January 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 December 2022
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West Africa and the Sahel

Expected Council Action

In January 2023, the Security Council will hold its biannual briefing on the situation in West Africa and the Sahel. The Council is also expected to renew the mandate of the UN Office of West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) in January. This is likely to be done through an exchange of letters between the President of the Security Council and the Secretary-General. UNOWAS’ current mandate expires on 31 January 2023.

Key Recent Developments

Amid rampant insecurity, Burkina Faso experienced its second coup d’état in nine months on 30 September 2022, when soldiers ousted the transition president, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. On 4 October 2022, a delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—headed by the former president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, as the ECOWAS mediator to Burkina Faso—met in Ouagadougou with the coup leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who promised to keep the July 2024 timeline for restoring constitutional order, which Damiba had previously agreed with ECOWAS. 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.

On 14 October 2022, Burkinabe political parties, social and religious groups, and representatives of the security forces adopted a new transition charter. The charter appointed Traoré as transition president, maintained the July 2024 transition timeline, and prohibited transition leaders from running in the forthcoming elections. On 22 October, Traoré named Apollinaire Joachim Kyélem de Tambèla interim prime minister, whose new government soon announced a recruitment drive for 50,000 civilian volunteers to help fight jihadists. On 14 December 2022, Ghana accused Burkina Faso of partnering with the Wagner Group, the Russian private security company. Ghanian President Nana Akufo-Addo made the claim while in Washington D.C. for the US-Africa Summit, accusing Burkina Faso of “allocating” a gold mine to the Wagner Group as a form of payment.

Guinea’s authorities continued negotiations with ECOWAS mediator Thomas Yayi Boni, the former president of Benin, on a transition timeline to restore constitutional order following its September 2021 coup d’état. On 21 October, the sides announced a two-year transition, beginning 1 January 2023. The agreement was reached amid opposition protests over the pace of the transition and ECOWAS’ threat to impose additional sanctions if authorities did not commit to a shorter transition period than the three-year timeline that they announced in May 2022. At the 62nd Ordinary Session of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in Abuja on 4 December 2022, West African leaders welcomed the new 24-month transition timetable while insisting that its implementation “must start immediately, and not at a later date”.

Mali and Chad are also undertaking political transitions to restore elected governments. On 14 October 2022, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who was appointed UNOWAS head in March 2021, was named foreign minister in Chad’s new transitional government. Subsequently, Annadif resigned as head of UNOWAS; his successor had not yet been appointed at the time of writing. In Mali, three troop-contributing countries to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)—Côte d’Ivoire, Germany and the UK—announced in November that they would leave the peacekeeping operation amid Malian authorities’ repeated interference with the work of MINUSMA. (For more, see the Mali brief in this month’s Forecast.)

On 7 November 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of France’s regional counter-terrorism force in the Sahel, Operation Barkhane, which was established in 2014. The announcement followed rising anti-French sentiment over the past year in the region, often directed at Barkhane. Despite the conclusion of the operation, Macron stressed that France would maintain its forces, which number around 3,000 troops, in Sahelian countries.

Sahel-based terrorist groups have increasingly conducted attacks in northern parts of coastal West African countries. On 21 and 22 November 2022, Ghana hosted an International Conference of the Accra Initiative, which Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo established in 2017 to prevent the spillover of terrorism from the Sahel and address transnational organised crime by enhancing security cooperation. The conference also convened representatives of Niger (a current Accra Initiative member), Nigeria, the UK, the UN, and the EU. In a 22 November communiqué, heads of states and government of Accra Initiative countries committed to mobilise resources to make the Multinational Joint Task Force of the Accra Initiative (MNJTF/AI) operational within a month.

During its 4 December summit, the ECOWAS Authority called for its Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff to urgently study and propose options to make the ECOWAS Standby Force operational as soon as possible, including a special operation to combat terrorism. It also announced that West African countries would establish a “regional force, whose mandate will include the restoration of constitutional order where [it is] threatened in the subregion”. On 21 December, The Gambia announced that it had foiled a coup d’état plot, which ECOWAS strongly condemned.

Key Issues and Options

The expanding terrorism threat and the evolving security landscape in West Africa and the Sahel is a key issue. The coups d’état in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali over the past two and half years, and ECOWAS’ efforts, with UN support, to restore constitutional order in these countries are another key issue. In addition to military responses—which also include the struggling Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S)—is the recurring issue of how to address the region’s structural conflict drivers of weak governance, under-development and climate change. Such efforts are guided by, for example, the UN’s Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS), which UNOWAS is mandated to support, the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Priority Investment Programme, and the Lake Chad Basin regional stabilisation strategy.

A future issue for the Council will be how to respond to the strategic assessment of the Sahel being conducted by the Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development led by former Nigerien President Issoufou on behalf of the UN, the AU, ECOWAS, and the G5 Sahel. (The G5 Sahel comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger; Mali withdrew from the group in May 2022). It seems that the panel, which was formally launched in September 2022, now plans to share preliminary findings during the AU summit in February 2023, as the timeline to complete the assessment has been extended until mid-2023. Besides taking stock of the situation and efforts to address the security crisis, the panel may make recommendations on issues such as how to secure sustainable and predictable financing for African-led peace support operations.

The Security Council may adopt a presidential statement—usually proposed by the UNOWAS penholders following these biannual meetings—that addresses recent developments and reiterates calls for a comprehensive approach to tackle the security, peacebuilding and development challenges of the region. The presidential statement may look forward to the findings of the High-Level Panel and encourage it to make actionable recommendations.

In renewing the UNOWAS mandate, the Council could retain its four main objectives, which are to monitor political developments and conduct good offices; enhance regional and subregional partnerships to address cross-border and cross-cutting threats in West Africa and the Sahel; support, through political advocacy and convening, implementation of the UNISS; and promote good governance, respect for the rule of law, human rights, and the integration of gender in conflict prevention, management and resolution.

Council Dynamics

Council discussion on West Africa and the Sahel became more polarised during the past year. This was largely linked to the deployment of the Wagner Group to Mali in December 2021, which the US and European countries strongly criticised. Ghana is a member of ECOWAS and the Accra Initiative. In addition to its concerns about the expanding terrorism threat, Ghana has championed renewed Council engagement on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea because of the rise in piracy incidents in the region in recent years and the risk of links between terrorist and pirate groups.

It seems that many Council members have high expectations regarding the ability of the High-Level Panel to help guide the Council’s future decisions in support of peace and security in the region. The panel’s work featured prominently during Council meetings on Mali in October 2022, as well as in meetings on terrorism in Africa and the FC-G5S in November 2022. Potential panel findings on how to provide African-led peace operations with predictable and sustainable financing could resurrect previous Council discussion on this issue, which in the past divided members.

Regarding UNOWAS, Council members have long valued the mission’s good offices role. Since 2017, the Council’s West African member has served as co-penholder on UNOWAS with one of the elected European members. Ghana and Ireland were co-penholders in 2022. During the year, the Council failed to agree on the customary presidential statement adopted following UNOWAS briefings because of India’s opposition to climate security language. In an attempt to broker an agreement on the statement following the Council’s July 2022 briefing on UNOWAS, Ghana reportedly engaged India directly at capital level in Delhi but was unsuccessful in reaching an agreement. At the time of writing, Switzerland was expected to replace Ireland as co-penholder with Ghana.


Security Council Resolution
31 May 2022S/RES/2634 This resolution was on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.
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 Meeting Records
22 November 2022S/PV.9198 This was a briefing on Gulf of Guinea piracy.
16 November 2022S/PV.9194 This was a briefing on the G5 Sahel Joint Force with Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Pobee; G5 Sahel Executive Secretary Eric Tiaré and; Zakaria Ousman Ramadan, President of the Chadian Centre for Strategic Studies and Prospective Research.
7 July 2022S/PV.9086 This was a briefing on UNOWAS with SRSG Mahamat Saleh Annadif, PBC Chair Ambassador Rabab Fatima, and civil society representative Rabia Djibo Magagi, Coordinator of the Association Alliance for Peace and Security.


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