West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In July, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), will brief the Council to present the Secretary-General’s semi-annual report on West Africa and the Sahel.
Key Recent Developments
Terrorist groups continue to destabilise the Sahel, fuel intercommunal violence and increasingly threaten coastal West African countries. Boko Haram and a splinter group, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), remain a threat to north-east Nigeria and to other countries in the Lake Chad Basin. Presidential elections in the subregion, several of which may be contentious and risk causing political violence, are also planned this year in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger.
There has been increased military cooperation between five Sahelian countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which have formed the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S)—and external partners since the formation of the Coalition of the Sahel at a January summit in Pau, France. In March, France and other EU countries launched a special operations task force, called Task Force Takuba, to assist the Malian military in combatting terrorist groups in the Liptako-Gourma tri-border region with Burkina Faso and Niger. It should be operational later this year. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its member states have sought to increase security cooperation to stem the expanding terrorist threat and support the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel). Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso conducted their first joint operation along their shared border in May, announcing that eight militants had been killed and 38 others arrested. The AU is also continuing discussions with ECOWAS on deploying 3,000 troops to the Sahel.
In the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram killed 98 Chadian soldiers on 23 March in Boma, Chad. On 29 March, Chad launched a counter-insurgency operation. At the conclusion of the 10-day operation, which deployed troops to Niger and north-eastern Nigeria, Chad claimed that over 1,000 Boko Haram militants had been killed, with a loss of 52 soldiers. On 9 June, the Boko Haram ISWAP faction killed at least 81 people—its deadliest attack on civilians this year—and stole between 400 and 1,200 cattle in the village of Felo, Nigeria. A 16 June Security Council press statement condemned the attack as well as terrorist attacks on 13 June in Monguno against a UN humanitarian facility and on 13 June in Nganzai in Borno State, Nigeria, which together resulted in at least 120 people being killed.
Earlier this year, the Council renewed the mandate of UNOWAS through an exchange of letters with the Secretary-General for three years until 31 January 2023. The mandate of UNOWAS continues to be organised around four objectives: monitoring political developments and good offices; enhancing regional and subregional partnerships to address cross-border and cross-cutting threats in West Africa and the Sahel; supporting, through political advocacy and convening, implementation of the UN’s Sahel Strategy; and promoting good governance, respect for the rule of law, human rights and the integration of gender in conflict prevention, management and resolution.
On 11 February, the Council adopted a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel. The statement emphasised the need for national stakeholders in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Mali, and Togo to work together to hold elections and to take all appropriate steps to prevent violence. In light of tensions in Guinea, the Council called on all political stakeholders, regardless of political affiliation, to resume dialogue without delay so that electoral processes, as well as political reforms, can be conducted with broad consensus.
The presidential statement highlighted concerns about the political situation in Guinea, encouraging Chambas to continue carrying out his good offices there. A 22 March referendum on a constitutional amendment would allow President Alpha Condé to contest a third and fourth term. The referendum was held along with long-delayed legislative elections, both of which the opposition boycotted. Violence on election day resulted in at least ten deaths in Conakry and four in the Nzérékoré region. In a statement, Chambas strongly condemned all acts of violence and the excessive use of force and called on Guineans to mobilise against intercommunal violence.
At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating the mandate renewal of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). During June, Mali saw major protests calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s resignation over continued insecurity and corruption. On 20 June, an ECOWAS delegation, dispatched to Mali due to the protests, called for a re-run of disputed local elections that were held in March and the convening of a national unity government. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement expressing concern over the political developments and support for ECOWAS efforts.
Key Issues and Options
The threat of terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel remains a key issue, as are Chambas’ good offices activities around electoral and political tensions. Related to these issues are the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Secretary-General’s 8 May report on the FC-G5S, terrorist groups have sought to exploit the pandemic to intensify attacks and for propaganda purposes. MINUSMA has been hard hit by the pandemic, with over 100 cases, including the deaths of two peacekeepers. The pandemic is also expected to severely affect this year’s high-stakes electoral processes, according to Chambas during a briefing of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) on 22 April. Guinea’s opposition and civil society have already accused president Condé of exploiting the pandemic to silence opposition to the March referendum and legislative elections.
Drug trafficking, intercommunal violence, and piracy are key issues that are linked at times with terrorist groups. In addition to regional security initiatives, efforts to address structural causes of instability, such as underdevelopment, poor governance and climate change, are also important, including the UN’s Sahel Strategy, the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme and the Lake Chad Basin regional stabilisation strategy. Implementation of Mali’s 2015 peace agreement is also frequently cited as key for both Mali and the Sahel’s stabilisation.
The Council might adopt a presidential statement that could, inter alia, encourage authorities and national stakeholders to work together to seek a level playing field for upcoming elections; urge respect for freedoms of assembly, expression and the press; and seek consensus in addressing the implications of COVID-19 on the electoral process. An option for the briefing could be to invite the chair of the PBC, which frequently works on West Africa and the Sahel, to address the Council on the region’s peacebuilding challenges.
Members have long valued the good offices activities of Chambas and UNOWAS’ conflict prevention role. During discussion of the latest UNOWAS mandate renewal, members felt that the Secretary-General’s proposal to place a greater focus on having UNOWAS oversee the integration of UN system activities for “sustaining peace” and sustainable development risked weakening the political nature of the mission. This resulted in the Council’s first authorising a one-month extension of UNOWAS in December 2019 to consider the proposal more closely and then scaling back some of the proposed changes in the mandate.
Members have some diverging views on how the UN and Council should support regional counter-terrorism efforts such as the FC-G5S. Substantive discussion of such support, including on financing and the role of MINUSMA, tends to occur during Council meetings on Mali and the FC-G5S.
Belgium and Niger are co-penholders on UNOWAS.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|11 February 2020S/PRST/2020/2||This presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, included emphasising the need for free
and fair, credible, timely and peaceful elections during 2020 in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Mali and Togo.
|8 May 2020S/2020/373||This was the biannual report on the G5 Sahel Joint Force.|
|Security Council Letter|
|31 January 2020S/2020/85||This letter renewed the mandate of UNOWAS from 1 February 2020 to 31 January 2023.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|16 June 2020SC/14216||This press statement condemned terrorist attacks on 9 and 10 June in Felo, on 13 June in Monguno, and on 13 June in Nganzai in Borno State, Nigeria.|
|1 April 2020SC/14155||This press statement condemned the 23 March terrorist attack in Boma, Chad, which resulted in at least 98 killed and 47 wounded, and the attack on military vehicles near Goneri in Yobe State, Nigeria, the same day, which resulted in at least 47 killed.|