What's In Blue

Posted Tue 6 Aug 2019

West Africa and the Sahel Presidential Statement

Tomorrow (7 August), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel. Côte d’Ivoire and Belgium, as the penholders, circulated the draft statement following the 24 July briefing by the Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohammed Ibn Chambas. A read-through of the text was held on 26 July, followed by one round of negotiations on 29 July. After one member’s request for an extension of the silence period, the draft statement passed silence last Friday (2 August).

The expected adoption of the Council statement comes ahead of a forthcoming strategic review of UNOWAS, and with its three-year mandate, based on an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General (S/2016/1128) and the Council (S/2016/1129), set to expire on 31 December. UNOWAS was created in its current configuration through the merger of the UN Office of West Africa (UNOWA) and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sahel (OSES) in January 2016 and has progressively been given new responsibilities. The draft statement notes the increased demands on UNOWAS, such as support to post-conflict countries when UN missions withdraw, and underlines the need for more support and adequate resources to the office.

The draft statement welcomes the planned strategic review. It stresses the need for its independent nature, and invites the Secretary-General to present to the Council its recommendations, and his observations thereon, including on potential areas of improvement or new or refocused priorities such as counter- terrorism, the effects of climate change on security, and intercommunal violence as part of a broad prevention and sustaining peace agenda. It asks that he present these by 15 November, to inform the Council’s discussions on the mission’s mandate renewal.

Negotiations appear to have been relatively smooth, and much of the draft statement is based on previous presidential statements on West Africa and the Sahel. It seems that Russia and China had concerns over mentioning country situations, especially those not on the Council’s agenda. While the penholders, who had the support of the other African members on the draft statement, apparently countered that this product addressed UNOWAS and its preventive activities, they agreed to remove some of the references to Guinea and Niger. Otherwise, much of the discussion focused on streamlining the draft, at the behest of the UK, to reduce repetition, resulting in some shortening of the draft statement.

On the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel, the draft statement welcomes the efforts of the Secretary-General to adapt UN support in Burkina Faso and Niger. In Burkina Faso the UN is reinforcing the UN country team to better address immediate needs and structural causes of insecurity due to spreading violence that has displaced around 220,000 people.  It has apparently been planning a similar approach in Niger.

Much of Chambas’ briefing in July highlighted progress and challenges in the region’s democratic consolidation. The draft welcomes the generally peaceful conduct of presidential elections earlier this year in Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania, as well as legislative elections in Guinea-Bissau. A reference to Benin was removed at the request of one member who felt that its legislative elections in April did not qualify as a success, with new electoral rules preventing opposition parties from participating and the repression of protests by security forces. Regarding upcoming presidential elections, the draft statement emphasises the need for national stakeholders in Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Togo to work together to hold genuinely free and fair, credible, timely and peaceful elections, take all appropriate steps to prevent violence, ensure a level playing field for all candidates, and to work towards the meaningful participation of women.

On cross-cutting issues, the draft presidential statement expresses deep concern over security threats from terrorism, maritime piracy, conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, and transnational organised crime, including trafficking in persons, arms and drugs and illegal exploitation of natural resources. It welcomes regional efforts to address the impact of terrorism and transnational organised crime, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel.

The Council’s last presidential statement on UNOWAS in August 2018 was the first time it referred to pastoral-farmer conflicts in the region. This year’s draft statement welcomes a recent UNOWAS study on the issue, and again encourages the office to support the Economic Community of West African States in addressing this problem. The draft also expresses concern over intercommunal conflict in central Mali and Burkina Faso.

The draft statement emphasises the importance of a cross-pillar approach to development, humanitarian, human rights, and peace and security matters to address root causes of crises—a point that the Council often emphasises in its consideration of the region. In this regard, it calls upon member states and other actors, including the UN Development Programme, to align their activities under the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and join efforts to mobilise the necessary resources. A paragraph on the adverse effects of climate change, an issue over which the US and Russia sometimes raise concerns, appears not to have been contested.

Among other points, the draft statement also welcomes the ongoing cooperation between UNOWAS and UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) in addressing cross-regional threats to peace and security. It repeats a Council request that the Secretary-General include information in UNOWAS’ regular reporting on the implementation of resolution 2349 adopted in March 2017 on the Lake Chad basin crisis due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

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