West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In January 2019, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), will brief the Council on developments in the region and the semi-annual UNOWAS report.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation deteriorated across much of the region, in particular in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, where terrorist and armed groups remain a major threat.
The crisis in Mali continues to spill over into Burkina Faso and Niger. In Burkina Faso, attacks by armed groups against security and civilian targets, previously concentrated in the north, have spread to the east and southwest. On 15 November 2018 the Council was briefed on progress towards making the G5 Sahel Joint Force fully operational. Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger established the Force in 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the Sahel; a major setback was the 29 June terrorist attack on the joint force headquarters in Sévaré, Mali, which resulted in the replacement of its force and deputy force commanders and the halting of operations.
Boko Haram and its faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), intensified attacks in the Lake Chad Basin. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker of the US Council on Foreign Relations, the upsurge of violence by the extremist group included a 15 July 2018 attack on a base in Geidam, Yobe state, that killed 62 soldiers; a 17 July attack that killed 27 people in Ngala, Borno state; an 18 August attack that killed 25 in Guzamala, Borno, and a 30 August attack, also in Guzamala, that killed 48 Nigerian soldiers. On 22 November, Boko Haram killed seven employees of a French drilling company at a water well site in Toumour, Niger, and on 23 November it kidnapped 15 girls from two villages in Niger’s Diffa region. By October 2018, 2.5 million people had been displaced by the nine-year Boko Haram crisis in the Lake Chad basin. Boko Haram executed two ICRC aid workers (one in September and one in October) who were kidnapped in Rann, Nigeria, in March 2018.
On 18 November 2018, ISWAP overran an army base in Metele, Nigeria. The Nigerian military said 43 soldiers were killed, but according to news reports the number was over 100. Following the incident, Nigerian soldiers released video footage of the attack site, claiming that they were not being adequately equipped. On 25 November, the Secretary-General issued a statement condemning the recurrent attacks by terrorists and other extremist groups in northern Nigeria which have caused heavy casualties among the civilian population and security forces and have disrupted normal life.
On 29 November, an extraordinary summit of heads of state and government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) was held in N’djamena to discuss Boko Haram’s resurgence and proposals to strengthen the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which comprises forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria and which has had an AU mandate since 2014 to combat the terrorist group.
Previously, at a ministerial conference of the LCBC, held in Abuja on 30 August 2018, member states adopted a regional strategy for the stabilisation, recovery and resilience of the Boko Haram-affected areas of the Lake Chad basin. On 4 September, during the High-Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region, donors pledged $2.17 billion to support humanitarian, peacebuilding and development activities. A donor conference on 6 December 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania for the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme for 2019-2021 raised 2.4 billion euros for around 40 development programmes. This exceeded the 1.9 billion euros that G5 Sahel countries had targeted.
Inter-communal violence between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt resulted in more than 1,300 Nigerians killed during the first half of 2018 and displacing more than 300,000 people, according to the International Crisis Croup. In a 10 August 2018 presidential statement on UNOWAS, the Council expressed “concern for increased tensions between pastoralists and farmers in the region, driven by competition for natural resources, rapid population growth, weak governance, pressures related to climate and ecological factors, and the circulation of small arms and light weapons”. It encouraged the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its member states to address these challenges holistically, with UNOWAS support.
Ahead of Nigeria’s presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 16 February 2019, Chambas, who is also the High-Level Representative of the Secretary-General to Nigeria, has been actively engaging authorities and stakeholders. He undertook a joint mission to Nigeria with ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou from 29 to 30 October 2018. He was in Nigeria again for a pre-election mission from 11 to 23 November, coinciding with the official beginning of campaigning on 18 November.
At the 54th Ordinary Session of ECOWAS heads of state and government on 22 December 2018, West African leaders threatened to sanction individuals that obstruct the electoral process in Guinea-Bissau, where legislative elections have been delayed repeatedly..
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is the deteriorating security situation in West Africa and the Sahel. This includes rising concerns over Burkina Faso, which could have broader spill-over effects on West Africa, and the situation in the Lake Chad Basin.
In addition to security initiatives (the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the MNJTF), efforts to address structural causes of instability in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin are central, including poor governance, underdevelopment and climate change. The UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) and the UN Support Plan for the Sahel, launched in 2018 to improve implementation of the UNISS, are intended to guide UN and partner approaches to these efforts. The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Sahel, Ibrahim Thiaw, briefed the Council on 20 December 2018 on the UNISS and the UN Support Plan.
Among issues of interest, UNOWAS has increasingly sought to support ECOWAS in addressing insecurity due to herder-farmer conflict, and released a study on pastoralism and security in August 2018.
Other key issues are political developments and governance trends across the region. These include upcoming elections in 2019 in Nigeria, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and the political crisis in Togo. The humanitarian situation, particularly across the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, is a further area of continuing focus.
As stipulated in the Council’s 30 January 2018 presidential statement, the Secretary-General’s upcoming report is expected to provide a risk assessment of the impact of climate change on West Africa.
Depending on the contents of the Secretary-General’s report and the discussion with Chambas, the Council might 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 threat of terrorism.
In light of worsening Boko Haram-related violence, Council members could organise an informal interactive dialogue with Lake Chad Basin countries in order to be updated on the activities of the MNJTF, discuss the regional stabilisation strategy, and explore ways the Council and UN can provide more support.
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. As part of such efforts, Chambas frequently seeks close coordination in the messaging and actions of ECOWAS, the AU and the UN.
Council members often stress the importance of a holistic approach to the challenges facing Sahel and Lake Chad Basin countries, in addition to supporting regional military initiatives. The Council’s consideration in recent years of some of the region’s security challenges stands out because of members’ ability to agree on more sensitive, non-traditional security challenges and approaches. Resolution 2349 in March 2017 was the resolution in which the Council first recognised the impact of climate and ecological change, in this case on the stability of the Lake Chad Basin. Then, in its 30 January 2018 presidential statement, it recognised the impact of climate change and ecological changes on the stability of the broader West Africa and Sahel region. The Council’s repeated calls for the UN system and international efforts to become more coherent and to focus on tackling root causes of conflicts in the region reflect its approaches to situations where it does not have a mandated, in-country UN operation.
Côte d’Ivoire is the penholder on West Africa and the Sahel. The UK has served as penholder on the Lake Chad Basin.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Resolution|
|31 March 2017S/RES/2349||This was on the Lake Chad Basin.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|10 August 2018S/PRST/2018/16||The Council welcomed collective efforts to recalibrate the UN’s Sahel strategy to expedite its impact and encouraged greater coherence of the UN system and partners through implementation of the UN Support Plan for the Sahel.|
|30 January 2018S/PRST/2018/3||This was a presidential statement looking forward to ongoing activities undertaken by UNOWAS in the areas of conflict prevention, mediation and good offices and welcoming the regional countries’ efforts to address terrorism and transnational crime.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 November 2018S/PV.8402||This was a briefing on the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5-Sahel) joint force, or FC-G5S.|
|17 July 2018S/PV.8313||This was a briefing by Special Representative and head of UNOWAS Mohammed Ibn Chambas on developments in the region and the activities of the UN regional office.|