Group of Five for the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council expects a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S), which Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel) decided to establish in February 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region. Prior to the briefing, members expect the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the FC-G5S, which the Council requested to receive every six months in resolution 2391.
Key Recent Developments
Over the past year, the security situation in the Sahel deteriorated further, as terrorist groups continue to destabilise much of Mali and Burkina Faso, fuel inter-communal violence, and increasingly threaten coastal West African states.
Attacks in central Mali on 30 September and 1 October against a Malian battalion of the FC-G5S in Boulkessi and a Malian army base in Mondoro killed twenty-five soldiers and left around sixty missing. It was one of the deadliest strikes against Malian forces since 2012. In Burkina Faso, the number of internally displaced people increased by nearly 70 percent in just a three-week period due to violence and insecurity, to total 486,0000 people by 11 October, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Burkina Faso’s military sustained its greatest losses ever in a single incident when 24 soldiers were killed on 19 August in Koutougou, near the Malian border. The Islamic State claimed that its affiliate the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter group of Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, carried out the attack.
In light of the worsening insecurity, on 25 August, at the heads of state summit in Biarritz of the Group of Seven (G7)—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US—the G7 adopted the Biarritz declaration for a G7 and Africa partnership and the Sahel partnership action plan. The initiative calls for extended military cooperation to fight terrorism in the Sahel, enhanced efforts to strengthen governance, in particular for the rule of law, and to promote inclusive, sustainable economic growth in the region.
The 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to enhance their engagement and cooperation to respond to the terrorism threat emanating from the Sahel. At a 14 September ECOWAS summit on terrorism held in Ouagadougou, West African leaders directed the ECOWAS Commission to finalise an eight point Priority Action Plan for 2020-2024 to combat terrorism in the region, to be adopted at ECOWAS’ next summit, on 21 December in Abuja. ECOWAS countries further committed to mobilising $1 billion towards their enhanced counter-terrorism activities.
On 25 September, a high-level event was convened on Mali and the Sahel in New York during General Assembly high-level week, at which states reiterated their support to the joint force, and stressed the need to support initiatives to address structural causes of the Sahel’s instability. The following day, the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) held a high-level meeting on the situation in Burkina Faso with Burkinabe President Roch Kaboré. In a press release, the PBC said that it stood ready to advocate for support to the government’s priority economic development and emergency programmes and other peacebuilding efforts in the country.
Earlier this year, when the Council adopted resolution 2480 on 28 June renewing the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for one year, it expanded MINUSMA’s provision of “life-support consumables” to benefit all contingents of the FC-G5S rather than just those operating on Malian territory, on the condition that the joint force or other partners deliver this assistance and that units receiving such assistance strictly comply with the UN human rights due diligence policy.
Key Issues and Options
Despite efforts by regional countries and external partners over recent years, the terrorism threat and inter-communal violence have been worsening in the Sahel, expanding from Mali to parts of Niger and Burkina Faso. There are now heightened concerns about terrorist groups spreading to coastal West African countries. Regarding the FC-G5S, persistent challenges for its effectiveness, as discussed at the Council’s last briefing on 16 May, include training and equipment shortages, unclear sustainability of financing, the absence of fortified and secure operational bases and limited basic infrastructure. Information sharing and coordination between the force and G5 Sahel member states remain challenging, as does the need to clarify and develop the force’s strategic concept of operations. Apparently, there is increased questioning among member states about whether the G5 Sahel joint force can become an effective way to combat terrorism in the region—signalled, for example, by ECOWAS’ intention to become more involved. Forthcoming FC-G5S operations may be an important test to counter some of these growing doubts.
Promoting and ensuring that the FC-G5S complies with international human rights and humanitarian law, which is necessary for UN support and critical for effective counter-terrorism, is a related issue. Complementing security measures through addressing structural problems that contribute to regional instability through the UN’s Sahel Strategy and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme is a further important issue. Problems in common facing Sahelian countries include poor governance, poverty, lack of opportunities for young people, and climate change that has disrupted many livelihoods.
A continuing option before the Council, and advocated by the Secretary-General, 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. Council members could continue to provide bilateral support to strengthen the military capacities of G5 Sahel countries, both to the joint force and national militaries.
Council and Wider Dynamics
While there may be growing doubts among countries over the viability of the FC-G5S to stem the current deterioration, so far in public forums member states have continued to call for support to the regional force. Over the past two years, the Council has been divided over whether the UN should provide financial support to the FC-G5S. Resolution 2391 in December 2017 established some multilateral support for the FC-G5S and this was enhanced by resolution 2480. But most members—including France, which has championed the joint force—would wish to see further support provided through the UN. The US, though, has objected to proposals that could incur UN assessed contributions. Internal discussions within the AU that have postponed pursuit of a Council resolution on financing for AU peace support operations, and growing concerns about the FC-G5S, together make it unlikely that there will be a new push to authorise a UN support package this year. G5 Sahel member Niger will join the Council in two months, replacing Côte d’Ivoire, and could potentially be a strong proponent of the FC-G5S from within the Council.
On Burkina Faso, Council members, including France, have advocated greater PBC involvement to support an enhanced UN country team mobilisation to help prevent further deterioration. Council members’ 16 May press statement, issued following its last briefing on the FC-G5S, encouraged the PBC’s engagement on Burkina Faso. At the same time, some members have wondered whether the PBC is itself the right forum to address the worsening situation.
France is the penholder on the G5 Sahel joint force.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE G5 SAHEL
|Security Council Resolutions
|28 June 2019S/RES/2480
|The Council renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2020.
|8 December 2017S/RES/2391
|This was a resolution on MINUSMA support to the G5 Sahel joint force.
|Security Council Meeting Record
|16 May 2019S/PV.8526
|This was a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel.
|1 October 2019S/2019/782
|This was a Secretary-General’s report on Mali.
|Security Council Press Statement
|16 May 2019SC/13811
|This press statement welcomed the recent steps taken by the G5 Sahel states towards the full and effective operationalisation of the joint force and encouraged its continued scale-up to demonstrate tangible operational results.