UNOCA (Central Africa)
Expected Council Action
In December, François Louncény Fall, Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), is expected to brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s semi-annual report on UNOCA and the implementation of the UN’s regional strategy to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The mandate of UNOCA expires on 31 August 2021.
Key Recent Developments
Briefing the Council on 12 June, Fall, echoing the Secretary-General’s 29 May report, noted that the political situation in the region had been largely dominated by electoral cycles: elections in eight of the 11 Central African countries have been held or are scheduled in 2020 and 2021. As a result, underlying political tensions have emerged and are further exacerbated by economic stagnation, rising insecurity—across many parts of the region and with maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea—and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Secretary-General’s 29 May report, countries in the region have shown “strategic resolve” to address this instability and build on their bilateral relations. The region covered by UNOCA includes several situations that are on the Council’s agenda, including Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Following a strategic review of the UNOCA mandate conducted in 2019 and a Council presidential statement welcoming the office’s role in promoting inclusive political dialogue in non-mission settings, UNOCA also covers Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, and São Tome and Principe.
In Cameroon, there continues to be unrest in the anglophone north-western and south-western regions, grounded in claims of political and economic discrimination by the francophone authorities against the anglophone minority. On 14 February, 22 people were killed in an attack in the north–western anglophone village of Ngarbuh. On 21 April, the government released the results of its investigation into the attack, announcing that three military officers had been charged with murder and remanded in custody at the Yaoundé military prison. Despite the high-profile launch on 3 April of a programme for the development of Cameroon’s north-western and south-western regions and his 13 May meeting with Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Fall informed the Council that he remained concerned about “the ongoing obstacles to humanitarian access in the two regions” and urged the Cameroonian authorities and the humanitarian community to improve coordination and cooperation. On 24 October, a group of armed men attacked a school in Kumba, in Cameroon’s south-west region, killing seven children and injuring at least 13 others. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack and called on the Cameroonian authorities to investigate the massacre. To date, no groups have claimed responsibility, though the government blamed anglophone separatists. On 2 November, Fall visited Yaoundé, where he met with Cameroonian Minister of External Relations Lejeune Mbella Mbella.
In Burundi, presidential elections were held on 20 May. Organised to determine a successor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was concluding his third term in office, the election campaign was conducted in a tense environment. On 25 May, provisional results were announced: Évariste Ndayishimiye, Secretary-General of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD)—Burundi’s ruling party—won 68 percent of the vote. With Nkurunziza preparing to step down and scheduled to transfer authority to Ndayishimiye on 20 August, the Burundian government announced on 9 June that Nkurunziza had died of cardiac arrest. Despite concern that Nkurunziza’s sudden death could precipitate a constitutional crisis and potential violence, Ndayishimiye was inaugurated on 18 June. Following this transition, the Council convened a closed videoconference (VTC) meeting on 22 June, subsequently issuing press elements that welcomed the “broadly peaceful conduct of the elections” and “stressed the importance of pursuing national unity, political inclusiveness and peacebuilding”. The Secretary-General subsequently discussed further UN engagement with Burundi in a 29 June call with President Ndayishimiye. From 14 to 19 September, a UN strategic assessment mission visited Burundi to consult with stakeholders on enhancing cooperation between the UN and Burundi. The mission’s report was circulated to the Council on 2 November.
Presidential elections are scheduled for 27 December in the CAR, with legislative and local elections and a possible second round of presidential elections in early 2021. The Secretary-General’s 12 October report on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) noted that the CAR’s political situation is “increasingly characterized by tension and mistrust”, while implementation of the CAR’s Political Agreement also remains problematic, with a number of armed groups continuing to violate the agreement and obstruct the restoration of the CAR government’s authority. In addition, there has been a resurgence in violence in the CAR’s north-west, though the situation in the CAR’s north-east stabilised after an upswing in violence earlier this year. The CAR’s ongoing instability also has implications for the region covered by UNOCA. The report noted, for example, that Cameroon was hosting 272,000 refugees from the CAR. The Secretary-General, in his 29 May UNOCA report, noted that Fall and the Special Representative for the CAR and head of MINUSCA, Mankeur Ndiaye, agreed to carry out joint initiatives while senior-level representatives of UNOCA and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) secretariat in Libreville, Gabon, agreed to develop an updated common assessment of the situation in the CAR in the lead-up to the elections.
Key Issues and Options
The security situation in the region remains a key concern for the Council, especially with regard to the ongoing situations in Cameroon and the CAR. The COVID-19 global pandemic and its attendant social and economic impact on the central African region is also of concern. Given UNOCA’s continued shift to focus its efforts on the region as a whole, rather than on the LRA as its main objective, the UN’s regional strategy to combat the LRA has received little attention.
Upcoming elections in the CAR and the post-election political transition in Burundi are also key concerns. The Council’s 12 September 2019 presidential statement noted that one of UNOCA’s priorities while working with ECCAS is to assist countries “facing institutional crises related to electoral processes”.
There appears to be consensus on the Council regarding UNOCA’s potentially stabilising role in Central Africa, with the 12 September presidential statement illustrating Council unity in its support for UNOCA’s mandate.
There are some differences, however, about the role UNOCA should play in addressing different situations. Some Council members, such as the UK and the US, have expressed concern about the situation in Cameroon, arguing that UNOCA should focus on the security and humanitarian situation in that country. Other members, such as China and Russia, maintain that the situation in Cameroon is an internal matter and that the Council should intervene only upon Cameroon’s request.
The UK is the penholder on UNOCA. Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger) chairs both the 2127 Central African Republic Sanctions Committee and the 1533 Democratic Republic of the Congo Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNOCA
|29 May 2020S/2020/463||This was the Secretary-General’s semi-annual report on UNOCA.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|12 September 2019S/PRST/2019/10||This presidential statement expressed the Council’s full support for UNOCA.|
|Security Council Letters|
|16 June 2020S/2020/542||This was a VTC on the Central African region convened on 12 June.|