July 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 July 2016
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AFRICA

UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel

Expected Council Action

In July, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), will brief on the semi-annual UNOWAS report. This is the first briefing on UNOWAS since the Council decided to merge the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel (OSES) into the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA).

UNOWAS’s mandate expires on 31 December 2016.

Key Recent Developments

During the first half of 2016, the threat of terrorism to West Africa became an increasing concern. On 15 January, gunmen attacked the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino Café in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, killing 30 people. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility. The incident followed an AQIM-claimed attack on the Radisson Blue hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November 2015.

On 13 March, gunmen attacked hotels in the beach resort city of Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire. Nineteen people were killed in Côte d’Ivoire’s first terrorist strikes, for which AQIM again claimed responsibility. Senegal has increased security measures amidst concerns that it is a likely potential target for terrorist groups.

In the Lake Chad basin region, Boko Haram remains a threat, despite the losses it has incurred since 2015 in the face of increased military cooperation between Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The group has resorted to more attacks on soft targets, such as internally displaced persons camps, and has increased the use of suicide bombers, who are frequently women or girls. Boko Haram has still demonstrated its capacity to launch large-scale attacks. On 3 June, it attacked the town of Bosso, Niger, reportedly killing 32 soldiers and displacing 50,000 people. Amidst continued fighting, Chad sent 2,000 soldiers to Niger on 8 June. A major humanitarian crisis continues as a result of the insurgency, with 2.1 million Nigerians internally displaced and more than 600,000 displaced persons and refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. On 14 May, the second Regional Security Summit was held in Abuja, bringing together regional countries and international partners, to evaluate efforts to defeat Boko Haram.

Nigeria has experienced troubling violence elsewhere. This has included attacks by militant groups in the Niger Delta on oil infrastructure, which have reduced Nigeria’s oil output to its lowest levels in 20 years.

On 20 March, Niger held a run-off presidential election. It took place peacefully despite tensions over opposition candidate Hama Amadou’s detention since November on charges of child-trafficking. The opposition boycotted the second round and President Mahamadou Issoufou was re-elected. In Guinea, local elections, which have been postponed for years and are a source of tension between the government and opposition, were not held during the first half of 2016 despite the 20 August 2015 agreement to do so. In The Gambia, the government violently suppressed demonstrations on 14 and 16 April, and concerns were raised that several of those arrested were later killed, including a leading opposition party member.

The Secretary-General recommended merging OSES into UNOWA in a 14 January letter following a review of OSES. After a 25 January meeting in consultations under “any other business” on the proposal, the Council requested the Secretary-General to proceed with the merger, thus establishing UNOWAS. Chambas, previously head of UNOWA, continues to lead UNOWAS and is responsible for overseeing its work, including implementing the UN Integrated Sahel Strategy (UNISS), while Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, formerly the Special Envoy for the Sahel, was appointed Deputy Special Representative. A UNOWAS liaison office has been established in Nouakchott to ensure coordination of the UNISS with the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

On 8 March, the Council visited UNOWAS in Dakar. Chambas briefed members on regional developments and progress in the merger. On 25 April, the Council held an open debate on Gulf of Guinea piracy, adopting a presidential statement requesting updates on the issue in the Secretary-General’s UNOWAS and UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) reports. Chambas last briefed the Council at a 26 May meeting on the impact of climate change and desertification on peace and security in the Sahel.

Key Issues

A key issue is the spread of terrorism and radicalisation in the region.

A related issue is the threat of Boko Haram and accompanying humanitarian crisis.

UNOWAS’s good offices activities and upcoming elections in the region are further issues.

Progress in the UNOWAS merger and in implementing the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel will be an important issue.

Options

The Council may issue a statement that, inter alia, could:

  • express serious concern over the increasing threat of terrorism to the region and the continued threat posed by Boko Haram, while commending progress in combatting the group and stressing the need to address the humanitarian crisis and underlying causes of the conflict;
  • welcome progress in the UNOWAS merger and signal that the Council looks forward to the results of the independent evaluation of the UNISS; and
  • commend UNOWAS’s good-offices activities and its increasing cooperation with the AU and sub-regional organisations.

Regarding the Boko Haram conflict, the Council could request the Secretary-General to explore the feasibility of creating a liaison office to increase support for and cooperation with Lake Chad basin countries.

A statement could express support for establishing a UN trust fund for the Sahel to address administrative challenges faced by UN agencies and programmes in implementing joint and regional projects for the Sahel strategy.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Members perceive very positively the good offices activities of Chambas and UNOWAS, especially following its interventions in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Nigeria and efforts to address other election-related tensions in West Africa. Some view it as a model in conflict prevention that the Secretariat and Council want to replicate in the work of UNOCA and possibly by establishing new regional offices elsewhere.

The decision to merge UNOWA and OSES has proved controversial. Members were in agreement on the merger, wanting to eliminate redundancies between the two offices. It was also felt that placing UNISS under the umbrella of the regional office could improve the strategy’s implementation, with some members having previously expressed the desire to see more concrete results. Moreover, the decision reflected some members’ preferences to set up such an arrangement in 2013 ahead of OSES’ relocation from Italy to Dakar. The G5 Sahel, however, opposed the merger and has sought to reverse the decision. Those countries feel the merger will diminish the Council’s focus on and attention to the Sahel region and UNISS, as this will no longer be considered in a separate reporting cycle but instead included in UNOWAS reports covering a broader region. Chad, as a Council member from 2014 to 2015, pushed for relocating OSES from Dakar to Mauritania, and G5 Sahel opposition also seems linked to geopolitical concerns with Senegal’s hosting of the office.

The merger also represents a change in the office’s traditional focus of addressing political conflicts. With the merger, UNOWAS additionally provides political advocacy and strategic guidance for UN agencies and programmes, a function that underpins the UNISS. 

Senegal is the penholder on West Africa.

UN Documents on West Africa and the Sahel

Security Council Presidential Statements
13 May 2016 S/PRST/2016/7 This welcomed the upcoming high-level Regional Security Summit on Boko Haram.
26 April 2016 S/PRST/2016/4 Thisencouraged regional states, regional organisations and international partners to make fully operational the Gulf of Guinea counter-piracy mechanisms as soon as possible.
8 December 2015 S/PRST/2015/24 This presidential statement looked forward to considering the recommendations of the strategic review of the OSES and requested that it include recommendations on the location of OSES.
Secretary-General’s Report
23 June 2016 S/2016/566 This was on the activities of UNOWAS.
Security Council Letters
28 January 2016 S/2016/89 This was a Council letter requesting the Secretary-General to proceed with the merger of OSES and UNOWA.
22 January 2016 S/2016/66 This was a G5 Sahel letter opposing the merger.
14 January 2016 S/2016/88 This was the Secretary-General’s proposal to merge UNOWA and OSES.
Security Council Meeting Records
26 May 2016 S/PV.7699 The was a briefing on challenges in the Sahel, focusing on the impact of climate change and desertification to peace and security in the region.
25 April 2016 S/PV.7675 This was an open debate on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
14 January 2016 S/PV.7604 This was a briefing on the activities of UNOWA.