May 2024 Monthly Forecast

Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force

Expected Council Action

During the month of May, Security Council members are scheduled to have consultations on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S).

Key Recent Developments

On 2 December 2023, Burkina Faso and Niger announced their withdrawal from the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel). Mali had previously withdrawn from the bloc, which was established in 2014 and, in 2017, created the FC-G5S to combat terrorist groups and organised crime. In September 2023, the three countries, all governed by military juntas, formed the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) as an organisation of collective defence and mutual assistance against terrorism and organised crime in their common area, as well as against armed rebellion or other threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity. On 6 December 2023, Chad and Mauritania, the remaining G5 Sahel countries, suggested that they were prepared to dissolve the G5 Sahel, which, according to its founding convention, can be terminated at the request of at least three of its member states.

Pursuant to resolution 2391 of December 2017 that authorised the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to provide logistical and operational support to the FC-G5S, the Secretary-General was mandated to submit biannual reports about the force to the Council. But even before Burkina Faso and Niger decided to leave the G5 Sahel, a Secretary-General’s letter to the Council, dated 10 November 2023, recommended ending the UN’s reporting obligations on the FC-G5S, with the further justification of MINUSMA’s departure from Mali by 31 December 2023 and the previous termination of the EU funding that had allowed MINUSMA to provide support to the force. Council members, however, have yet to agree on a letter signalling their approval of the Secretary-General’s recommendation because of differences about whether to replace UN reporting on the FC-G5S with a new reporting mechanism on the Sahel, which continues to face destabilising terrorist violence.

Meanwhile, on 28 January, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger also announced their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The three countries alleged that ECOWAS had moved away from its founding principles and had become a threat to member states and their populations. They further criticised ECOWAS for not supporting their fight against terrorism while imposing what they claimed were “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions”. At an ECOWAS extraordinary summit in Abuja on 24 February, West African leaders eased sanctions on Mali and decided to lift “with immediate effect” sanctions that they had imposed on Niger following the 26 July 2023 coup d’état that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The summit communiqué urged the three countries to reconsider their decision to leave ECOWAS and said the regional community would seek to convince them to remain in the group.

In other developments, the UN announced on 30 December 2023 the completion of MINUSMA’s withdrawal from Mali. As the UN noted, it will continue to conduct a liquidation process of assets and equipment from sites in Gao and Bamako. On 25 January, Mali’s transitional government declared the “immediate termination” of the Mali 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. The announcement followed the retaking by Malian forces—supported by the Wagner Group, the Russian private security company—of the major cities and towns of northern Mali by the end of last year from Tuareg separatist groups during fighting that broke out during MINUSMA’s withdrawal. In place of the peace agreement, authorities announced an Inter-Malian Dialogue for Peace and National Reconciliation.  The main armed groups, however, have remained outside this process.

On 31 March, more than 80 political parties and civil society groups called for holding elections as soon as possible after the date that transitional authorities had committed to restore constitutional order (26 March) had passed. The authorities subsequently suspended all political activities in a 10 April decree and two days later banned media coverage of political parties and activities.

Shortly after last year’s coup d’état in Niger ousting President Bazoum, the country’s new authorities called for the withdrawal of the 1,500 French troops in the country. This was completed by the end of December 2023. On 4 December 2023, the authorities ended two military cooperation agreements with the EU, including the EU Civilian Capacity-Building Mission in Niger. A week earlier, Niger had also revoked a 2015 migration law adopted as part of an agreement with the EU that criminalised the trafficking of migrants in Niger. On 16 March, Niger revoked its military cooperation agreement with the US. The US maintains over 1,000 troops in the country and operates a drone base in Agadez that it built six years ago at a cost of $110 million to monitor terrorist groups. US officials, according to media reports on 19 April, said that they had agreed with Niger to plan an “orderly and responsible withdrawal” of forces to be completed over the coming months.

These decisions by Niger’s military junta, known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), came as Nigerien and Russian officials met in Niamey and Moscow in December 2023 and January, respectively, to strengthen military cooperation. On 10 April, personnel of Russia’s Africa Corps, which is the successor entity to the Wagner Group, deployed to Niger to train its forces and, reportedly, to deliver anti-aircraft systems. Africa Corps previously deployed about 100 troops to Burkina Faso on 24 January, and news reports said it would dispatch an additional 200 personnel to the country.

Meanwhile the security situation in the Sahel remains dire. According to the US-based crisis-monitoring group Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), violence in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger has worsened since the coups d’état in those countries, hitting a new high in 2023 as conflict fatalities increased by 38 percent and civilian deaths rose by 18 percent compared with the previous year. In Burkina Faso, over 8,000 people were killed, double the number in 2022. On 6 March, AES countries announced that they would create a joint counter-terrorism force. At an Africa counter-terrorism summit in Abuja on 22-23 April, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed said that the Sahel accounted for almost half the deaths caused by terrorism globally, and African leaders called for more regional cooperation, including the establishment of a regional standby force. A Human Rights Watch report, published on 25 April, said that Burkina Faso’s military executed at least 223 civilians, including 56 children, on 24 and 25 February from two villages whose residents were accused of cooperating with terrorists.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is whether and how to continue UN reporting on the Sahel to replace the bi-annual reports on the FC-G5S and focus Council attention on the security situation. With the end of MINUSMA and the Mali sanctions regime in 2023—and the potential termination of the reporting cycle on the FC-G5S—the Council would have only the biannual reports of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) as opportunities to consider the situation in the Sahel.

In addition to the threat posed by terrorism in the Sahel region, the ability of other counter-terrorism security mechanisms to counter this—such as the AES, the Accra Initiative, and the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad basin—are key issues.

Addressing structural conflict drivers in the Sahel, such as weak governance, under-development, and climate change, through the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) or other avenues, remains a key issue. Violations against civilians by Sahel countries’ militaries also remain a significant concern.

Council members could send a letter to the Secretary-General taking note of his decision to end his reporting on the FC-G5S and requesting UNOWAS or the Secretariat to provide additional reports on developments in the Sahel and relevant security initiatives and mechanisms. Another option is for members to request ad-hoc briefings when developments in the Sahel warrant Council attention.

Council Dynamics

Council discussion on the Sahel has grown polarised in recent years. As the AES states have rejected traditional security and regional partners (ECOWAS, France, the UN, and the US), Russia has strengthened its ties with military juntas in the Sahel. The US and European members have repeatedly criticised the presence of Russia’s Wagner Group in the region while Russia has become a champion of the views of the AES states.

This has made agreement on Council products difficult. While Western and African Council members, among others, have preferred to maintain a mechanism for Council engagement on the Sahel, Russia has to date objected to different proposals to replace the FC-G5S reporting cycle. Elected member Algeria, which brokered the 2015 Mali Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, also known as the Algiers Accord, was seen as a potential bridge between the UN and Mali amid the tensions last year that led Mali’s transitional authorities to demand MINUSMA’s withdrawal. But Algeria’s relations have soured with Mali, while Niger’s CNSP also rebuffed Algerian efforts to mediate a political transition agreement.

France is the penholder on the FC-G5S. 

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Security Council Letter
10 November 2023S/2023/865 This was a letter from the Secretary-General for the Security Council’s biannual meeting on the G5 Sahel joint force, recommending that the Council terminate the Secretariat’s reporting obligations on the force.
Security Council Press Statements
29 February 2024SC/15607 This press statement condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that resulted in loss of civilian lives over the months in Burkina Faso, including those on a church in Essakane and on a mosque in Natiaboani in Burkina Faso on the same day, 25 February 2024.
5 January 2024SC/15557 This press statement took note of the closure on 31 December 2023 of MINUSMA and paid tribute to its 311 personnel who lost their lives since 2013.
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.

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