UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In January 2018, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative 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
Terrorist and armed groups, as well as drug- and human-trafficking networks, continued to threaten the region, particularly Sahel countries. Reflecting the spread of such groups from Mali and Libya into neighbouring countries, terrorists attacked a café in Ouagadougou on 13 August 2107, resulting in at least 18 deaths, and increasingly frequent attacks by a group called Ansarul Islam continued in Burkina Faso’s north. On 4 October 2017, an ambush in Niger, near the village of Tongo Tongo in the Tillaberi region near the Malian border, killed five Nigerien and four US soldiers of a mixed Niger-US military patrol. The attack was allegedly carried out by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
The Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—made progress in establishing the joint force (FC-G5S) that they committed to creating earlier in 2017 for combatting terrorist groups and drug- and human-trafficking networks. In early November, the FC-G5S carried out its first mission in the border zone of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The Security Council undertook a visiting mission from 19 to 22 October 2017 to Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania to assess the threats to the region and the challenges of establishing the joint force and to discuss delays in implementing Mali’s 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. On 8 December 2017, the Council adopted resolution 2391, outlining how the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) should provide operational and logistical support to troops of the FC-G5S deployed on Malian territory.
Secretary-General António Guterres has made the Sahel region a top priority. In early July 2017, the Executive Committee Working Group on the Sahel was established, chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed, to improve implementation of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. The strategy was developed in 2013 to address root causes of the region’s instability and to ensure coordination of the broader international support to the Sahel countries. In resolution 2391, the Council welcomed the Secretary-General’s efforts “to give renewed impetus” to implementing the Sahel strategy.
Boko Haram has remained a serious threat around the Lake Chad Basin region. After progress in taking territory held by Boko Haram during 2015 and 2016, attacks by the extremist group in north-east Nigeria intensified over the past year. On 21 November 2017, a suicide bomber at a mosque in Mobi in Adamawa State killed 59 people. Other deadly attacks included two suicide bombers who killed at least 13 people on 22 October in the outskirts of Maiduguri in Borno state; a series of attacks on the Dikwa displaced persons camp from 7 to 18 November in which 33 were killed, including 13 suicide bombers; and suicide bombers who killed at least 13 people in the town of Biu and injured 53 others on 2 December 2017. In October, Chad completed the withdrawal of its 2,000 soldiers who had been deployed to fight Boko Haram in Niger’s Diffa region, a move that Chadian Defence Minister Bissa Ichara said was meant to reinforce Chad’s northern border with Libya as part of the G5 Sahel joint force.
According to OCHA, more than 2.3 million people were displaced by violence related to the Boko Haram insurgency across Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria as of 19 November 2017, with 7.2 million people at crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. From 2 to 4 November 2017, Lake Chad Basin Commission countries held their first regional stabilisation strategy conference in N’Djamena to develop a holistic approach to address the crisis.
Togo has experienced demonstrations since August 2017, often numbering in the tens of thousands of protesters, demanding presidential term limits and the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, who has been in office since 2005 after succeeding his father, who had ruled for 38 years. At times, the protests escalated into violence between demonstrators and security forces. An initial protest in Lomé on 19 August 2017 by 100,000 demonstrators resulted in the death of two protestor. The Togolese parliament passed a draft bill to amend the constitution to limit presidents to two terms. The vote, though, was boycotted by the opposition, which believed that the changes would not apply retroactively, allowing Gnassingbe to run in the 2020 and 2025 elections. The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), the AU and UNOWAS issued a joint statement on 4 October 2017 encouraging the opposition to use a referendum on the bill to advance reforms and calling on all actors to show restraint in order to preserve peace and cohesion.
The ECOWAS heads of state and government summit on 16 December 2017, held in Abuja and chaired by Gnassingbe, covered efforts to combat the terrorism threat, as well as political situations of The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Togo and recent elections in Liberia.
Key Issues and Options
The terrorism threat to West Africa and the Sahel and instability linked to transnational organised criminal activities, such as human smuggling, represent important issues for the Council. This includes challenges facing regional initiatives towards addressing these threats through the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the Multinational Joint Task Force, established by Lake Chad Basin countries to fight Boko Haram.
A related issue is addressing underlying causes of instability across the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, such as poor governance, underdevelopment and climate change. This includes improving implementation of the UN Sahel Strategy and the development by Lake Chad Basin countries of a regional approach to tackle root causes of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Political tensions and upcoming elections across the region, which have been triggers for violence in West Africa, are likely to be closely watched.
Depending on the content of the Secretary-General’s report and the discussion with Chambas, the Council may adopt a statement that would, among other elements, express the Council’s support for the conflict prevention and good offices role of UNOWAS, while reiterating concern over the increasing threat of terrorism to West Africa and the Sahel and commending the collective efforts of G5 Sahel and Lake Chad Basin countries to combat this threat.
As an additional option, the Council may request the Secretary-General to provide more regular, separate reports on the Lake Chad Basin, on which it is currently kept informed through the six-month reports of UNOWAS and the UN Office for Central Africa.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Members view the regional office as playing a significant conflict-prevention role and have valued the good offices activities undertaken by Special Representative Chambas in addressing political crises and electoral tensions in recent years. Chambas frequently seeks close coordination in the messaging and actions of ECOWAS, the AU and the UN as part of such efforts.
UNOWAS, which is headquartered in Dakar, has established a liaison office in Nouakchott to ensure information-sharing with the G5 Sahel Secretariat, whose headquarters are in the Mauritanian capital. Council members often stress the importance of a holistic approach to the challenges facing Sahel countries and the Lake Chad Basin, in addition to military action. Following a Council request in January 2017, the Peacebuilding Commission has also become active in attempting to use its convening role to bring together actors involved in the Sahel to focus attention on the UN Sahel Strategy and to find ways to support its implementation. Regarding the FC-G5S, differences have persisted between France and most other members who support using UN-assessed contributions to help address the funding needs of the force, versus the US and the UK who prefer supporting the force bilaterally. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates committed 130 million euros to the FC-G5S at a 13 December 2017 summit that France hosted, also involving G5 countries Belgium, Germany and Italy.
Incoming member Côte d’Ivoire will replace Senegal as the penholder on West Africa and the Sahel. Senegal, which hosts UNOWAS, began a practice of pursuing Council presidential statements following the bi-annual UNOWAS meetings.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Resolutions|
|8 December 2017 S/RES/2391||This was a resolution on MINUSMA support to the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|21 June 2017 S/RES/2359||This welcomed the deployment of the G5 Sahel force.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|24 July 2017 S/PRST/2017/10||This was a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|30 October 2017 S/PV.8080||This was a ministerial-level briefing on ways in which the international community can support the joint force of the G5 Sahel.|
|13 September 2017 S/PV.8047||This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on the latest Secretary-General’s report on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region.|