What's In Blue

Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force: Closed Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (21 November), Security Council members will hold their biannual meeting on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S) in closed consultations. 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.

A Secretary-General’s letter to the Council (S/2023/865), dated 10 November, provides a short update on the FC-G5S, which Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger (G5 Sahel) established in 2017 to fight terrorism and organised crime in the region. In his letter, the Secretary-General recommends ending the UN’s reporting obligations on the FC-G5S. In making the recommendation, he recalls resolution 2391 of 8 December 2017, which authorised the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to provide various forms of logistical and operational support to the FC-G5S and established the reporting cycle on the FC-G5S. However, the EU funding that allowed MINUSMA to provide this support ended on 23 June, and one week later, resolution 2690 of 30 June ended MINUSMA’s mandate and initiated the mission’s withdrawal, with the objective of completing the process by 31 December.

Other developments have undermined the FC-G5S’ effectiveness. The Secretary-General’s letter alludes to these, noting that the FC-G5S is “at a crossroads” and “facing serious challenges”. The force has not conducted operations in over a year, since Mali’s transitional authorities announced Mali’s withdrawal from the G5 Sahel, including the joint force, in May 2022. Its departure prompted the remaining G5 Sahel countries to develop a new concept of operations, which was unveiled in January.

The Alliance of Sahel States (AES)—formed in September as a military cooperation framework between the military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger—further weakens the joint force. The coup d’état in Niger on 26 July, which preceded this alliance, occurred just weeks after the new FC-G5S headquarters, called the État-major de Coordination de la Force Conjointe du G5 Sahel (EMC), opened in Niamey, Niger, to replace the former headquarters located in Bamako. As a result of the coup in Niamey, the EU suspended its technical and material support to the EMC.

Mauritania, which hosts the G5 Sahel secretariat, continues to be the most vocal proponent for maintaining the FC-G5S. As noted in the Secretary-General’s letter, Mauritania’s south-east faces increased security risks from the spillover of fighting in Mali. The G5 Sahel has also continued its regional development cooperation work, with an 8 July ministerial meeting adopting an updated ten-year Strategy for Development and Security (2023-2033) and a five-year Priority Investment Programme (2023-2028). Although the other G5 Sahel members (Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger) have been distracted by internal political and security developments and G5 Sahel cooperation has diminished, these members have interests in the FC-G5S. Burkinabe diplomat Eric Tiaré is the Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel and a Burkinabe general, according to a G5 Sahel press release from August, was expected to become the new FC-G5S force commander.

In her briefing, Pobee is likely to recall resolution 2391 on MINUSMA’s support to the FC-G5S that set out the UN reporting cycle on the force. She may note developments, such as MINUSMA’s planned withdrawal from Mali by the end of the year, which significantly diminish the UN’s presence in the region and cooperation with the FC-G5S. In light of some of these developments, the Secretary-General has recommended ending the reporting obligation on the joint force. Pobee may also note that the FC-G5S remains a commendable regional initiative despite the difficulties it faces.

Tomorrow’s consultations will be an opportunity for members to further discuss the Secretary-General’s recommendation. It seems that most Council members understand the Secretary-General’s concerns and agree that the current reporting requirement is no longer necessary. Some members may however highlight the importance of the Council being kept informed in some capacity about the FC-G5S.

China, as this month’s Council president, decided after consulting with other members to hold tomorrow’s session in closed consultations—as opposed to the customary public briefing format for this bi-annual meeting on the FC-G5S—also to promote a more focused discussion on counter-terrorism cooperation in the Sahel. Council members may exchange views on ways to address the security situation, which has continued to deteriorate. Other existing security mechanisms include the Nouakchott Process to enhance cooperation between Sahelo-Saharan states and the Accra Initiative to combat the expansion of terrorist groups from the Sahel into coastal West African countries. The Secretary-General’s 10 November letter says that the current context provides “an opportunity to reflect on how the international community should renew its approaches to the Sahel region”. It notes that “addressing governance shortfalls remains critical” for bringing stability to the Sahel and that “[m]ilitary and security-centred solutions alone will not suffice”. The Secretary-General adds that the UN will continue to support Sahel countries to collectively advance multidimensional approaches for sustainable development to address the root causes of threats in the region.

Council members are also currently considering how the Council can maintain its engagement on the deteriorating situation in Mali. The Council traditionally held quarterly briefings on Mali, in line with the previous reporting cycle on MINUSMA, but these ended once resolution 2690 terminated the mission’s mandate. In August, parties to the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, which MINUSMA has monitored as part of its mandate, resumed fighting over the MINUSMA bases that the mission was vacating in northern Mali. On 11 November, Mali’s transitional authorities took control of the key town of Kidal for the first time since separatists occupied it in 2012.

The other remaining avenue for Council engagement on the Sahel is the Secretary-General’s biannual reports on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) that the Council discusses in January and July. UNOWAS is based in Dakar and maintains two small liaison offices, in Nouakchott to the G5 Sahel, and in Abuja to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

For more information on the FC-G5S and recent developments in the Sahel, see the brief on the G5 Sahel Joint Force in our November 2023 Monthly Forecast.

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