What's In Blue

Posted Mon 16 Aug 2021

Presidential Statement on West Africa and the Sahel*

Tomorrow (17 August), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel. Ireland and Niger, the co-penholders for West Africa and the Sahel, circulated a first draft of the presidential statement on 22 July as a follow-up to the Council’s 8 July briefing on West Africa and the Sahel and the activities of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Council members negotiated the draft text electronically and it was put under silence on 5 August. The US broke silence procedure twice, on 6 August and 12 August, respectively. An agreement was subsequently reached on 13 August and the draft presidential statement passed a third silence procedure earlier today (16 August).

Since July 2016, the Security Council has usually adopted a presidential statement following the biannual briefings on West Africa and the Sahel. In drafting this latest presidential statement, Ireland and Niger sought to streamline what had become a lengthy text. As part of this process, they created four separate sections on security, regional organisations and mechanisms, political and humanitarian issues.

Addressing security trends in the region, the Council expresses concern in the draft presidential statement about the deteriorating situation in some countries; the growth of terrorism in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, as well as in the wider West African region; and about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The draft text recognises the adverse effects of climate change, ecological changes and natural disasters on the “security and stability of West Africa and the Sahel region”. Russia had opposed this formulation during the negotiations on the 3 February presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, leading the penholders at that time to omit the word “security”. However, during the drafting of the current presidential statement, the inclusion of a reference to security was apparently not contested. A new paragraph also covers the effects of the Libyan conflict, particularly on the Sahel, with the Council expressing grave concern about threats arising from the illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of weapons, as well as the flow of armed groups and mercenaries from Libya.

The Council notes in the draft presidential statement that the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the region has been exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and is characterised by the impact of forced displacement, extreme poverty, social inequalities, violence, and food insecurity, which is particularly severe in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin. The Council also reiterates its call for continued support and enhanced cooperation for a comprehensive response to the pandemic in the region, including facilitating equitable and affordable access to safe and effective vaccines and essential health services.

The negotiations on the draft text appear to have gone relatively smoothly. However, there were some disagreements. The most difficult issue was over language related to the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S). While the draft presidential statement avoided the controversial issue of a UN support office to assist the FC-G5S—the creation of which the UK and the US oppose—the proposed statement sought to highlight more generally the issue of bilateral and international support for the FC-G5S. It seems that the US preferred to keep the language on the FC-G5S more in line with previously agreed Council language.

A compromise on this issue was reached between the co-penholders and the US after the US broke silence for a second time. The final draft text follows more closely the language of the Council’s February presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel by stressing the importance of continued bilateral and international support for the FC-G5S to achieve full and lasting operationalisation and autonomy. The agreed formulation replaced a reference to “enhanced” bilateral and international support with “continued”, while removing proposed language about this support being commensurate with the needs of FC-G5S operations and allowing the Executive Secretariat of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) to support the joint force.

Some Council members pushed for stronger language on thematic issues such as international humanitarian law and youth, peace and security, as some of the details around such issues were apparently lost in the streamlining effort. Not all of their proposals were incorporated. Before placing the text under a second silence procedure, the co-penholders removed a proposed sentence on the importance of civil society and freedom of expression at the request of two Council members.

Among other elements, the draft presidential statement also references the UN feasibility assessment for a joint civilian project to address intercommunal violence and the Secretary-General’s relevant recommendations, which are set out in an annex to his 28 June report on West Africa and the Sahel. In the draft presidential statement, the Council encourages the Secretary-General to leverage existing UN initiatives and mechanisms for integrated and cross-pillar actions with a view to initiate projects to address intercommunal violence, within existing resources, in close coordination with the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the G5 Sahel, and calls for support from bilateral and development partners, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The Security Council further encourages the Secretary-General to start implementing the recommendations in the Liptako-Gourma area—the tri-border region between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger—which the statement notes is severely affected by intercommunal violence.

*Post-script: On 17 August, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/16), which addressed security trends in the region and expressed concern about deteriorating situations in some countries.