Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
Expected Council Action
In November, 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
On 26 July, soldiers from Niger’s Presidential Guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum. It marked the fourth G5 Sahel country to come under military rule since 2020. Mali experienced two coups d’état in 2020 and 2021 and Burkina Faso had two coups during 2022. In Chad, the military took power unconstitutionally in 2021 after long-serving president Idris Déby was killed in fighting with rebels.
Coup perpetrators in Niger, who formed the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP), declared that they had overthrown Bazoum because of the “continuing degradation of the security situation and poor economic and social governance”. General Abdourahmane Tchiani of the presidential guard was soon announced as the leader of the CNSP. Unlike neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, which saw years of worsening terrorist violence precede their coups, the situation in Niger had appeared to be improving. According to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a U.S.-based crisis-monitoring group, fatalities from violence in Niger, including civilians and combatants, dropped by a third between 2021 and 2022, to just below 1,000, and were fewer than 450 in the first six months of 2023. Some reports suggested that Bazoum had been planning to dismiss Tchiani ahead of the coup.
On 30 July, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Monetary and Economic Union imposed sanctions on Niger, and ECOWAS threatened the use of force if Bazoum was not restored to office within a week. Sanctions included closing all land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger; suspending commercial and financial transactions with Niger; and freezing Nigerien state assets. At a summit on 10 August, ECOWAS announced the decision of West African states to immediately activate the ECOWAS Standby Force to restore constitutional order in Niger.
Mali and Burkina Faso claimed that an ECOWAS intervention in Niger would be “a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali”, warning against the use of force in a 1 August statement. The AU Peace and Security Council failed to endorse an ECOWAS military intervention, and amid diplomatic initiatives to resolve the crisis, an intervention to oust the junta appeared increasingly unlikely. France decided on 24 September to withdraw its approximately 1,500 troops based in Niger by the end of the year following protests in Niamey against the French presence. On 19 October, Niger announced that Bazoum, who has refused to resign from the presidency, had attempted to escape his house arrest, although his lawyers denied this allegation. At the time of writing, Bazoum’s whereabouts and that of his wife and son were unknown.
On 16 September, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger signed the Liptako-Gourma Charter, creating the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) as an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance. The three countries committed to combatting all forms of terrorism and organised crime in their common area, as well as armed rebellion or other threats to their territorial integrity and sovereignty. According to the charter, any violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one AES member shall be considered an act of aggression against all members, who are obligated to assist one another. The AES will be self-funded and is open to other Sahel states joining.
In Mali, the security situation has significantly deteriorated since the Council decided on 30 June to end the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), with the objective of withdrawing the mission by the end of the year. The Council’s decision followed Mali transitional authorities’ request for MINUSMA’s immediate departure. There has been intense fighting since August between Malian forces and former separatist groups in the north, as they compete to take control of bases that MINUSMA is vacating, seriously threatening the viability of the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. Al-Qaida-affiliated Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) has sought to oppose the Malian army’s deployment in the north, imposing a blockade on the Timbuktu region. On 2 October, the transitional authorities launched an operation to take control of MINUSMA bases in the Kidal region, which is the stronghold of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), one of the signatory movements of the 2015 peace agreement.
MINUSMA has been caught in the middle of hostilities. Four peacekeepers were injured in the Timbuktu region in August when they came under fire after vacating their base in Ber. Moreover, restrictions by transitional authorities on MINUSMA are imperilling the mission’s safe and orderly withdrawal. In a 22 October note to correspondents, the UN announced that it had had to destroy equipment, such as vehicles, ammunition, generators, and other assets, before vacating the Tessalit base in Kidal region because Malian authorities had since 24 September prevented UN convoys from travelling to the base to remove the equipment. On 19 October, Under-Secretary for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare briefed Council members in closed consultations on MINUSMA’s withdrawal. Discussion largely focused on the Malian authorities’ lack of cooperation.
Meanwhile, Mali announced on 25 September that elections planned for February 2024 to restore constitutional order would be delayed for “technical reasons”. On 27 September, transitional authorities in Burkina Faso, where the security situation remains dire, announced that they had thwarted an attempted coup to overthrow the country’s military leaders.
Peacebuilding Commission Developments
The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) sent the Council written advice ahead of the Council’s last briefing on the FC-G5S on 16 May. In a 15 May letter, the PBC, among other things, encouraged the Council to continue to underscore the urgent need to address the root causes of conflicts and drivers of instability in the region, and ensure good governance, rule of law, respect for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development.
On 23 June, the PBC convened a meeting on transnational organised crime, terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel and the efforts necessary to address their root causes. The meeting’s briefers included the Regional Representative for West and Central Africa of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Amado de Andres; the Chief of Policy, Knowledge Management and Coordination of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, Muhammad Rafiuddin Shah; and the Vice-President of Association des Femmes Cheffes de famille, Ba Aminata Couro Ly.
Key Issues and Options
Key issues for Council members in November include the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel. The future of the G5 Sahel, which is headquartered in Mauritania, and the FC-G5S, is a related key issue. The viability of the FC-G5S was already undermined after Mali withdrew from the G5 Sahel in June 2022. Now, the formation of the AES may lead to the end of the G5 Sahel. It has also weakened ECOWAS, as the regional bloc finds itself in confrontation with the military juntas of the AES and Guinea, itself under military rule after a coup d’état in 2021. The Wagner Group, a Russian security company, has become a key military partner of Mali, while France has now ended its counter-terrorism operations in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The evolving situation has given greater prominence to other security mechanisms, such as the Accra Initiative, comprising several West African countries to combat the expansion of terrorist groups into coastal West African states.
Restoring constitutional order and civilian rule in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger also remain key issues. ECOWAS has led international efforts to have Burkina Faso and Mali adhere to political transition plans. In the case of Niger, Algeria has offered to mediate a solution to the political crisis, though on 10 October it said it was “suspending” its proposed mediation.
Tackling structural conflict drivers in the Sahel, such as weak governance, under-development, and climate change, remains a key issue. Strategies to address these problems include the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Plan.
The humanitarian situation is another critical issue. Insecurity in the region, according to an OCHA humanitarian snapshot dated 16 October, has created 2.7 million internally displaced people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger—78 percent of whom are in Burkina Faso—in addition to over 188,000 refugees. The UN has raised concerns about the impact of sanctions on Niger, as humanitarian supplies have been held up in neighbouring ECOWAS countries. Transitional authorities have expelled UN resident coordinators in Burkina Faso (December 2022) and Niger (October 2023).
Members are likely to continue monitoring the withdrawal of MINUSMA, fighting that threatens the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and the situation in Niger. They may reiterate calls for Malian authorities to cooperate fully with MINUSMA “to ensure the orderly and safe withdrawal of the mission”, as set out in resolution 2690. They could also repeat calls for the authorities to release Bazoum, while ensuring his safety.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council discussion on the Sahel has become polarised over the past two years. The US and European countries strongly criticise the activities of the Wagner Group in the region. For its part, Russia has increased bilateral cooperation with Mali and Burkina Faso, and in August, vetoed a draft resolution to renew the Council’s Mali sanctions regime, which ended the sanctions established in 2017. Russia also warned against ECOWAS’ proposed military intervention in Niger. The US was active in diplomatic initiatives engaging the de facto Nigerien authorities following the 26 July coup d’état. The US has kept its approximately 1,100 military personnel in Niger and has continued drone and surveillance flights to detect terrorist threats. According to news reports, this support will continue for now despite the US’ belated declaration in October that Niger had experienced a coup d’état, which under US law carries major policy implications for the continuation of economic and military aid. Ghana is a member of ECOWAS and the Accra Initiative. It champions the positions of ECOWAS, with the support of the other two African Council members (Gabon and Mozambique). France is the traditional penholder on the FC-G5S. Because of the rise in anti-French sentiment in West Africa, however, it has been cautious this year about being the driver of Council action in the region.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE G5 SAHEL
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|18 May 2023S/PV.9325||This was a briefing requested by Russia to discuss the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|28 July 2023SC/15372||This press statement strongly condemned the efforts to unconstitutionally change the legitimate Government of Niger on 26 July, and expressed support for the efforts of the ECOWAS and the AU, as well as the UN.|