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West Africa and the Sahel: Presidential Statement

Tomorrow (30 January), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel region, expressing support for the work of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) in conflict prevention, mediation and good offices. Cote d’Ivoire circulated an initial draft statement on 18 January that it had prepared as penholder in cooperation with Sweden as a follow up to the Council’s 11 January briefing on the region by Special Representative Mohammed Ibn Chambas (S/PV.8156). Following one meeting on 19 January, the statement passed a silence procedure on last Friday.

The statement addresses several country-specific situations. It welcomes the general elections and presidential run-off conducted in Liberia and acknowledges the importance of maintaining international attention to the country after the withdrawal of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in March 2018. The statement addresses the political crisis in Guinea-Bissau, an issue several members raised during consultations with Chambas. It reiterates the Council’s calls for political leaders to implement without further delay the Conakry Accords and expresses readiness to consider supporting further measures of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has led efforts to resolve the political crisis. The Council also notes with concern the situation in Togo and welcomes regional efforts towards assisting the country, where there have been protests since August 2017 against President Faure Gnassingbé seeking a third term.

The draft statement expresses serious concern over the range of security challenges facing the region, with a focus on the terrorism threat. It condemns the terrorist attacks carried out, in particular, across the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin by JNIM (officially called Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin), the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Ansarul Islam and Boko Haram. The statement welcomes the leadership of regional countries and commends efforts of the AU and ECOWAS to address the threat, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force that is combatting Boko Haram, and the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel which is being established to fight terrorist groups and transnational organised crime across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

On the Sahel, the draft statement recognises the importance of complementing the security response with an approach that addresses root causes, including tackling exclusion and poverty, strengthening institutions and promoting good governance. In this regard, the Council looks forward to further details on the recalibration of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and enhancing its implementation through a more integrated, cross-pillar approach across the development-humanitarian-peace nexus.

The draft statement also highlights efforts to address underlying causes of the Lake Chad Basin crisis and Boko Haram:terrorism welcoming the holding of a first regional stabilisation conference (held from 2 to 4 November 2017 in N’Djamena), and the regional initiative led by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to revitalize the ecosystem to support sustainable livelihoods, security and development. The statement uses language from the Council’s resolution 2349 on the Lake Chad Basin that recognises the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of West Africa and Sahel - thus reflecting this as a challenge in general to the region. A reference to “water scarcity” from resolution 2349 in this paragraph was removed at the request of one member.

During the discussions on the draft statement, several members wanted enhanced reporting from the Secretary-General on the Lake Chad Basin as they were not satisfied by the follow up to last year’s resolution 2349 being provided through his reports from UNOWAS and the UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). This desire for more detailed reporting on the crisis is reflected in the draft statement, which reiterates the Council’s call for an assessment of the implementation of resolution 2349 to be integrated into regular UNOWAS reporting, with specific attention to this in the regional office’s upcoming July report.

The draft statement further encourages cooperation, mutual prioritisation and clear division of tasks between UNOWAS and UNOCA. Elaborating onthe conflict prevention functions of UNOWAS, the draft recognises the role of the office in contributing to periodic strategic and integrated analysis to sustain peace. It looks forward to UNOWAS’ ongoing efforts to enhance activities in conflict prevention, including development of comprehensive early warning analysis.

Reflecting the growing attention to human trafficking, the draft presidential statement includes a paragraph condemning in the strongest terms all instances of trafficking in persons, including for the purpose of forced labour and slavery, in areas affected by conflict, based largely on the Council’s 21 November 2017 resolution 2388 on human trafficking. The draft statement encourages further cooperation between the AU, EU and UN, in particular within the joint Task Force, which started meeting in December 2017, and whose aim is to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along routes, and in particular inside Libya.

During the negotiations, Russia and the US had differences over counter-terrorism language in several paragraphs. The US apparently sought language associated with Council outcomes related to the Counter-Terrorism Committee, while Russia preferred more general language from previous UNOWAS presidential statements since the statement is not focused primarily on counter-terrorism. Although they had attempted to resolve these differences, Russia broke silence on Friday, and was only able to agree after a the removal of a reference to UNDP programs for countering “violent extremism”, a term that Russia maintains does not have a clear meaning.


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