Dispatches from the Field: Discussions on Conflict Prevention in Africa
Dakar (8 March) – Members today completed the final leg of their visiting mission to West Africa, in Dakar, Senegal. The Council programme included a visit to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), where members received a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas, joined by UNOWAS’ Deputy Hiroute Sellassie. This was followed by a meeting between members and their countries’ ambassadors based in Dakar. Members concluded their day by meeting Senegal President Macky Sall in his capacity as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
In addressing Council members, Chambas covered a range of issues related to the work of UNOWAS. He highlighted that UNOWAS will continue to play a role in conflict prevention, and updated members on recent good offices activities he had carried out ahead of elections in Niger and Benin. In Niger, Chambas has continued to engage with the authorities ahead of the presidential run-off election. The situation continues to be of concern since Hama Amadou, the candidate challenging incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou, has been detained for several months on charges of child trafficking. Members expressed strong support and satisfaction regarding UNOWAS’ conflict prevention role, describing the regional office as a model with respect to preventive diplomacy.
Another priority area covered in the discussions between Chambas and Council members was the increasing terrorism threat in West Africa and initiatives to address this.
On the Boko Haram threat, Chambas highlighted that the group retained its ability to conduct asymmetrical attacks. He referred to a recent mission that he undertook with his counterpart Abdoulaye Bathily, head of the UN Office for Central Africa, when he was encouraged by the cooperation among countries contributing troops to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). He told members that he believed it would be useful for these countries to hold a new high level consultative meeting to review their joint efforts – a format that had been constructive in the past but was last held about a year ago. Chambas responded to members’ questions on the operational status of the force. He noted that joint and cross border operations had begun, and that contributions to the force had exceeded the AU designated level of 8,500.
Chambas further updated members on the merger between the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel, approved by the Council in January, with the renaming of the office as UNOWAS. Chambas told members that a UN technical assessment mission had concluded a mission this past weekend, and would further develop ideas for how UNOWAS will operate in its new configuration. He said he that there would be a senior officer in the liaison office that UNOWAS is establishing in Nouakchott to coordinate with the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) on the UN’s integrated Sahel strategy (The G5 Sahel was formed two years ago by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, which were the core Sahel countries identified in the UN strategy). It seems that some members, who had concerns about the merger, sought more information about the process.
Council members then held a meeting with Dakar-based ambassadors of China, Egypt, France, Japan, Russia, Spain, the UK, Ukraine, the US and Venezuela. While it seemed that the aim of the meeting had been for Council members to consider what the Council could do to address the terrorism threat in the Sahel, much of the discussion focused on Senegal’s role in the region and its ability so far to remain peaceful in a very dangerous region. One point that emerged was that through its tolerance the country had been able to avoid both ethnic divisions and radicalisation. In this regard, it was a good example of what is needed for peace and stability in the region.
During the discussion, members shared their thoughts on their mission to Mali and Guinea-Bissau. They felt that they had been united in terms of positions taken and messages conveyeda in both places. It seemed that members were somewhat encouraged by the Mali visit and the meetings they had there, while the meetings in Guinea-Bissau had deepened their concern.
A highlight for Council members during their Dakar visit was their meeting with President Macky Sall in his capacity as Chair of ECOWAS. During the meeting, members were particularly interested in Sall’s assessment of a number of issues in the region, including the terrorism threat. Sall shared his views on the situation in Mali, expressing the need to ensure Mali’s territorial integrity. He further expressed concern over the capacity of MINUSMA to carry out its mandate in the face of the current violence. On terrorism, Sall highlighted the transnational nature of the problem and how efforts to target terrorist groups in one country often results in them moving to neighboring states. He also noted the need for West African countries to further develop their capacities to address the threat.
Council members sought President Sall’s views on addressing with the situations in Burundi and Guinea-Bissau. In discussing Guinea-Bissau, Sall described the involvement of ECOWAS, with Guinean President Alpha Conde as ECOWAS’ mediator, while former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo plays an important additional mediation role. According to Sall, Guinea-Bissau’s semi-presidential system is a major reason for the problem, since it allows for multiple sources of power. In this regard, he stressed that the country’s leaders must work on reforming the constitution for the next election. Sall also elaborated on the financial difficulties facing the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB), which is perceived as playing a critical role in deterring military intervention. He highlighted the risk of violence if ECOMIB is forced to withdraw because of these financial problems.
President Sall was in Burundi from 25 to 26 February, as part of an AU high-level delegation also comprising the presidents of Ethiopia, Gabon, Mauritania and South Africa. It seems that the delegation called on Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to engage in dialogue, including with Burundians who have fled the country, and urged the release of prisoners. Sall noted the important role of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni as the facilitator of the Inter-Burundian Dialogue, including in addressing tensions with Rwanda. In addition, he said the delegation had managed to convince Nkurunziza to accept the deployment of 200 military and human rights observers. It seems that Sall said that the AU will soon finalise this deployment and will be asking for the Council’s support. It seems that Sall further expressed a preference that the Council should allow the AU to lead initiatives in addressing the situation.
Before members departed for New York this evening, they held a press conference on their activities during the course of the mission to West Africa.