UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In January, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), will brief on the semi-annual UNOWAS report.
At press time, UNOWAS’s mandate was expected to be renewed until 31 December 2019 through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council before the current mandate’s expiry on 31 December 2016.
Key Recent Developments
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the results of The Gambia’s 1 December 2016 presidential election provoked a political crisis and concerns of possible violence. Jammeh first conceded defeat to challenger Adama Barrow on 2 December. One week later, he rejected the results and called for new elections. He cited his concerns over the credibility of the Independent Electoral Commission, which had made a mistake in the initial tallying of the results that resulted in a reduction of Barrow’s margin of victory from approximately 50,000 votes to fewer than 20,000.
Jammeh’s action was condemned by the Security Council and strongly criticised by the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which all called for Jammeh to respect the election results. ECOWAS dispatched a mission to The Gambia on 13 December led by the ECOWAS chair, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), who was accompanied by the presidents of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana, as well as Chambas. Jammeh appeared unwilling to back down from his position. ECOWAS Commissioner Marcel De Souza said that military intervention might be considered while Chambas said in an interview that Jammeh “under no circumstances” could continue as president once his term ends and suggested the possibility of sanctions. At a summit of heads of state and government in Abuja on 17 December, West African leaders, according to the summit communiqué, agreed to “undertake all necessary actions to enforce the result of the election” and to guarantee president-elect Barrow’s safety and protection.
Council members followed these developments closely. Members received briefings in consultations from Political Affairs Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman on 12 December, 16 December and 19 December. On 21 December, the Council adopted a presidential statement that welcomed the decisions on the political situation in The Gambia from the ECOWAS summit, and reiterated its request for Jammeh to accept the results.
Boko Haram remained a threat despite military gains made against the terrorist group by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. In August, there were signs of divisions within Boko Haram when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to which Boko Haram declared loyalty in March 2015, announced that it recognised Abu Musab al-Barnawi (believed to be the son of Boko Haram founder Muhammed Yusuf) as the group’s leader. Abubakar Shekau, who is sanctioned under the ISIL (Da’esh)/Al-Qaida sanctions regime as Boko Haram’s leader, released a video saying he remained in charge. Al-Barnawi has criticised Shekau’s indiscriminate violence against Muslims.
On 9 December, suicide bombers killed 56 people in the town of Madagali in Adamawa State, Nigeria. On 13 December, the AU Peace and Security Council renewed the mandate of the Multinational Task Force (MNJTF), which is comprised of regional countries fighting Boko Haram, until 31 January 2017.
OCHA has said the humanitarian crisis as a result of the conflict has worsened. As of December 2016, OCHA said 11 million people across the Lake Chad basin were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 2.4 million displaced people. High levels of food insecurity affect 4.7 million people in Nigeria’s north-eastern Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Famine-like conditions have been reported in some displaced persons camps in parts of Borno State. A 19 July 2016 UNICEF press release said that in Borno State, 134 children would die per day from causes linked to acute malnutrition if the humanitarian response was not quickly scaled up. UNICEF reiterated a similar warning in a 13 December press release.
On 7 December, OCHA announced a $1.5 billion appeal to meet emergency needs during 2017 in the Lake Chad basin. Of the $739 million requested in 2016 for the humanitarian crisis, only 49 percent had been received as of 8 December 2016.
Terrorism remains a concern elsewhere in the region. On 16 December, 12 soldiers from Burkina Faso were killed in Nassoumboi near the Mali border, in an attack attributed to extremist groups. Previously, on 21 October, Burkina Faso’s government announced that it had foiled a coup plot by ex-members of the disbanded Presidential Security Regiment, an elite unit during the rule of President Blaise Compaoré.
An independent evaluation of the UN’s Sahel strategy—which the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) had commissioned following the Council’s decision to merge the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) with the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel (OSES), establishing UNOWAS—was completed at the end of November. The evaluation, which has not formally been shared with the Council, determined that the strategy’s implementation has been a failure. It criticised the UN agencies, including their shortcomings to work in a regional and joint manner as the strategy had envisaged. It also questioned the Council’s decision to mandate the strategy without providing financial resources to implement it. The evaluation said the strategy had correctly identified the region’s problems when it was developed in 2012. It contended, however, that since the UN’s strength was as a convening body, the strategy should be rebranded into an issues-based consultative platform that brings together the different actors in the region, noting the existence of 17 different Sahel strategies. The evaluation claimed that DPA was not suited to develop programmatic work, though it recommended that the strategy’s nine flagship projects be completed, in part to avoid further damage to the UN’s credibility.
A key issue is UNOWAS’s mediation and good office activities, particularly regarding the The Gambia.
The terrorism threat to West Africa and the Sahel continues to be a major issue.
Related to this is the Boko Haram threat, including regional efforts to defeat the group and the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict.
Another important issue is progress in the merger, including further consideration of changes to the Sahel strategy based on the findings of the independent evaluation and the impact of these developments on UNOWAS’s mandate.
During January, the Council is likely to monitor developments in The Gambia and may take further measures to support regional efforts. This may include issuing a statement following the briefing on UNOWAS, reiterating Council support for the mediation efforts of Chambas and ECOWAS, while addressing other issues covered in the UNOWAS report.
Regarding the Boko Haram conflict, one option is a Council fact-finding mission in early 2017 to countries in the Lake Chad basin to better understand the security and humanitarian challenges and to raise awareness about the largely overlooked humanitarian crisis.
In its exchange of letters with the Secretary-General to renew UNOWAS’s mandate, Council members could express support for a UN decision to rebrand the Sahel strategy as recommended in the independent evaluation.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members perceive positively UNOWAS’s good offices and mediation activities undertaken by Special Representative Chambas, viewing the office as playing a significant conflict-prevention role. Regarding The Gambia, this is an important issue for Senegal, and it has had a key role in ensuring Council attention to the issue. Among ECOWAS members, Senegal appears to be the strongest proponent of a possible military option. Council members are united in their position that Jammeh should hand over power to Barrow while most stress the importance of exhausting mediation efforts.
At press time it appeared that, compared with past renewals, this year’s UNOWAS renewal could require more revisions to its mandate as a result of the merger and evaluation of the implementation of the Sahel strategy. While the independent evaluation has not been shared with the Council, the Secretariat has consulted with several members who seem generally supportive of its recommendations. It seems that Council members believe the next steps regarding UNOWAS and the strategy are primarily for the Secretariat to determine. Some members anticipated that the merger would eliminate redundancies between UNOWA and OSES, resulting in cost savings. They may push for areas where UNOWAS’s mandate or functions can be streamlined.
The Group of Five for the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – opposed the merger. To address some of their concerns, a UNOWAS liaison office has been established in Nouakchott.
Senegal is the penholder on West Africa and the Sahel.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNOWAS
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|21 December 2016 S/PRST/2016/19||This statement welcomed the decisions at the 17 December 2016 ECOWAS summit related to The Gambia.|
|28 July 2016 S/PRST/2016/11||This was a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel and UNOWAS’ activities.|
|19 December 2016 S/2016/1072||This was a report on the activities of UNOWAS.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|27 July 2016 S/PV.7748||This was a briefing on the humanitarian, political and security situation in the Lake Chad basin as a result of the Boko Haram conflict by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed the Council.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|10 December 2016 SC/12616||This was a press statement that commended the people of the Islamic Republic of the Gambia for the peaceful and transparent holding of elections on 1 December 2016.|