What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Jan 2016

UNOWA: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (14 January), the Council will have its semi-annual meeting on the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA). The Special Representative for West Africa and head of UNOWA, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, will brief on the Secretary-General’s 22 December report on UNOWA’s activities and developments in the region (S/2015/1012). The briefing will be followed by consultations. Senegal, the lead on West Africa in the Council, is working on a draft press statement expected to be issued following the meeting.

Chambas is likely to cover some of the upcoming elections in West Africa. He is expected to explain how heightened political tensions in Niger, which he visited earlier this month, might affect presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 21 February. President Mahamadou Issoufou announced on 17 December that the government had foiled a planned coup, arresting four high-ranking military officers. In November, a leading opposition figure and former Speaker of the National Assembly, Hama Amadou, who planned to contest the presidential elections, was arrested upon returning to Niger. Amadou had left the country after what he claims were politically motivated charges of child-trafficking. Council members, who value the good-offices role of Chambas, may seek more information on the situation in Niger, and encourage UNOWA to continue monitoring developments ahead of the elections.

Members are aware that Niger’s elections could also be affected by possible Boko Haram-related violence in the southeast region of Diffa, which is under a state of emergency, and hosts more than 200,000 internally displaced persons, returnees and refugees from Nigeria. In his briefing, Chambas is expected to provide an update on the continuing threat posed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and around the Lake Chad Basin region, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict. Members are likely to express their concern over terrorism and violent extremism in the region, particularly in the Sahel, and seek more information on how UNOWA is supporting or collaborating with other regional initiatives to address this problem. Despite the significant threat that Boko Haram continues to pose, members may recognise the progress achieved over the past year in forming the Multi-National Joint Task Force and gains made in combating the group.

The latest Secretary-General’s report outlines Chambas’ good offices activities, and UNOWA’s support to Burkina Faso and Guinea ahead of elections this past autumn during a politically tense time. Members may be interested in whether, and how, UNOWA will remain engaged with Burkina Faso, a situation that they closely followed over the past year, as it carried out its political transition. They may also ask about UNOWA’s engagement in Guinea, where long-delayed local elections need to be held within the first six months of 2016.

Chambas may also highlight transnational and cross-border threats to the region which were covered in the report. Along with terrorism and violent extremism, these include drug-trafficking and piracy. The report noted marked progress in implementing the West Africa Coast Initiative to combat organised crime, but slower progress in implementing the counter-piracy strategy for the Gulf of Guinea, though cases of maritime piracy have declined. Members may praise the success, noted in the report, in combatting the Ebola epidemic over the past year in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Senegal has just replaced Nigeria as the lead on West Africa. It is the host country for UNOWA, and its president, Macky Sall, is the current chairman of ECOWAS. While it is early in the year, this meeting may provide an opportunity for Senegal to show leadership on West African issues in accordance with its priorities in the region. It will be interesting to see if the new composition of the Council leads to a change in the Council’s engagement on the Boko Haram threat. In 2014 and 2015, Chad had pushed for more focus on the Boko Haram issue, but Nigeria was often reluctant to have the conflict discussed.