What's In Blue

Posted Wed 6 Jul 2022

West Africa and the Sahel: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (7 July), the Security Council will hold a briefing and consultations on West Africa and the Sahel. Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mahamat Saleh Annadif will brief. The Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), Ambassador Rabab Fatima (Bangladesh), and a representative from the People’s Coalition for the Sahel, an alliance of Sahel-based civil society organisations, are also expected to brief. Ghana and Ireland, the co-penholders on UNOWAS, plan to propose a presidential statement in connection with this meeting.

Annadif will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on West Africa and the Sahel, which covers the period from 22 December 2021 to 22 June. The region has seen a resurgence of coups d’état, including military takeovers in Chad, Guinea and Mali in 2020 and 2021. Amid worsening jihadist violence, Burkina Faso became the latest country to experience a coup d’état, when soldiers overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré on 24 January. Days later, on 1 February, an attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau was thwarted after a gun battle at the presidential palace, which reportedly led to the deaths of 11 people and prompted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to deploy a stabilisation mission to the country.

At tomorrow’s session, Annadif is likely to report on the decisions that ECOWAS—which leads international efforts to restore constitutional order in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali—took this past weekend at a summit of West African leaders in Accra, Ghana. ECOWAS decided to lift the economic and financial sanctions on Mali that the regional bloc imposed on 9 January, while maintaining the asset freeze and travel ban sanctions established in November 2021 on individuals from the transitional authorities. In lifting the broader economic sanctions, which included the closure of ECOWAS land borders with Mali, ECOWAS cited the Malian authorities’ submission of a new timetable to hold elections to restore civilian rule by 29 March 2024. ECOWAS rejected a two-year extension in March, but the talks on a shorter timetable stalled. Meanwhile, in retaliation for the sanctions, Mali has been blocking since February the rotation of 2,400 peacekeepers from several West African contingents in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

At this weekend’s summit, ECOWAS also accepted the new proposed timetable by Burkina Faso for a 24-month transition timetable, starting on 1 July. The regional bloc continues to reject Guinea’s proposed three-year timetable, however, and has threatened additional sanctions if an acceptable calendar is not elaborated by 1 August.

In a statement yesterday (5 July), UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed ECOWAS’ decisions on Mali, saying that he was encouraged by the authorities’ recent steps to conclude the transition by March 2024 “at the latest”. Council members may similarly express support for ECOWAS at tomorrow’s meeting. Members could recall, as ECOWAS emphasised in its communiqué issued following this weekend’s summit, that no member of Mali’s transitional authorities can run in the upcoming elections.

Annadif is expected to brief on security developments in the region. The central Sahel remains the epicentre of violence by groups affiliated with Al-Qaida and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. In the past few weeks alone, attacks by terrorist groups killed at least 89 people in the Burkinabe town of Seytenga on 11 June, and at least 132 civilians in three villages of the Bankass district of Mali on 18 and19 June. As described in the Secretary-General’s report, there is a growing risk of terrorism and violent extremism spreading to coastal West African states, as demonstrated in recent months by attacks in northern Benin and Togo. Nigeria also faces continued violence by Boko Haram and splinter groups in the Lake Chad basin, while armed banditry in Nigeria’s north-west and north-central states resulted in the deaths of 1,600 people between January and May.

Council members might stress the importance of regional cooperation to respond to the crises. In May, amid tensions with some of its neighbours, Mali withdrew from the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), including the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S).  Along with the FC-G5S, members could highlight the Accra Initiative—which was launched in 2017 by Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo to prevent the spillover of terrorism from the Sahel—and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin to combat Boko Haram. Some members may reiterate the need to address the region’s structural causes of instability, such as underdevelopment, poor governance, and climate change, including through the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS), the Regional Strategy for the Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience of Boko Haram-affected areas of the Lake Chad Basin, and the Liptako-Gourma Stabilization Facility, which was developed for the tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Another prominent issue at tomorrow’s meeting may be the region’s rising humanitarian needs and food insecurity. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the existing food crisis, caused in part by climate shocks that are affecting farming, trade and transhumance, has been compounded by the effects of the war in Ukraine on global supplies of wheat, barley and fertiliser. Members may call on donors to contribute to humanitarian response plans for Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, which require approximately $2.9 billion. As at 22 June, these plans were less than 20 percent funded.

The chair of the PBC, Ambassador Rabab Fatima (Bangladesh), is expected to highlight the importance of strengthening democratic institutions in countries undergoing political transitions. Fatima is also likely to urge improved cooperation in the Sahel among UN country teams and between UN country teams and UNOWAS to address the socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges that contribute to insecurity. She may further speak about the situation in countries with which the PBC engages, such as Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The civil society speaker, who will brief via videoconference from Niger, is expected to call for comprehensive approaches to protect civilians and combat terrorism. This includes accountability for human rights abuses committed by security forces, better social services and greater gender parity in political leadership.

Members may reference the 31 May adoption of resolution 2634, the Council’s first resolution in ten years on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea. They may recognise progress this year in improving maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, there were no reported kidnappings of crews during the first quarter of 2022, compared to about 40 in the same period in 2021.

The Council usually adopts a presidential statement following its meetings on UNOWAS, which addresses key issues covered at these biannual sessions. However, following its January meeting on UNOWAS, negotiations on the draft presidential statement stalled because of disagreement over language related to climate change, and members were unable to agree on the text. Council discussion on the region has also become increasingly polarised this year, particularly over Mali, since the deployment of the Russian private security company, the Wagner Group, to the country. For the first time since MINUSMA’s creation in 2013, the Council renewed the mission’s mandate last week without unanimity, as China and Russia abstained on the vote on resolution 2640.

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