November 2022 Monthly Forecast

Group of Five for the Sahel

Expected Council Action

In November, the Council is expected to hold its bi-annual briefing and consultations on the counter-terrorism Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S) that Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger (G5 Sahel) established in 2017. Expected briefers are Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and and Peace Operations Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, and G5 Sahel Executive Secretary Eric Tiaré.

Key Recent Developments

The security situation in the Sahel remains dire and Sahel-based terrorist groups increasingly threaten northern parts of coastal West African countries. Moreover, political instability in several Sahelian countries and tensions between Mali and its neighbours have undermined cooperation among the G5 Sahel countries.

On 15 May, Mali’s military-led government, which came to power following coups d’état in August 2020 and May 2021, announced that it was withdrawing from all G5 Sahel institutions, including the FC-G5S. According to the authorities, the decision came after some G5 members blocked Mali from assuming the group’s rotating presidency, which Mali was scheduled to take up in February. Chad’s transitional President Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno issued a statement on 19 May as the G5 Sahel president, affirming his commitment “to do everything” to preserve the unity and cohesion of the FC-G5S and encouraging Mali to reconsider its decision. On 14 June, Mali officially terminated its participation in the FC-G5S. On 30 June, the headquarters of the FC-G5S relocated from the Malian capital Bamako to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.

The security landscape in the Sahel continues to evolve. On 15 August, France completed the withdrawal from Mali of its regional counter-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane. French forces had been in Mali since intervening in January 2013 to oppose jihadist militants, who had seized control of the northern half of the country in 2012. But relations between France and Mali steadily worsened following the May 2021 coup d’état. France announced in February that Barkhane would leave Mali shortly after the Russian private security company, the Wagner Group, reportedly deployed to the country to partner with the Malian defence and security forces in counter-terrorism operations. While the UN has reported some gains against terrorist groups during these operations, it has also noted, as have several human rights organisations, a significant rise in alleged human rights violations by security forces.

This year has also been marked by strained relations between Mali and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Restrictions on MINUSMA’s freedom of movement to conduct flights and patrols (often in areas of counter-terrorism operations), to rotate mission personnel, and to monitor and help investigate violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law have called into question the peacekeeping operation’s ability to carry out its mandate.

Burkina Faso experienced its second coup d’état in nine months when on 30 September, soldiers led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré announced that they had overthrown transition President Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. Damiba came to power after leading a coup d’état in January amid growing public anger over the government’s handling of the jihadist insurgency in Burkina Faso. Since the January coup, however, the security situation has continued to deteriorate. On 27 September, Islamist militants ambushed a 150-vehicle convoy that was seeking to supply the besieged city of Djibo. Eleven soldiers were killed and 50 civilians were missing, according to authorities; this ambush appeared to trigger the coup against Damiba.

Initially, there was some uncertainty as to whether the coup would succeed. After Traoré claimed on 1 October that France was protecting Damiba at a military base—which France denied—protesters attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou and pillaged other sites linked to France. On 2 October, Damiba resigned in exchange for assurances that the new junta would not harm him or loyalist soldiers and would respect commitments to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore constitutional order by July 2024.

Both ECOWAS and the AU issued initial statements through their respective chairpersons, Omar Alieu Touray and Moussa Faki, that condemned the coup, as did UN Secretary-General António Guterres. On 4 October, an ECOWAS delegation—led by the former President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, as the ECOWAS mediator to Burkina Faso—met in Ouagadougou with Traoré, who promised to maintain the transition timeline for restoring civilian rule. Council members issued a press statement on 7 October that expressed serious concern about the unconstitutional change of government and their support for regional and continental mediation efforts.

Chad is also conducting a political transition. On 20 October, more than sixty people were killed as police repressed protests against recent decisions made at the National Dialogue Conference to extend the transition by two years and allow transition president Mahamat Idriss Deby to stand as a candidate in elections.

Against this backdrop, the humanitarian situation continues to be dire, especially in the central Sahel. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths concluded a mission on 20 October to Burkina Faso, where he discussed the situation with Traoré. In Burkina Faso, more than 4.9 million people need emergency assistance, a 40 percent increase since January, and there are more than 1.5 million displaced persons. As at 10 October, the Burkina Faso humanitarian response plan (HRP) was thirty percent funded, having received $241 million of the $805 million required.

The UN, the AU, ECOWAS, and the G5 Sahel are undertaking a Joint Strategic Assessment (JSA) on the Sahel. On 22 September, during the General Assembly’s high-level week, the Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development that is conducting this assessment was formally launched. Chaired by former President Issoufou, the panel is expected to assess the peace and security challenges facing the Sahel and make recommendations about how to improve joint and coordinated regional and international responses. The panel’s findings will be presented during the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in February 2023.

Key Issues and Options

Mali’s withdrawal from the G5 Sahel has been a major setback for the FC-G5S. Key issues are how to strengthen support for and cooperation among G5 Sahel countries in the FC-G5S, given Mali’s departure, and to encourage Mali to return to the force.

With the setbacks to the FC-G5S and the evolving security situation, another issue is how to support other existing initiatives combatting terrorism and transnational organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel. These initiatives include the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram-affiliated groups in the Lake Chad basin, the Accra Initiative, the Nouakchott Process, and the ECOWAS Priority Action Plan on the eradication of terrorism.

Additionally, tackling structural drivers of instability in the Sahel, such as weak governance, under-development and climate change, is a key issue. Multiple strategies have been developed since 2013 in this regard, including the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Plan.

Several critical assessments are being conducted which, upon their completion early next year, are likely to guide further Council decisions regarding the region. These include the Joint Strategic Assessment and an internal UN review of MINUSMA, which is expected to be submitted to the Council by 13 January 2023 and will include analysis of the political and security challenges affecting the mission’s ability to implement its mandate. Until then, including during the upcoming November briefing, Council members may encourage better cooperation between regional and international actors to combat terrorist groups and stress the equal importance of addressing the root causes of the region’s instability to complement security responses. Members may further highlight the need for donors to contribute to the region’s humanitarian needs.

Council Dynamics

Previously, Council discussion on the FC-G5S revolved around whether to authorise a UN office to provide logistical support and more predictable funding, with members being divided over the issue. This, however, has been sidelined amid the divisions that have developed among G5 Sahel countries. Uncertainty about the future of the FC-G5S and the expanding presence of terrorist groups towards littoral West African states have also caused members to focus more on other security initiatives. Russia’s entry into the Sahel through the provision of military assistance to Mali and the deployment of the Wagner Group has further polarised discussion on the region in the Council. Western Council members have condemned Mali’s cooperation with the Wagner Group, while popular demonstrations in Burkina Faso have called for Russian intervention. While France has withdrawn Barkhane from Mali, it has strengthened its presence in neighbouring Niger, and says it remains engaged in the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea and Lake Chad region.

France has served as the penholder on the FC-G5S. The African Council members (the A3, consisting of Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) have been the penholders this year on Council press statements on Burkina Faso.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE SAHEL

Security Council Meeting Record
18 May 2022S/PV.9035 This was a briefing on the G5 Sahel Joint Force with ASG for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations Martha Pobee, Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel Eric Tiare, and civil society representative Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Coordinator and President of the Rights and Resources Initiative.
Security Council Press Statement
7 October 2022SC/15057 This press statement expressed serious concern about the unconstitutional change of government in Burkina Faso.