West Africa and the Sahel
Expected Council Action
In January, the Security Council will hold its biannual briefing on West Africa and the Sahel. The Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Fathi Waly and a civil society representative are expected to brief. The Council may also adopt a resolution initiated by Ghana and Norway on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.
Key Recent Developments
On 5 September, Guinea became the third country in West Africa and the Sahel to experience a military takeover during the past 16 months, joining Mali and Chad, when special forces carried out a coup d’état against President Alpha Condé. Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, leader of the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (CNRD), announced the dissolution of the government, suspended the constitution and accused Condé, who had the constitution changed to run for a third term in 2020, of corruption and “trampling citizens’ rights”. On 16 September 2021, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on Guinea to hold presidential and legislative elections within six months and announced travel ban and asset freeze sanctions on the members of the CNRD and their families. Since then, the CNRD has adopted a Transition Charter setting out a series of tasks, including the holding of elections, but has not specified the transition’s duration. Doumbouya was sworn in as transition president on 1 October 2021, and a civilian prime minister and transitional government were appointed.
On 7 November, ECOWAS appointed Mohamed Ibn Chambas as Special Envoy to Guinea; Chambas headed UNOWAS from September 2014 until April 2021. At a 12 December summit, ECOWAS again insisted on a six-month transition in Guinea and urged the government quickly to submit a timetable to hold elections, which authorities committed to doing by the end of December 2021.
Mali’s political transition to restore constitutional order following coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021 has made little progress toward organising elections within the 18-month timeline that ECOWAS brokered in October 2020. On 7 November 2021, ECOWAS imposed asset freeze and travel ban sanctions on some 150 individuals, reiterating the need for transition authorities to respect the 27 February 2022 date for legislative and presidential elections. (For more on Mali, see the Mali brief in this month’s Forecast.)
President Adama Barrow of The Gambia was re-elected on 4 December 2021. It was The Gambia’s first presidential election since Barrow’s 2016 defeat of long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh, whose refusal to accept that result led to an ECOWAS military intervention in January 2017. At the 12 December ECOWAS summit, ECOWAS announced that this force, the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG), whose mandate ended in December, would be converted to a police mission on 1 January 2022.
Insecurity continues to afflict the Sahel region, particularly in central and northern Mali; the Liptako-Gourma region of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger; and the Lake Chad Basin. On 14 November 2021, suspected fighters of the Al-Qaida affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) attacked a military camp in Soum province, Burkina Faso, killing at least 49 gendarmes and four civilians. This was the deadliest attack suffered by Burkinabe forces during the past five years of the Islamist insurgency. The security situation in Burkina Faso has increased civil unrest, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Christophe Joseph Marie Dabire and his government on 8 December 2021.
Demonstrations also broke out against the French military presence in the region. In November 2021, protesters sought to block a French military convoy travelling from Côte d’Ivoire to Mali. On 20 November, four protesters were shot during a confrontation with the convoy in Kaya, Burkina Faso; two people were killed and 18 wounded in western Niger during another attempt by protesters to stop the convoy.
On maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea, Special Representative Annadif asserted at his 8 July 2021 Council briefing that the “risks of a confluence between the threat coming from the sea and that coming from the Sahel are real”. A week earlier, on 30 June 2021, the UN Peacebuilding Commission held a meeting on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, where 84 maritime attacks and the kidnapping of 130 people occurred during 2020. UNODC Executive Director Waly presented a UNODC study showing that about six pirate groups, with 30 to 50 members each, have the capacity to operate in deep waters in the Gulf of Guinea. They mostly target international vessels to kidnap crew members for ransom, generating income of about $4 million per year. The economic impact on West and Central Africa is estimated at about $800 million, according to UNODC.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a statement at the conclusion of her first official visit to Burkina Faso, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recognised the government of Burkina Faso for the invitation to establish an OHCHR office and its “willingness and openness to collaborate on the promotion and protection of human rights”. She noted that Burkina Faso successfully held “peaceful legislative and presidential elections” in 2020. She said this is indicative of a “deep desire to preserve the democratic and human rights progress the country has made…and gives much cause for hope”.
Key Issues and Options
Political developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel region, including concerns about democratic backsliding, are key issues during UNOWAS meetings. The session is likely to include the first Council update on Guinea since the September 2021 coup d’état.
The threat of terrorism remains a key challenge facing the region. Inter-communal and herder-farmer conflicts, so-called banditry violence in northwest Nigeria that has intensified, and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea are other security concerns that are linked at times with the activities of terrorist groups. Regional counter-terrorism initiatives include the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S), which comprises troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting the continued Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin.
In addition to security responses, a key issue is addressing the structural causes of instability, such as underdevelopment, poor governance, and climate change, through the UN’s Sahel Strategy, the Group of Five for the Sahel Priority Investment Programme, and the Lake Chad Basin regional stabilisation strategy.
The Security Council may adopt a presidential statement—usually proposed by the UNOWAS penholders following these biannual meetings—that addresses recent developments in the region and reiterates calls for a comprehensive approach to tackle the security, peacebuilding and development challenges of the region. Another possibility is for Council members to resume negotiations on a draft resolution on the Sahel that Russia initiated in December 2021 regarding the threat of terrorism and the importance of a holistic approach to dealing with the underlying causes of conflict in the Sahel.
The problem of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea is likely to be highlighted during January. Council members are expected to negotiate a draft resolution that could, among other things, encourage cooperation between states of the region and bilateral and multilateral partners in responding to the piracy threat and call for the Secretary-General to provide a report with recommendations for combatting piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and assessing possible linkages with terrorism.
Members value UNOWAS’ good offices activities and conflict prevention role. At times they differ over whether to refer to political crises or tensions in countries not on the Council agenda in Council products on UNOWAS. Members also appear aligned on the importance of a holistic approach to addressing insecurity in the region, often stressing the need for greater coherence in the activities of the UN system and other stakeholders.
The issue of support to the FC-G5S divides members. France has championed the establishment of a UN support office—as recommended by the Secretary-General—to provide logistical support to the FC-G5S through UN assessed contributions. The UK and the US oppose the idea and prefer to see support channelled bilaterally. They also express concerns that supporting a counter-terrorism force with a questionable human rights record could compromise UN peacekeeping principles. Substantive discussion on this issue takes place during Council meetings on Mali and the FC-G5S, however.
Over the past year, Russia appears to be increasing its involvement in the Sahel. Russia and Mali recently held talks on strengthening military cooperation amid reports that Mali’s transitional authorities are discussing the possibility of contracting fighters from the Russian private security company Wagner Group. Russia first proposed its draft resolution on the Sahel as an alternative to an Irish-Nigerien draft resolution on climate change in December 2021. After vetoing the draft climate change resolution, Russia solicited further comments on its proposed Sahel text, but it later announced that it was pausing work on the draft.
The Security Council conducted a visiting mission to Mali and Niger from 23 to 25 October 2021. It was co-led by France, Kenya and outgoing Council member Niger.
Ghana is the new West African Council member starting in January 2022. President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana is the current Chair of the ECOWAS Authority. Ghana and Ireland are expected to serve as co-penholders on West Africa and the Sahel.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WEST AFRICA AND THE SAHEL
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 February 2012S/RES/2039||Welcomed the Secretary-General’s assessment mission on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and called on states to implement its recommendations.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|17 August 2021S/PRST/2021/16||This presidential statement addressed security trends in the region and expressed concern about deteriorating situations in some countries.|
|26 April 2016S/PRST/2016/4||This was a presidential statement which encouraged regional states, regional organisations and international partners to make fully operational the Gulf of Guinea counter-piracy mechanisms as soon as possible.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|29 October 2021S/PV.8892||This was a briefing on the Security Council visiting mission to Mali and Niger from 23 to 25 October 2021.|
|8 July 2021S/PV.8814||This was a briefing on West Africa and the Sahel.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|4 November 2021SC/14687||This was a press statement on the Security Council visiting mission from 23 to 25 October 2021 to Mali and Niger.|