What's In Blue

Posted Wed 7 Jul 2021

Briefing on West Africa and the Sahel

Tomorrow (8 July), the Security Council will hold its biannual briefing on West Africa and the Sahel. Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mahamat Saleh Annadif is expected to brief the Council. He will provide his first briefing since assuming this role on 26 April; prior to his appointment to UNOWAS, Annadif headed the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). A civil society representative from Côte d’Ivoire, Chantal Ayemou Kouadio, president of Réseau Ivoirien pour la Défense des Droits de l’Enfant et de la Femme (RIDDEF), will also brief. The co-penholders on UNOWAS, Ireland and Niger, are expected to propose a draft presidential statement, which the Council may adopt later in the month.

Annadif will present the Secretary-General’s 28 June report (S/2021/612) on West Africa and the Sahel. The report highlights the “early warning signs of a democratic retreat across parts of the region”, noting widespread perceptions of the misuse of state institutions, reform processes and COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opponents from running for office and to constrain opposition parties, media and civil society. During his briefing, however, Annadif is expected to observe some positive developments, including national reconciliation initiatives in the region and Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power between civilian leaders following the February election of ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum.

Annadif is likely to highlight worrying security trends at tomorrow’s meeting. High levels of violence afflict the region, notably in parts of the central Sahel and Nigeria, according to the Secretary-General’s report. Terrorist groups have killed hundreds of civilians in the first half of 2021 in Burkina Faso and Niger. A 5 June attack in the village of Solhan in Burkina Faso killed at least 138 civilians. Other attacks claimed the lives of at least 100 people and 137 people in Niger on 2 January and 21 March, respectively. In addition, rival terrorist groups have been fighting in the tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, competing over territory and resources. According to the report, Nigeria faces “[m]ultidimensional security challenges” from terrorist group Boko Haram, widespread banditry and kidnapping, and more recently, the targeting of security personnel and installations by unidentified shooters in the previously calm south-eastern region. Annadif may also note the threat of terrorist groups to coastal West African countries and of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, the latter of which may have negative socioeconomic effects in the region.

Ayemou is the president of RIDDEF, an organisation that works on issues affecting social cohesion and the rights of women and children in Côte d’Ivoire. Her briefing is expected to focus on initiatives to promote women’s empowerment and the rights of women and children in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as more broadly across the sub-region. Ayemou may further address some of the destabilising effects of climate change in the region. The UN has often reported that climate change is a contributing factor in, among others, the disruption of livelihoods and intercommunal conflict in the region.

Council members have long valued UNOWAS’ good offices and conflict prevention role. At tomorrow’s meeting, some members may encourage dialogue to resolve political challenges flagged in the Secretary-General’s report and might refer to different country situations. During meetings on West Africa and the Sahel, members often highlight the importance of holistic responses, which go beyond security initiatives to tackle the region’s peacebuilding and development needs, including through the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Priority Investment Programme and the Regional Stabilization Strategy for the Lake Chad Basin.

Council members are likely to underscore concerns about the volatile security situation. Some members may note that the deterioration in security conditions, despite the many initiatives in the region, requires member states to evaluate and harmonise the various national, regional and international stabilisation efforts. In this regard, some members may refer to ongoing wider Council discussions on facilitating more predictable and sustainable funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S).

Other issues likely to be raised during tomorrow’s meeting include the worsening humanitarian conditions described in the Secretary-General’s report. Almost 29 million people in the Sahel require assistance and protection, an increase of five million since the start of 2020. This includes “alarmingly high” levels of food insecurity. In northeast Nigeria, which is the centre of the Boko Haram insurgency, an expected 4.3 million people will face acute hunger during the upcoming lean season, according to the report. While welcoming the start of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in the subregion, the briefers and several Council members might reiterate concern about the socioeconomic fallout of the pandemic on West Africa and the Sahel and repeat calls for equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Members may also refer to the UN’s feasibility assessment for a joint civilian project between UNOWAS and relevant regional organisations to address intercommunal violence in the region. This is included as an annex to the Secretary-General’s report, in accordance with the Security Council’s request in its 3 February presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/3) on West Africa and the Sahel. Annadif is likely to brief on the assessment’s initial recommendations, which propose increasing cooperation between the UN, local, national and regional stakeholders to scale up existing initiatives to prevent and resolve intercommunal violence.

For more on UNOWAS, see this month’s brief in Security Council Report’s July Forecast.