West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In July, Mohammed 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 remain a major regional threat, particularly in the Sahel. The Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel)—comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—has continued working to deploy fully the joint force known as the FC-G5S that these countries created last year to combat terrorism and drug and human trafficking in the Sahel. The Secretary-General’s 8 May report on the FC-G5S said that the force’s establishment and the mobilisation of funding have “been slow and, at times, cumbersome”, maintaining that its operationalisation is not progressing fast enough, particularly against the backdrop of a worsening security situation. Following a 23 May briefing on the joint force, Council members issued a press statement expressing appreciation for the continued efforts of the G5 Sahel states towards the full operationalisation of the FC‑G5S and insisting on the critical need for the swift disbursement by donors of all pledges.
In a 12 June statement, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock warned that the humanitarian situation in the Sahel had seen a “rapid deterioration” triggered by scarce and erratic rainfall in 2017. Lowcock said that nearly six million people were struggling to meet their daily food needs in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, and that the situation was the worst it had been since the region’s extreme food crisis of 2012. He highlighted the increased likelihood of conflict between farmer communities and pastoralists, who had been forced to undertake their seasonal movement of livestock much earlier and further than usual.
In the Lake Chad Basin, terrorist group Boko Haram also remains a serious threat. On 1 May, two suicide bombers killed themselves and more than 60 others in Mubi South, Adamawa state, in north-eastern Nigeria. During Eid al-Fitr celebrations on 16 June, Boko Haram killed 43 in the town of Damboa in an attack using two suicide bombers, followed by militants firing rocket-propelled grenades into the crowds that had gathered at the scene. UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria Myrta Kaulard said in a statement condemning the incident that over 200 civilians had been killed in indiscriminate attacks in north-eastern Nigeria since the beginning of the year.
The humanitarian crisis created by the protracted conflict is among the most severe in the world, according to OCHA. At 25 May, there were 2.4 million people displaced by Boko Haram-related violence in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria and five million people at crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity.
Resolution 2349 on the Lake Chad Basin stressed the need to address development challenges and the root causes of the crisis. From 10 to 13 April in N’Djamena, the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the AU held their second conference to develop a regional stabilisation strategy intended to address such issues as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration; resettling internally displaced persons; the region’s socio-economic revitalisation; and education. A new platform called the Lake Chad Basin Governors’ Forum for Regional Cooperation on Stabilization, Peacebuilding and Sustainable Development held its inaugural meeting from 8 to 9 May in Maiduguri in order to foster cooperation among state and regional governors of the four countries affected by Boko Haram and to address common problems.
Herder-farmer violence in Nigeria—which killed an estimated 2,500 people in 2016, according to International Crisis Group, and has been linked to demographic pressures and ecological changes—has continued. On 23 June, Fulani herders raided several towns in Plateau state, killing at least 86 people, prompting authorities to impose a curfew in parts of the state. Previously, Chambas participated in a 26 April meeting of ECOWAS Ministers of Security and Agriculture/Livestock on transhumance conflicts. UNOWAS has sought to increase its support to the regional body in addressing the problem since the ECOWAS Authority in December 2017 characterised the issue as constituting a new threat to regional security.
In other regional developments, Sierra Leone conducted general elections on 7 March and a presidential run-off on 31 March, electing as president Julius Maada Bio of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party. Chambas undertook several trips to the country and issued a number of statements during the electoral process, working closely with the different electoral observer missions, including the AU, ECOWAS and the EU.
The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) ended its operations at the end of March after almost 15 years. In a 19 April presidential statement on the completion of UNMIL, the Council requested UNOWAS to make available its good offices, as necessary, to the government of Liberia and the UN Resident Coordinator.
Key Issues and Options
The terrorism threat to West Africa and the Sahel and instability linked to transnational organised crime, such as human smuggling, are key issues for the Council. Initiatives to address these threats include the FC-G5S and the Multinational Joint Task Force, established by Lake Chad Basin countries to fight Boko Haram. They also include efforts to improve implementation of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, including through a new Support Plan developed this year, which together seek to address structural causes of instability in the Sahel, such as poor governance, underdevelopment and climate change.
Following the Council’s 30 January presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, which reiterated its call for an assessment of the implementation of resolution 2349 to be integrated into regular UNOWAS reporting, the Lake Chad Basin crisis is expected to be covered in greater detail in the upcoming Secretary-General’s report.
Political tensions or forthcoming elections across the region, which have been triggers for violence in West Africa, continue to be important issues for UNOWAS.
Depending on the content of the Secretary-General’s report and the discussion with Chambas, the Council may adopt a presidential statement that would, among other elements, express its support for the conflict prevention and good offices roles of UNOWAS while reiterating support for initiatives to address the terrorism threat. Such a statement might further draw from the discussions during a Council meeting planned for earlier in July on Women, Peace and Security issues in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, such as emphasising the importance of gender-sensitive research, data and responses in the context of counter-terrorism operations.
Members view UNOWAS 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. In considering the terrorism threat to the region, Council members often stress the importance of a holistic approach to the challenges facing Sahel and Lake Chad Basin countries, in addition to military action.
Côte d’Ivoire is the penholder on West Africa and the Sahel. It worked closely with Sweden in preparing the Council’s January presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Resolutions|
|8 December 2017 S/RES/2391||This resolution was on the G5 Sahel joint force, which included requesting UNOWAS to provide technical assistance, within its existing mandate and resources, to the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat and welcomed the Secretary-General’s efforts “to give renewed impetus” to implementing the Sahel strategy.|
|31 March 2017 S/RES/2349||This was on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|19 April 2018 S/PRST/2018/8||This was a presidential statement on the closure of UNMIL.|
|30 January 2018 S/PRST/2018/3||This was a presidential statement on the West Africa and Sahel region.|
|8 May 2018 S/2018/432||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|Security Council Letters|
|2 April 2018 S/2018/302||This was a letter from the Netherlands summarising the main points from the 22 March briefing on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 May 2018 S/PV.8266||This was a briefing on the joint force of the G5 Sahel.|
|22 March 2018 S/PV.8212||This was a briefing on the root causes of the Lake Chad Basin crisis. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed briefed the Council, as well as Mohammad Bila of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Chitra Nagarajan, a Senior Conflict Advisor at Adelphi.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|23 May 2018 SC/13353||This was a press statement on the G5 Sahel joint force.|