Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Ouagadougou
Council members arrived in Ouagadoudou yesterday morning (24 March) for the final day of their visiting mission, with the objective of assessing the situation in Burkina Faso and discussing the work of the G5 Sahel, whose rotating presidency Burkina Faso recently assumed. The meetings had a clear preventative angle, and the terms of reference of the visiting mission reflected the Council’s “interest in contributing to prevent a further destabilization of the security situation in parts of the country which are subject to cross-border challenges and have a bearing on peace and security in the Sahel”.
Upon landing, Council members met with the Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, and the UN Resident Coordinator, Metsi Makhetha, along with representatives of the UN Country Team. They shared their assessment of the vulnerability of the current situation in Burkina Faso. Since the last Council visit to Burkina Faso, in October 2017, the security situation has deteriorated, which has significantly impeded the implementation of development programmes to address long-standing limited access to basic social services in peripheral zones, where populations live precariously. In addition to its cost in human lives, insecurity has led to waves of displacement and school closures, and has strained social cohesion. Growing desertification has led to flaring tensions over land use, particularly between farmers and herders. In order to address these mounting challenges, early this year Secretary-General António Guterres tasked Chambas to lead a sustaining peace review to assess how the UN Country Team is organized to address the challenges facing Burkina Faso, define priorities and lay out how the UN can better leverage its capacity to assist the country.
A meeting with members of civil society reinforced the analysis presented by representatives of the UN system. In particular, civil society participants raised awareness of the human rights violations committed by terrorist groups, by defense and security forces and by self-defence militias that carry out retaliatory attacks against other ethnic communities. They urged Council members to emphasise the need to conduct investigations and promote accountability for these human rights violations, particularly those allegedly committed by defence and security forces, given the risk of alienating the populations that they are supposed to serve.
In connection with this issue, other civil society representatives asked Council members to focus not only on security-related responses but to maintain a more holistic approach to prevent instability, in a context where considerable resources are channeled to the defence and security forces, despite the absence of basic social services for the population. Among other structural challenges mentioned were the underrepresentation of women in public life, the persistence of sexual violence in society, corruption, and a lack of confidence in state institutions more generally. Civil society representatives emphasised the urgency of rebuilding trust between citizens and the state.
In meetings with President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and several members of his Cabinet, Council members expressed their solidarity with the country, conveyed the willingness of the UN to support the government’s priorities, and encouraged the government to pursue reforms. Although Burkina Faso allocates 22 percent of its budget to defence and security, government representatives shared their plans for the development of vulnerable areas of the country and the reopening of schools. Council members encouraged the government to pursue these efforts and to translate their plans into action. Government representatives also expressed their commitment to upholding human rights and promoting accountability, although they highlighted the independence of the judicial system in carrying out investigations into alleged human rights violations committed by defence and security forces.
Government representatives briefed Council members on increased cooperation on security-related matters with coastal countries in West Africa, in response to the extended reach of terrorist groups. Recently, high-level representatives of Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire met in Ghana as part of the “Accra initiative” in order to share assessments and harmonise efforts to counter terrorist threats.
Regarding the G5 Sahel, Council members discussed a wide range of political, security, and development issues with President Kaboré and members of his Cabinet, as well as the Permanent Secretary of the G5 Sahel, Maman Sidikou, and the Force Commander of the G5 Sahel joint force (FC-G5S), General Hanana Ould Sidi. This was broader than the discussion in Mali on the FC-G5S, which centered mostly on security-related matters. In particular, Council members were briefed on the main priorities of the one-year Burkinabe presidency which started in February: the operationalisation of the FC-G5S, including its police component; the implementation of the Priority Investment Programme agreed to at a December 2018 summit in Nouakchott; the reinforcement of the capacity of the Permanent Secretariat of the G5 Sahel; and the empowerment of women and children.
Council members heard about the limitations of the FC-G5S, including the inadequacy of current support modalities, equipment shortages, limited basic infrastructure and deficient training. President Kaboré reiterated the need to revisit the technical agreement by which MINUSMA provides support to the G5 Sahel, and which is based on resolution 2391 of December 2017. (For more background on this issue, read yesterday’s What’s in Blue story, Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Bamako.)
Participants also discussed the relationship between the FC-G5S and MINUSMA, particularly how a fully operational FC-G5S, with sustainable funding, could better complement MINUSMA, which has a mandate limited to the territory of Mali. Government representatives made the argument that the crisis in Burkina Faso, if insufficiently addressed, could significantly damage the investments that the international community has made in neighbouring Mali. They noted that Burkina Faso is currently the highest contributor to MINUSMA, with almost 1,700 troops deployed to the mission; their repatriation may have to be foreseen to address the asymmetry in international involvement on the Burkinabe side of the porous border.
Looking ahead, the co-leads (Côte d’Ivoire, France and Germany) of the visiting mission are expected to brief the Council on the mission on Wednesday (27 March) and hold a ministerial meeting in the Council on Friday (29 March) that will be chaired by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and feature a briefing by Secretary-General António Guterres and the participation of Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga. Separately, there will also be a high-level meeting on the G5 Sahel on Thursday (28 March) at UN headquarters in New York.