What's In Blue

Posted Mon 9 Jan 2023

West Africa and the Sahel: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (10 January), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on West Africa and the Sahel. The expected briefers are the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel and Officer-in-Charge of the UN Office of West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Giovanie Biha, and the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Omar Alieu Touray.

Ghana and Switzerland, the penholders on West Africa and the Sahel, are expected to circulate later this week a draft presidential statement on the region. The Secretary-General may also submit to Council members during the week his proposal for UNOWAS’ mandate renewal ahead of its 31 January expiry. The mandate of the political mission is customarily renewed for three years through an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council.

Biha is expected to outline the key trends in the region, as described in the Secretary-General’s latest report on West Africa and the Sahel, dated 3 January. The security situation has deteriorated further, especially in large parts of the Sahel. The terrorist threat is expanding southward from the Sahel towards coastal West African countries, notably Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, which have increasingly seen attacks. Council members are likely to express serious concern about these trends and welcome regional mechanisms to combat terrorist groups, that include the Accra Initiative—which was established in 2017 in response to the spread of terrorism and transnational organised crime towards coastal countries—as well as the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S), and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin. In this regard, Biha may mention the decision in November 2022 by the Accra Initiative’s member states (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Togo) to establish a 10,000-strong entity also called the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF/AI).

Seven countries in West Africa and the Sahel are expected to hold presidential and/or legislative elections in 2023, which Biha is likely to discuss while speaking about political and governance trends. Benin held legislative elections on 8 January, and preliminary results are expected on 11 January; Guinea-Bissau will hold its delayed legislative elections in June; in the same month, Sierra Leone plans a general election. General elections will also take place in Liberia in October, while Mauritania is expected to hold legislative, regional, and municipal elections, and Togo will hold regional elections, both during this year.

Nigeria, the region’s largest country, will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 25 February, and gubernatorial and state assembly elections on 11 March. These elections will take place against the backdrop of Nigeria’s multidimensional security crisis, which includes the conflict with terrorist group Boko Haram and its splinter groups, as well as militia and banditry violence that has concentrated in Nigeria’s northwest. Biha may welcome the peace accord that Nigeria’s presidential candidates signed on 29 September 2022, committing to conduct peaceful electoral campaigns.

Touray is likely to discuss the challenges that ECOWAS faces and the regional body’s cooperation with UNOWAS. He may focus his remarks on ECOWAS’ efforts to consolidate democracy in the subregion by supporting peaceful elections and leading international mediation to restore constitutional order in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali. ECOWAS also maintains forces in The Gambia (since 2017) and Guinea-Bissau, where a stabilisation force was re-deployed following a failed coup d’état in February 2022.

On 30 September 2022, Burkina Faso experienced its second coup d’état in nine months. A new transition charter, adopted on 14 October, confirmed the new Burkinabe authorities’ commitment to uphold the timeline for restoring a democratically elected government by July 2024, as the former transitional leaders had agreed with ECOWAS. ECOWAS heads of state and government also endorsed during a 4 December 2022 summit the preliminary agreement reached by its mediator to Guinea, former president of Benin Thomas Boni Yayi, for a 24-month extension of the country’s transition, which West African leaders said should commence immediately. At the summit, the leaders requested the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff to develop plans for the urgent operationalisation of the ECOWAS Standby Force, including to conduct a special counter-terrorism operation in the region, and decided to establish a “regional force, whose mandate will include the restoration of constitutional order where [it is] threatened in the subregion”, decisions which Touray might mention.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to call for peaceful conduct before, during, and after elections in the region. They are also expected to appeal to Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali to respect their transition roadmaps. Members might raise specific country situations, welcoming developments such as the peace accord in Nigeria. On Burkina Faso, they may raise concerns about the authorities having declared UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Barbara Manzi persona non grata on 23 December 2022. The move followed Manzi’s decision to withdraw non-essential UN staff from the capital, Ouagadougou. In a 24 December 2022 statement on the matter, Secretary-General António Guterres asserted that “[t]he doctrine of persona non grata does not apply to United Nations officials”, adding that under Article 100 and 101 of the UN Charter, UN member states undertake to respect UN staff members’ “exclusively international character”. Earlier in December, Burkinabe authorities rejected claims, made by Ghanian President Nana Akufo-Addo on the sidelines of the US-Africa Summit, that Burkina Faso had agreed to partner with Russian private security company the Wagner Group, calling them “grave and inaccurate”. Ghana’s national security adviser met with Burkina Faso’s transition president, Ibrahim Traoré, on 21 December to mend the diplomatic rift caused by the claims.

Regarding Mali, members may welcome the 6 January pardon by Mali’s transition president, Assimi Goïta, of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested in July 2022 on charges of engaging in mercenary activities. According to Côte d’Ivoire, the soldiers had deployed to Mali as support personnel to the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali. ECOWAS had been insisting on their release.

During tomorrow’s session, Council members are likely to raise concerns about the humanitarian situation in the region. The Secretary-General’s report observes that about 11,100 schools are closed in the Sahel due to ongoing violence, an increase from the 6,800 schools that were reported as closed in his 29 June 2022 report. In the central Sahel, 285 health centres are also closed due to insecurity—a 40 percent increase from the last reporting period—and over 18.6 million people in the Sahel are experiencing severe food insecurity, an increase of 5.6 million, because of the impact of the conflict in Ukraine, ongoing violence, and the growing effects of climate change, according to the Secretary-General’s latest report. In this regard, Council members may call for increased donor assistance. Humanitarian response plans for Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria secured only 46 percent of their funding requirements as at 19 December 2022. Members are further likely to underscore the importance of addressing the root causes of the region’s insecurity, including issues relating to governance, underdevelopment, and climate change. It seems that some members may highlight concerns about the lack of significant progress on women’s representation in decision-making bodies, which the Secretary-General’s report notes.

Council members are likely to express hope that the Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development, led by former Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, will make realistic recommendations, and will include ideas to harmonise the region’s multiple security mechanisms and improve efforts to address structural conflict drivers. The panel was formally launched in September 2022 to conduct a joint assessment on behalf of the UN, the AU, ECOWAS, and the Group of Five for the Sahel (which currently comprises Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger). It is expected to share preliminary findings during the AU’s annual summit in February 2023.

In addition to expressing support for renewing UNOWAS’ mandate, members may note that they look forward to the appointment of the new Special Representative of the mission. UNOWAS has been without a special representative since its former head, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, was named foreign minister in Chad’s new transitional government announced on 14 October 2022.

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