Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is expected to hold its bi-annual briefing and consultations on the 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 to fight terrorism and transnational organised crime.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation in much of the Sahel has remained dire as terrorist groups in the region increasingly threaten coastal West African countries. In June 2022, Mali withdrew from the G5 Sahel, including the FC-G5S, after some members of the regional group opposed letting the transitional authorities in Mali assume the organisation’s rotating presidency. Speaking at the Council’s 16 November 2022 briefing on the FC-G5S, Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel Eric Tiaré described how Mali’s withdrawal “plunged our subregional organization into an institutional crisis”. Tiaré stated, however, that the G5 Sahel countries were committed to continuing their collaboration. They were in the process of developing a new concept of operations for the FC-G5S and updating the Priority Investment Programme, which focuses on addressing the socio-economic drivers of conflict in the region.
G5 Sahel ministers of foreign affairs of the four remaining countries met in N’Djamena on 18 January to discuss how to preserve and revitalise the organisation. At its conclusion, they proposed holding an extraordinary summit of heads of state as soon as possible to relaunch G5 Sahel activities. The summit, the first since 2021, took place on 20 February in N’Djamena, and was attended by Chad’s transitional President Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, and Burkina Faso’s transitional Defence Minister Kassoum Coulibaly. Leaders assessed the security situation in G5 Sahel countries and “reaffirmed their desire to preserve and consolidate this important framework for cooperation and coordination between the four countries”, according to a 22 February communiqué of the summit, which concluded with Déby handing over the G5 Sahel presidency to Ghazouani for a one-year term.
In Mali, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) continued its military offensive in the Ménaka and Gao regions, near the borders of Niger and Burkina Faso, which created a major displacement crisis. On 10 April, ISGS took over the town of Tidermène in the Ménaka region, which, according to news reports, has left Ménaka city isolated and surrounded.
In Burkina Faso, at least 51 soldiers were killed in Oudlan province on 21 February when their unit was ambushed by jihadist militants. It was the highest reported death toll from a single attack since November 2021, when 57 gendarmes were killed in another attack. On 15 April, the interim government announced a “general mobilisation” to give the state “all necessary means” to combat terrorist groups. On 20 April, at least 150 civilians may have been killed, and many others injured, allegedly by Burkina’s defence and security forces accompanied by paramilitary auxiliaries known as Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP), according to a statement by the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The killings, in Karma village in northern Yatenga Province, occurred following an attack on a VDP base on 15 April in which—according to the provincial governor—eight soldiers and 32 VDPs were killed and more than 30 injured.
Recent months saw relations deteriorate between France and Burkina Faso, which requested on 23 January that France withdraw its military forces, numbering 400 troops. France completed the withdrawal on 18 February. Meanwhile, Burkina Faso’s interim authorities, who came to power following the country’s second coup in nine months in September 2022, and the military juntas in Mali and Guinea, have sought to strengthen their cooperation. On 9 February, the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Ouagadougou and, according to their joint statement, “agreed to pool their efforts and undertake joint initiatives for the lifting of the suspension measures and other restrictions” imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU. They further agreed on “the need to combine their efforts and those of the countries of the sub-region and the region” to deal with the security situation.
Amid rising anti-French sentiment in Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron announced on 7 November 2022 the end of France’s regional counter-terrorism force in the Sahel, Operation Barkhane, which was established in 2014. Despite the conclusion of the operation, Macron stressed that France would maintain its forces in the region but that they would operate through bilateral arrangements.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues are how to strengthen support for the FC-G5S and cooperation among G5 Sahel countries. With the evolving security landscape and challenges facing the FC-G5S, another issue is how to support other security mechanisms in West Africa and the Sahel. These include the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram-affiliated groups in the Lake Chad basin, the Accra Initiative involving Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Togo for enhancing security cooperation, the Nouakchott Process on security cooperation in the Sahelo-Saharan region, and the ECOWAS Standby Force.
A related issue is the role of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and questions about the future of the peacekeeping operation amid the withdrawal of troop-contributing countries from the mission and tenuous relations with Mali’s authorities (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 11 April.)
Alleged violations against civilians by Sahel countries’ militaries remain a significant issue of concern.
Additionally, tackling structural conflict drivers in the Sahel, such as weak governance, under-development, and climate change, is a key issue. Multiple strategies to address these problems have been developed since 2013, including the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Plan. Council members could consider discussing the UN Development Programme report titled “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Pathways to Recruitment and Disengagement” at the Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa. The report, published on 7 February, is based on personal testimonies from nearly 2,200 respondents in eight Sahel countries and describes the factors that can lead an individual to violent extremism.
Completing political transitions in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali within their current timetables is another key issue. After delays in the transitions in Chad and Mali, all three countries are expected to hold national elections next year.
The humanitarian situation is another critical issue. In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, 2.6 million people are internally displaced—76 percent of whom are in Burkina Faso, according to a 19 April OCHA humanitarian snapshot. The Secretary-General’s 3 January report on West Africa and the Sahel depicted notably worsening trends because of the impact of the conflict in Ukraine, ongoing violence, and the effects of climate change.
The ongoing strategic assessment of the Sahel being conducted by the Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development led by former Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou on behalf of the UN, the AU, ECOWAS, and the G5 Sahel is an important process that may inform future Council discussions and action regarding the region. Until its completion, including during the upcoming May briefing, Council members may encourage 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 relief efforts.
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 debate, however, has been sidelined over the past year because of the divisions among G5 Sahel countries and the withdrawal of Mali from the organisation. 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 by ECOWAS and through the Accra Initiative, of which elected member Ghana is a member. Council members have been awaiting the recommendations of the Issoufou panel, though some members appear frustrated over the delays in this process.
Russia’s entry into the Sahel since late 2021 through the provision of military assistance to Mali and the deployment of the Wagner Group, a private Russian security company, has contributed to polarising Council discussion on the region. Western Council members have condemned Mali’s cooperation with the Wagner Group, and there are concerns that Burkina Faso could also partner with Wagner. While France has ended Operation Barkhane and has withdrawn its forces from Mali and Burkina Faso, it has strengthened its presence in neighbouring Niger and says it remains engaged in the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and Lake Chad regions.
France is the penholder on the FC-G5S.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE G5 SAHEL
|Security Council Resolution|
|8 December 2017S/RES/2391||This was a resolution on MINUSMA support to the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|9 November 2022S/2022/838||This was a Secretary-General’s report on the G5 Sahel Joint Force.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|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.|