What's In Blue

Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force: Closed Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (15 May), Security Council members will hold closed consultations on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S). Alexandre Zouev, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Department of Peace Operations (DPO), is expected to brief. Following the meeting, France (the penholder on the FC-G5S), is expected to circulate to Council members a draft letter responding to a recommendation by the Secretary-General to end the UN Secretariat’s reporting obligation on the FC-G5S. Resolution 2391 of 8 December 2017, which authorised the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to provide logistical and operational support to the force, mandated bi-annual Secretary-General’s reports on the FC-G5S.

On 2 December 2023, Burkina Faso and Niger announced their withdrawal from the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), including the FC-G5S. Mali had previously withdrawn altogether from the G5 Sahel, which was established in 2014; in 2017, the bloc created the FC-G5S to combat terrorist groups and organised crime. In September 2023, the three countries, all governed by military juntas, formed the Alliance of Sahel States, or L’Alliance des États du Sahel (AES), as an organisation of collective defence and mutual assistance against terrorism and organised crime, as well as against armed rebellion or other threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity. On 6 December 2023, Chad and Mauritania, the remaining G5 Sahel countries, said that they were prepared to dissolve the G5 Sahel. According to its founding convention, the G5 Sahel can be terminated at the request of at least three of its member states.

Already ahead of Council members’ last consultations on the FC-G5S in November 2023, the Secretary-General recommended in a 10 November 2023 letter to end the UN’s reporting obligations on the FC-G5S, given that MINUSMA was leaving Mali by the end of 2023 and since the EU funding allowing MINUSMA to provide support to the force had expired. At the time, Council members could not agree on a letter signalling their approval of the Secretary-General’s recommendation because of differences about whether and how to replace UN reporting on the FC-G5S with a new reporting mechanism on the Sahel region, which continues to face destabilising terrorist violence. Ahead of tomorrow’s consultations, the Secretary-General sent Council members a new letter, dated 1 May, which further noted that the Secretariat is unable to fulfil its reporting obligations pursuant to resolution 2391 in light of the announced dissolution of the FC-G5S. The letter reiterated the recommendation to terminate the reporting requirement.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to exchange further views on the way forward. Members agree with the recommendation to end the FC-G5S reporting cycle, but many of them want to make sure that the Council can continue to stay informed about developments in the Sahel. With the end of MINUSMA and the Mali sanctions regime in 2023—and the potential termination of the reporting cycle on the FC-G5S—the Council would only have the bi-annual reports of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) as opportunities to consider the situation in the Sahel. Russia, however, rejected different proposals to replace the FC-G5S reporting during Council discussions last year. An option that members are considering is to request UNOWAS to submit a third annual report, one of which would focus on the Sahel. Conversely, if members cannot agree on a new reporting mechanism, they may maintain the FC-G5S reporting mandate, which they say would allow them to continue meeting bi-annually to discuss the region.

Council members are also likely to discuss regional developments at tomorrow’s consultations. According to the US-based non-governmental organisation Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), violence in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger has worsened since the coups d’état in those countries, reaching a new high in 2023, with conflict fatalities increasing by 38 percent and civilian deaths increasing by 18 percent compared with the previous year. In Burkina Faso, more than 8,000 people were killed last year, double the number in 2022. In one recent example of the violence, a 25 April Human Rights Watch report said that on 24 and 25 February, Burkina Faso’s military executed at least 223 civilians, including at least 56 children, in two villages whose residents were accused of cooperating with Islamist armed groups.

Regarding political issues, there has been no progress towards restoring elected governments in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Niger was the latest G5 Sahel country to experience a coup d’état after the arrest of President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains in detention. Chad held a presidential election on 6 May as part of its political transition. On 10 May, the country’s election body announced that Mahamat Déby—who took power unconstitutionally after the death of his father, President Idriss Déby, during fighting with rebels in April 2021—had won with 61 percent of the vote. But the electoral process was marred by the intimidation and barring of candidates, as well as the killing by security forces of a main opposition leader in February. The AES countries’ 28 January announcement regarding their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) marked another blow to the region’s unity. ECOWAS subsequently lifted its sanctions imposed on Niger following last year’s coup d’état and further eased sanctions on Mali, saying that it would seek to convince the three countries to remain in the organisation.

The changing geopolitical landscape was also recently highlighted by Niger’s 16 March decision to revoke its military cooperation agreement with the US. The US is now in the process of removing its approximately 1,000 troops from the country, where it has operated a $110 million drone base built six years ago to monitor terrorist groups. Meanwhile, on 10 April, personnel of Russia’s Africa Corps, which is the successor entity to the Russian private security company Wagner Group that has operated in Mali since late 2021, deployed to Niger and delivered anti-aircraft systems. Africa Corps previously deployed about 100 troops to Burkina Faso on 24 January.

Council members might also raise developments in Mali at tomorrow’s meeting. After pushing Tuareg armed groups out of key population centres in northern Mali towards the end of last year during MINUSMA’s withdrawal, Malian authorities announced on 25 January the “immediate termination” of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. In its place, they established an “inter-Malian dialogue for peace and national reconciliation”. The dialogue, boycotted by much of the country’s opposition, concluded on 10 May. It recommended that Mali’s transition be extended by another three years, until 2027. This follows the authorities’ failure to uphold a March 2024 timetable for completing the transition. On the security front, it advised the authorities to consider dialogue with Islamist armed groups and to engage with all Malian armed movements.

Tensions have also been rising between Mali and Mauritania. On 7 April, the Malian army, accompanied by forces from Russia’s Africa Corps, crossed into Mauritania and injured three civilians near the town of Fassala, as they reportedly pursued militants from Mali’s separatist Tuareg movements. Earlier this month, Mauritania carried out military drills along its south-eastern border with Mali. Mauritania has also in recent months criticised the killing of its citizens by Mali’s security forces on the Malian side of the border.

Council Members may also raise concerns during the consultations about shrinking political space in the region. This includes Mali’s ban in April on all political parties and political activities, followed by a ban on media coverage of political activities. In Burkina Faso, there have been repeated reports of critics of the junta being conscripted and deployed to the frontlines. Members are also likely to raise concerns about the humanitarian situation in the Sahel. As at 13 March 2024, there were 5.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 1.7 million refugees in the region, while 11.6 million people faced acute levels of food insecurity, according to OCHA. Resident coordinator positions remain vacant in Burkina Faso and Niger because of disagreements with the authorities. The two countries and Mali have also yet to agree with the UN on assigning peace and development advisers to the respective resident coordinator offices, which are important roles for UN conflict analysis and reporting.

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