Group of Five for the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council expects a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel, which the group—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel)—decided to establish in February 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region.
Key Recent Developments
In January, the FC-G5S resumed operations, which had been suspended after the June 2018 attack on its former headquarters in Sévaré. Although it has carried out five operations this year, bringing the FC-G5S to full operational capacity continues to be difficult.
On 5 February, the G5 Sahel held the fifth ordinary session of its heads of state conference, in Ouagadougou, which marked the start of Burkina Faso’s presidency of the regional group. In a communiqué, the G5 Sahel reiterated its commitment to mobilising its own resources while calling upon the international community to respect commitments made during the February 2018 donor conference for the Sahel in Brussels and at the December 2018 donor conference in Nouakchott to support the G5 Sahel’s Priority Investment Programme. The G5 Sahel repeated its call for the Security Council to authorise the FC-G5S under a Chapter VII resolution and for closer cooperation with the UN.
Over the last year, the expansion of terrorist groups in central Mali has exacerbated long-standing intercommunal tensions between ethnic groups over access to land and water. On 23 March, at least 160 Fulani civilians, including women and children, were killed in the village of Ogossagou in central Mali, reportedly by armed elements of the Dogon ethnic group. On 18 April, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga and his entire government resigned, one day before a possible vote in the parliament on a no-confidence motion in the government over Mali’s worsening insecurity.
Attacks by armed groups in Burkina Faso, which started in 2016, intensified throughout much of the country. On 31 March, armed attackers raided the town of Arbinda in the north, killing a religious leader and six members of his family. That triggered inter-communal clashes that claimed more than 60 lives. According to OCHA, attacks and insecurity in Burkina Faso’s Est, Centre-Nord, Nord and Sahel regions have led to an unprecedented humanitarian emergency. Over 138,000 people have been uprooted from their homes, two-thirds of whom have been displaced since the start of 2019. A Human Rights Watch report in March spotlighted atrocities committed by extremist groups and Burkinabe security forces during counter-terrorism operations, with the latter allegedly having executed at least 116 men accused of supporting or harbouring armed extremists between September 2018 and February 2019.
The Security Council visited Mali and Burkina Faso from 21 to 25 March. The focus of the Council mission was to assess the implementation of the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in Mali, the operational status of the G5 Sahel joint force, and the deterioration of the security situation in Burkina Faso. Council members met with the FC-G5S force commander, General Hanena Ould Sidi, and the Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel, Maman Sidiko. Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, briefed members on the priorities of the one-year Burkinabe presidency of the G5 Sahel: making the FC-G5S fully operational, including its police component; implementing the Priority Investment Programme; reinforcing the Permanent Secretariat of the G5 Sahel, which is headquartered in Nouackhott; and empowering women and children.
On 28 March, a high-level meeting on the G5 Sahel at UN headquarters in New York focused on the issue of sustainable financing and support for the FC-G5S. The foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger participated. They reiterated concerns raised during the Council visiting mission about the territorial constraints of the support that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) can provide to the FC-G5S under resolution 2391 of December 2017; the resolution restricts this support to FC-G5S forces operating on Malian territory. In a communiqué following its 9 April meeting on the Lake Chad and Sahel regions, the AU Peace and Security Council underlined the need for the Security Council to extend MINUSMA’s support beyond the limits of the Malian territory to all other components of the FC-G5S.
In response to the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso, the Secretary-General earlier this year appointed Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, to lead a sustaining peace review that will assess how the UN Country Team is organised to address the challenges facing Burkina Faso, define priorities, and lay out how the UN can better leverage its capacity to assist the country. At an Executive Committee Meeting in late March, a decision was made to reinforce the office of the UN Resident Coordinator and increase the reach of UN agencies, funds and programmes throughout the country.
Chad and Niger have continued to battle armed groups in several border areas, including an escalation of attacks by the armed group Boko Haram. According to OCHA, the attacks displaced 18,000 people in southwest Niger between March and mid-April. The group killed 23 Chadian troops in a night-time attack on 21-22 March.
Key Issues and Options
Despite efforts by regional countries and external partners, armed extremist groups and intercommunal fighting are on the rise across the Sahel, especially in Burkina Faso. A key issue is assessing progress and challenges in making the FC-G5S fully operational. Limiting factors include tensions regarding the force among the five countries; unclear sustainability of its financing and the inadequacy of current support modalities; equipment shortages; limited basic infrastructure, and deficient training. Promoting and ensuring that the FC-G5S complies with international humanitarian law, which is necessary for UN support and critical for effective counter-terrorism, is a related issue.
The importance of complementing security measures with efforts to address structural problems that contribute to regional instability through the UN’s Sahel Strategy and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme is a further key issue. Problems in common facing Sahelian countries include poor governance, poverty, lack of opportunities for young people, and climate change.
A continuing option before the Council is to establish a dedicated UN support office, funded through assessed contributions and independent of MINUSMA, to deliver a support package for the FC-G5S across its entire area of operations, as the Secretary-General has recommended.
Another option is for the Council to consider adopting a resolution authorising MINUSMA to provide life support (rations and fuel) to FC-G5S battalions operating beyond Mali, if transportation of these items is provided by the joint force or another third party.
The Council is divided over whether the UN should provide financial support to the FC-G5S. While resolution 2391 in December 2017 established some multilateral support for the FC-G5S, most members—including France, which has championed the joint force—seem supportive of providing further support through the UN. The US, though, prefers to assist the FC-G5S bilaterally, and continues to object to proposals that could incur UN assessed contributions or which would expand the geographic scope of MINUSMA support as G5 Sahel countries have recently requested. Due to the divisions, members have opted to wait until the joint force becomes more operational to reconsider the Secretary-General’s recommendation to establish a UN support office, stating in a November 2018 press statement that they would “discuss international support to the joint force of the G-5 Sahel, after its full operationalization and in parallel to its first operational results”.
France is the penholder on the G5 Sahel joint force.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE SAHEL
|Security Council Resolutions|
|8 December 2017S/RES/2391||This was a resolution on MINUSMA support to the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|21 June 2017S/RES/2359||This welcomed the deployment of the G5 Sahel force.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|15 November 2018SC/13584||This statement encouraged the FC-G5S to conduct new operations and become fully operational as soon as possible and called on donors to honour their commitments to the force.|