over the past two years, while Nigeria, which also is leaving the Council at the end of 2015, often sought to limit Council involvement. Senegal is likely to replace Nigeria as penholder for West Africa. While Council products linked to its regular UNOWA briefings are uncommon, members issued a press statement following a July 2014 briefing. The Department of Political Affairs sought that statement as a signal of Council support for a proposed analytical unit within UNOWA. At the Council’s last UNOWA briefing in July 2015, Nigeria initiated another press statement, but members could not agree on the text after Chad sought additional language on the MNJTF and Boko Haram.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNOWA
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|8 December 2015 S/PRST/2015/24||This presidential statement encouraged close cooperation between the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel and the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for West and Central and welcomed updates on the Sahel in his regular reports on the two regions.|
|28 July 2015 S/PRST/2015/14||This presidential statement commended Lake Chad Basin Commission members and Benin for their efforts to establish the MNJTF.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|24 September 2015 SC/12057||This was a press statement that welcomed the reinstatement of President Michel Kafando and the transitional authorities in Burkina Faso, calling for the resumption of the transition process without delay.|
|17 September 2015 SC/12051||This press statement condemned the seizure of power by RSP elements and expressed support for UN, ECOWAS and AU mediation efforts in Burkina Faso.|
|16 September 2015 SC/12048||This press statement condemned the detention of Burkina Faso Transition President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Isaac Zida and other ministers.|
|12 November 2015 S/2015/866||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the UN’s integrated Sahel strategy.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|7 July 2015 S/PV.7480||This was a briefing by Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the head of UNOWA, on developments in West Africa and the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of UNOWA.|