Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (16 November), the Security Council will convene for a briefing, followed by consultations, on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S) that was established in 2017 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger (G5 Sahel). Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee is expected to brief. G5 Sahel Executive Secretary Eric Tiaré and a civil society representative are also expected to brief.
Pobee will present the Secretary-General’s biannual report on the FC-G5S, issued on 9 November. The report reiterates that the “growing terrorist onslaught in the Sahel” is a serious concern for the subregion, the African continent and beyond. According to the report, Mali’s decision in May to withdraw from the G5 Sahel, including the FC-G5S, because of disagreements over the accession of Mali’s transitional authorities to the group’s rotating presidency “significantly undermines” the security initiative formed to combat terrorist groups in the region. Additionally, the force’s “operational tempo” has decreased in recent months because of the reorganisation of France’s counter-terrorism forces in the region and Burkina Faso’s 30 September coup d’état.
At tomorrow’s session, Council members are likely to be interested in learning more about the possibility of Mali returning to the force and the future of the G5 Sahel alliance. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the FC-G5S has carried out several major operations since Mali’s withdrawal, and diplomatic efforts aimed at encouraging Mali’s return to the G5 Sahel have continued. Meanwhile, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and Tiaré have sought to promote solidarity among G5 Sahel member states and enhance internal cohesion within the organisation.
Pobee and Tiaré may report that G5 Sahel members recently agreed to elaborate a new concept of operations of the FC-G5S and called for strengthening bilateral military actions during a meeting of their army chiefs of staff and ministers of defence and security from 21 to 22 September in Niamey, Niger. Pobee and Tiaré are also likely to mention that G5 Sahel members are planning a heads of state summit to be held before the end of the year in Nouakchott, Mauritania; the summit may be an opportunity to take further decisions on the future of the FC-G5S and cooperation among the Sahelian countries.
Some members may encourage the G5 Sahel countries to resolve political differences that could bring Mali back to the group, but also to adhere to political transition timelines for restoring elected governments. Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali have all seen their militaries take power following coups d’état in Mali and Burkina Faso, and last year’s death of Chad’s long-serving president Idriss Déby in fighting against rebels. Last month, the National Dialogue Conference in Chad decided to extend Chad’s transition by two years and allow transition President Mahamat Idriss Déby, the son of the former president, to stand as a candidate in the future elections. This triggered protests and clashes with police in which 60 people died on 20 October.
Council members are likely to note the importance of leveraging other regional initiatives to combat terrorism amid the setback to the FC-G5S and the expanding threat of Sahel-based terrorist groups that increasingly threaten northern parts of coastal West African states. These initiatives include the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram-affiliated groups in the Lake Chad basin, the Accra Initiative to promote security cooperation between Burkina Faso and coastal West African countries and the Nouakchott Process to foster intelligence-sharing in the Sahelo-Sahara region. Some members may further recall the issue of predictable funding, which has been a longstanding challenge for the FC-G5S.
The session is likely to see briefers and Council members underscore the importance of tackling the Sahel’s structural conflict drivers, such as underdevelopment and weak governance. Various strategies have been developed since 2013 in this regard, including the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Plan. The Secretary-General’s report recalls that “the most enduring, long-term solutions” to the Sahel’s insecurity involve the establishment of good governance, respect for human rights and inclusive sustainable development. Some members may acknowledge the role of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) in mobilising support and promoting cooperation among regional organisations, international financial organisations and the broader UN system as part of these efforts.
The Joint Strategic Assessment on the Sahel that the UN, the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the G5 Sahel officially launched in September during the General Assembly’s high-level week is also likely to be highlighted at tomorrow’s meeting. An Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development in the Sahel, led by former President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou, is reviewing the peace and security challenges facing the Sahel and is expected to make recommendations on ways to improve joint and coordinated regional and international responses. The panel’s findings will be presented during the 36th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in February 2023.
Council members are expected to welcome and look forward to the assessment, which appears especially timely considering the evolving security situation and expansion of terrorist groups. In addition to Mali’s withdrawal from the G5 Sahel and the region’s series of coups d’état, France has been reconfiguring its counter-terrorism forces in the region. It completed the withdrawal of its forces from Mali in August, a decision France took earlier this year after Mali’s transitional authorities began partnering with the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company, in counter-terrorism operations. On 7 November, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France was officially ending Operation Barkhane, its Sahel-wide regional counter-terrorism operation established in 2014. French forces will remain in the Sahel, according to Macron, who said that France will, over the coming months, unveil a new strategy that it is still developing with African countries.
This year has also seen a deteriorating relationship between Mali and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), raising concerns about MINUSMA’s ability to implement its mandate. The UK announced yesterday (14 November) that it will end its participation in MINUSMA, while Côte d’Ivoire recently informed the UN, according to news reports today, that it is also withdrawing from the peacekeeping operation. An internal UN review of MINUSMA is expected to make recommendations on the future of the mission in a report to be submitted to the Council by 13 January 2023. Additionally, the worsening security situation and the impact of increased food prices this year, as well as the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have driven humanitarian needs in the Sahel. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may call on donors to contribute to the UN’s humanitarian response plans for Sahelian countries. According to OCHA, response plans for Burkina Faso and Mali have received 34 percent of their required funding for 2022.
For more information, see Security Council Report’s brief on the G5 Sahel Joint Force in its November Monthly Forecast.