UN Office for 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 developments in the region and the semi-annual UNOWAS report.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation deteriorated further in the Sahel, with spillover effects on neighbouring non-Sahel countries, including Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. An insurgency by extremist groups in central Mali has led to worsening intercommunal violence. On 23 March, at least 160 Fulani civilians were killed in the village of Ogossagou, reportedly by armed elements of the Dogon ethnic group. At least 95 people were killed in a Fulani raid on a Dogon village the evening of 9 June.
Since the start of the year, attacks by extremist groups in Burkina Faso have spread rapidly throughout the country and have increased ethnic tensions. 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. Starting in April, insurgents began a series of attacks on churches in what appeared to be a bid to foment inter-religious violence. The developments have caused an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in Burkina Faso. According to OCHA, 170,000 people had been displaced by 6 June, a three-fold increase since the start of the year.
Following the 1 May kidnapping of two French tourists in northern Benin, French forces conducted a raid on 10 May in northern Burkina Faso, freeing the French nationals, an American and a South Korean. Two French commandos were killed during the operation.
On 14 May, militants killed 28 Nigerien soldiers during an ambush near Tongo Tongo, Niger, which has also been plagued by the presence of extremist groups.
Efforts continued to stand up the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S, made up of units from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), but as discussed during a 16 May Council briefing, the force faces persistent challenges that prevent it from becoming fully operational. Renewing the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) on 28 June, the Council authorised the expansion of MINUSMA life consumables support, such as food and fuel, to all contingents operating in the framework of the FC-G5S, and not just those in Malian territory, on the condition that the joint force or other partners deliver this assistance.
Chambas led a UN inter-agency review on the situation in Burkina Faso, resulting in a decision by the Secretary-General’s Executive Committee in late March to reinforce the office of the UN Resident Coordinator and increase the reach of UN agencies, funds and programmes throughout the country to address the humanitarian crisis, promote inter-community dialogue and advance security sector reform. Council members met with Chambas and the UN resident coordinator in Burkina Faso, Metsi Makhetha, who along with representatives of the UN Country Team shared their assessment of the fragility of the situation while in Ouagadougou on 24 March during a Council visiting mission to Mali and Burkina Faso. Following a briefing on the FC-G5S, a 16 May Council press statement encouraged the Secretary-General swiftly to pursue the current assessment process aimed at adapting UN support in Burkina Faso to the evolving needs of the population.
In the Lake Chad basin region, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) continued to inflict heavy casualties on the Nigerian military. ISWAP splintered from Boko Haram in 2016, adapting its tactics and policies to reduce civilian casualties and increase attacks on military targets. On 16 June, a triple suicide bombing in Konduga, Nigeria, most likely carried out by a Boko Haram faction led by long-standing leader Abubakar Shekau, killed at least 30 civilians. Council members condemned the attack in a press statement. Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks further escalated in the Diffa region of Niger and the Lac region of Chad. There have been reports that links between ISWAP and armed groups in the broader Sahel may be increasing.
The violence in the Lake Chad basin displaced tens of thousands of people during the first half of 2019. In total, 2.5 million people are displaced due to the ten-year running Boko Haram insurgency. The UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan seeks $1.3 billion for the four affected countries, including Cameroon. By May, donor funds received totalled 18 percent of that amount.
Women, Peace and Security
The 28 December 2018 Secretary-General’s report on UNOWAS calls “the continued under-representation of women in senior government positions in West Africa and the Sahel” a “matter of concern”. The Secretary-General goes on to urge governments to “redouble their efforts to implement existing measures or, in their absence, to adopt new ones” in order to “enhance the empowerment and political inclusion of women in decision-making and leadership roles”. On the systematic violation of women’s rights by terrorist groups in the region, the report lists violations such as sexual violence, abduction, corporal punishment, arbitrary detention, and restriction of movement. On 17 May, UNOWAS, in cooperation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other partners, organised a “Training of Trainers” workshop designed to provide participants with the knowledge and skills to support female peacebuilders.
Key Issues and Options
The worsening security situation in West Africa and the Sahel, especially Burkina Faso, and the growing risk of spillover into non-Sahel countries, are key issues. To complement security responses, an important issue is progress in implementing the UN’s Sahel Strategy and Support Plan for the Sahel, developed to address structural causes of instability such as underdevelopment, poor governance and climate change. In this regard, there is uncertainty over whether the UN will appoint a new Special Adviser to the Sahel to replace Ibrahim Thiaw. The post was established last year to support fund-raising and programmatic activities. If no successor is named, UNOWAS would again assume primary responsibility for the strategy.
In accordance with resolution 2349 from March 2017 on the Lake Chad Basin, which requested such updates during the briefings on UNOWAS, the Boko Haram insurgency and progress in addressing the humanitarian crisis and drivers of the conflict will be a key issue.
Chambas’ good offices activities around election-related tensions are usually a focus of the biannual update. This includes current tensions in Benin, where security forces have repressed protests since March after five opposition parties were banned from participating in the 28 April parliamentary elections. Chambas was closely involved in supporting Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections held in February amid tensions.
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 continued Boko Haram-related violence, Council members could organise an informal interactive dialogue with representatives of Lake Chad Basin countries in order to be updated on the activities of the Multinational Joint Task Force (which comprises forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria to fight Boko Haram), discuss the region’s stabilisation strategy, and explore ways the Council and UN can provide more support.
Council and Wider Dynamics
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 with ECOWAS and the AU in UNOWAS messaging and actions.
Despite the worsening situation in Burkina Faso, the Council’s role appears limited to supporting initiatives related to the G5 Sahel joint force, while being kept updated on developments in Burkina Faso by UNOWAS. The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) held a meeting on 16 May with Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry on the situation, and the Council’s press statement issued later that day on the G5 Sahel joint force encouraged future such interactions between the PBC and Burkina Faso.
Côte d’Ivoire is the penholder on West Africa and the Sahel. The UK is the penholder on the Lake Chad Basin.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|16 May 2019S/PV.8526||The Council held a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|21 June 2019SC/13852||This statement condemned a 16 June terrorist attack at Konduga village in north-east Nigeria, which killed at least 30 people.|
|16 May 2019SC/13811||Council members issued a press statement following the meeting, welcoming the recent steps taken by the G5 Sahel states towards the full and effective operationalisation of the force and encouraging its continued scale-up to demonstrate tangible operational results.|