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West Africa and the Sahel Presidential Statement

The Security Council is ready to adopt a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel. Côte d’Ivoire, in cooperation with Sweden, shared the draft with Council members on 30 July. Members held one meeting on the text the following day, and subsequently continued to exchange comments and proposals. After one member broke silence on 6 August, the draft statement passed a new silence procedure this morning (7 August). The adoption is expected to be scheduled before the end of the week.

The draft presidential statement follows up on the Council’s semi-annual briefing on West Africa and the Sahel (S/PV.8313) on 17 July and the latest Secretary-General’s report on the region (S/2018/649), as well as meetings last month on Women, Peace and Security in the Sahel (S/PV.8306), and on climate-related security risks, which also included discussion on the Sahel (S/PV.8307).

At the 17 July meeting, Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mohammed Ibn Chambas briefed on the increasing spillover of the Malian crisis to Burkina Faso and Niger, and on the continued threat posed by terrorist groups to the Sahel and by Boko Haram to the Lake Chad Basin. Chambas further flagged violence between farmers and herders as increasingly representing a “major security threat in the region”. He briefed on some of the positive democratisation trends, such as recent elections in Sierra Leone. Chambas noted that UNOWAS was monitoring the situation in countries with forthcoming elections, such as Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal, as well as the ongoing political crisis in Togo.

Council members, some of whom spoke in the open chamber before consultations, continued to express confidence in UNOWAS’ good offices and conflict prevention role. Besides commenting on security developments and some country situations, various members stressed the need to address comprehensively the root causes of instability in West Africa and the Sahel, including underdevelopment, poverty, poor governance and climate change. Press elements after the session expressed concern over the increase in herder-farmer conflicts.

The draft presidential statement covers a range of issues facing the region. Referring to UNOWAS, the statement notes the increased demands on the regional office and its need for adequate resources and sustained support. On the UN’s work to improve the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel—developed in 2013 to address the multifaceted nature of the crises in the region—the draft statement welcomes collective efforts, under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary-General, to recalibrate the strategy to expedite its impact. It encourages greater coherence of the UN system and partners through implementation of the UN Support Plan for the Sahel.

The draft presidential statement marks the first time that the Council addresses the herder-farmer conflicts in the region, building on last month’s informal press elements. It expresses concern for increased tensions between pastoralists and farmers, which the statement describes as being driven by competition for natural resources, rapid population growth, weak governance, pressures related to climate and ecological factors, and the circulation of small arms and light weapons. The Council encourages ECOWAS and its member states, with UNOWAS’ support, to address these challenges in a coordinated and holistic manner.

Negotiations on the text appear to have been fairly smooth, and Côte d’Ivoire and Sweden sought to incorporate proposals from several Council members. Among the issues that required negotiation was a paragraph related to climate change, as it seems that Russia and the US did not want to go beyond previously agreed language. The Council had recognised in its 31 January presidential statement the adverse effects of climate and ecological changes, among other factors, on the stability of West Africa and the Sahel. The draft statement includes a new request that relevant information in this regard, such as long-term strategies to mitigate problems associated with climate and ecological change and natural disasters, be taken into consideration by UNOWAS in its activities. There were also discussions over language on resources to continue UN support in non-mission settings, particularly in the Mano River Union countries. While this component is now less detailed than in the initial draft, the agreed text underlines the need for the UN to sustain support to such countries.

China broke an initial silence procedure. It proposed adding a paragraph on respecting the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all countries in West Africa and the Sahel, which it seems was linked to its concerns about specific country situations referenced in the text. The proposed paragraph is accommodated in the final draft. China further wanted to reduce some of the praise of UNOWAS. It requested to delete the statement’s first paragraph that had welcomed Chambas’ 17 July briefing. In another paragraph, it did not want to express “full” support to the Special Representative. The final draft text takes note of Chambas’ briefing. It continues to express full support to the Special Representative, but this is conditioned in the context of “carrying out his mandate”.

The draft touches on country situations in Togo, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia, along with regional security initiatives such as the G5 Sahel joint force and the Multinational Joint Task Force to combat Boko Haram.

Following up on last month’s Women, Peace and Security meeting, the draft statement welcomes efforts by ECOWAS and UNOWAS towards systematically involving women in initiatives to counter terrorism. This had been one of the decisions in the Dakar Call to Action issued at a 10 - 11 April high-level conference on women, violence and terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel.

A final paragraph reiterates the Council’s call for an assessment of the implementation of resolution 2349, on the Boko Haram crisis in the Lake Chad Basin, to be integrated into UNOWAS’ regular reporting. This was added as some members were still not satisfied by the extent to which this crisis was covered in the Secretary-General’s latest report, feeling that there was not a noticeable difference in this reporting since the Council first made this call in its 31 January presidential statement.

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