UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In July, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), will brief the Council on recent developments and the semi-annual UNOWAS report.
Key Recent Developments
The crisis in The Gambia, stemming from President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2 December presidential election, was ended peacefully. Forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) entered The Gambia on 19 January, the same day that challenger Adama Barrow was sworn in as its new president at its embassy in Dakar, Senegal. In New York, the Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing the decisions of ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) to recognise Barrow as president. Talks continued between Jammeh and President Alpha Condé (Guinea) and President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (Mauritania) to avert a confrontation with ECOWAS forces. This led to Jammeh agreeing on 21 January to cede power and go into exile in Equatorial Guinea. A joint declaration, issued that day by ECOWAS, the AU and the UN, commended Jammeh’s decision to transfer power to Barrow.
ECOWAS has since maintained around 500 troops in The Gambia, known as the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG). Legislative elections were successfully conducted on 6 April. On 2 June, ECOMIG forces reportedly opened fire on protestors in Kanilai, the home village of Jammeh, resulting in one fatality and five people wounded. At a 4 June summit of ECOWAS heads of state and government, West African leaders extended ECOMIG’s mandate for an additional year.
Terrorist group Boko Haram and the humanitarian crisis resulting from the insurgency have received increased attention. A donor conference in Oslo on 24 February for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region led to pledges of $458 million for 2017 and a total of $672 million over the next three years. OCHA has appealed for $1.5 billion to meet emergency needs in the Lake Chad Basin during 2017, where 2.4 million people are displaced and 7.2 million people are food insecure.
The Security Council undertook a visiting mission to the four affected countries of the Lake Chad Basin—Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria—from 2 to 7 March. The Multinational Joint Task Force, comprised of these four countries and Benin, along with national forces have made notable gains against Boko Haram, taking back much of the territory Boko Haram held at its peak in 2015 and reducing much of its conventional military capability. The group, however, remains a threat. On 7 June, Boko Haram launched a series of raids in Maiduguri, killing 14 people, which constituted the group’s largest attack in the capital city of Borno state in a year and a half.
On 31 March, the Council adopted resolution 2349, its first on Boko Haram and the Lake Chad Basin crisis. The resolution outlines the security situation and protection needs of civilians, the humanitarian crisis, and the conflict’s root causes and development challenges. During the mission, a common message pressed upon members was the need to bring under control the humanitarian emergency and the conflict’s underlying causes, such as poverty, underdevelopment and poor governance, which have fostered radicalisation and unless addressed are likely to cause continued instability. Resolution 2349 requested the Secretary-General to submit a report within five months assessing the situation in the Lake Chad Basin with possible measures for the Council’s consideration.
In February, the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—announced the creation of a regional force to combat terrorism and transnational crime. On 21 June, the Council adopted resolution 2359 welcoming the deployment of the G5 force throughout the territories of its contributing countries. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to brief orally within two months, and in writing within four months, on the force’s activities and its operationalisation as well as “on challenges encountered and possible measures for further consideration”. It further expressed the Council’s “intent to review” the force’s deployment after four months.
Demonstrating the Sahel’s fragility, the security situation in northern Burkina Faso deteriorated earlier this year with the emergence of extremist group Ansarul Islam. The group, with links to terrorist groups in Mali, has attacked police stations, military positions, villages and schools mostly in Soum province, causing the displacement of local residents.
Following the Council’s January briefing on UNOWAS, it adopted a 20 January presidential statement that, inter alia, encouraged further implementation of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS). The statement emphasised the important convening role of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), charging it with supporting UNOWAS in mobilising relevant actors to advance the implementation of the strategy, which was developed in 2013 to address the underlying causes of instability in the Sahel.
Among the PBC’s activities since, PBC chair Ambassador Cho Tae-yul (Republic of Korea) attended the 14 June meeting of the Ministerial Coordination Platform of Sahel Strategies in N’Djamena, engaging G5 Sahel countries to further consider how to support implementation of the UNISS. A 19 June informal interactive dialogue between Council members and PBC representatives on peacebuilding challenges in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin took stock of the PBC’s role in implementing the strategy. A joint PBC-UN Economic and Social Council meeting on 28 June focused on development aspects of the UNISS.
The West African and Sahel regions have occupied a significant proportion of the Council’s attention in the first half of 2017. Developments in The Gambia and in the Lake Chad Basin as well as with the G5 Sahel force are thus likely to continue to feature prominently. More broadly, the terrorism threat to West Africa and the Sahel represents an important issue for the Council.
Members are likely to be interested in discussing the steps that the UN and UNOWAS have taken towards implementing the UNISS since last year’s independent evaluation of the strategy, as well as plans of the PBC to support implementation of the UNISS.
In addition to Chambas’ good offices, UNOWAS is increasingly providing political support, not only for implementing the UNISS, but for a “sustaining peace” pilot strategy in Burkina Faso, and it is expected to do so as part of the Liberia peacebuilding plan. UNOWAS will further take on greater responsibilities in the monitoring of Côte d’Ivoire with the withdrawal of the peacekeeping operation there.
An option for the briefing is to invite the PBC chair to brief on how the PBC is planning to support the implementation of the UNISS, and more broadly on PBC support to the region for sustaining peace.
Depending on the content of the Secretary-General’s report and the discussion with Chambas, the Council may adopt a statement on the activities of UNOWAS and developments in West Africa and the Sahel.
Another option is for the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee to list the Burkinabe group Ansarul Islam on the Al-Qaida sanctions list.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members value the good offices activities undertaken by Special Representative Chambas and view the regional office as playing a significant conflict prevention role. During recent crises in Burkina Faso and The Gambia, Chambas strove to ensure close coordination in the messaging and actions of ECOWAS, the AU and the UN. Senegal was important in ensuring Council engagement on The Gambia. It was, however, among those critical of the agreement that led to Jammeh’s stepping down and the joint ECOWAS-AU-UN declaration, feeling that there had not been sufficient coordination between the Guinean and Mauritanian presidents with ECOWAS.
The recent Council mission to the Lake Chad Basin seemed useful in developing a common understanding of the crisis affecting the region. This contributed to agreement on resolution 2349, which stands out among Council resolutions for the extent it focuses on the conflict’s root causes and development needs.
Egypt has sought to revitalise implementation of the UNISS, including through the Council’s decision to involve the PBC.
During negotiations on resolution 2359, the US and other major financial contributors objected to authorising the force, which they considered unnecessary, but also out of concern about the financial obligations such an authorisation could imply. France, which maintains counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, supported the position of the G5 countries and the AU that the UN should consider providing assessed contributions.
Senegal is the penholder on West Africa and the Sahel.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Resolutions|
|21 June 2017 S/RES/2359||This welcomed the deployment of the G5 Sahel force.|
|31 March 2017 S/RES/2349||This was on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|19 January 2017 S/RES/2337||This resolution endorsed the decisions of ECOWAS and the AU, recognising Adama Barrow as president of The Gambia.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|20 January 2017 S/PRST/2017/2||This was a statement on developments in the region and recognised the important convening role of the PBC to support UNOWAS in implementing the UNISS.|