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West Africa and the Sahel: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (11 January), the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing from Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Consultations will follow the public session. It seems that Côte d’Ivoire, which has replaced Senegal as penholder on West Africa and the Sahel, is planning a presidential statement as follow-up to the meeting, which will likely cover the range of issues discussed during UNOWAS meetings, including the terrorism threat, electoral processes, and the UN’s Sahel strategy.

Chambas will be briefing on the basis of the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNOWAS (S/2017/1104), which covers developments in West Africa and the Sahel over the second half of 2017. He is likely to highlight the threat posed by terrorist and violent extremist groups, as well as transnational organised crime, notably human- and drug-trafficking. In addition to continued asymmetrical attacks by armed groups in northern and central Mali, the Secretary-General’s report documents insecurity facing Burkina Faso, particularly in the north, and in the Tillabéri region of Niger. The Secretary-General also flags the “surge” in attacks since June 2017 by Boko Haram, and provides an overview of the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the insurgency, with over 2.4 million people displaced across the Lake Chad Basin and an additional 500,000 people experiencing severe food insecurity since the beginning of the year.

The Special Representative is expected to update members on his good offices activities, a role that Council members have valued. He will probably refer to regional efforts to address continuing protests in Togo, which since August have led to at least 14 deaths and several hundred people fleeing to neighbouring Ghana. Protestors have been demanding presidential term limits and the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbé, who has served as president since 2005 after succeeding his father’s 38-year long rule. Chambas traveled to Togo in September, and UNOWAS has issued two joint statements with the AU and ECOWAS encouraging dialogue. Members may be interested in Chambas’ assessment regarding upcoming presidential and legislative elections on 7 March in Sierra Leone, which he travelled to in November, and regarding the long-delayed local elections in Guinea, scheduled for 4 February. Members may be further interested in UNOWAS’ activities to support the UN country team in Côte d’Ivoire since the withdrawal of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) in June last year and its preparations to play a similar role in Liberia with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) departing at the end of March.

Regarding the terrorism threat, members may reiterate the importance of the international community supporting the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force—established by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to combat terrorist groups—and the Multinational Joint Task Force, which is battling Boko Haram and consists of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss with Chambas the Secretary-General’s efforts to “recalibrate” the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS)—created in 2013 to address underlying challenges of security, governance and development—since Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed began leading an Executive Committee Working Group on the Sahel in July. Members already welcomed this “renewed impetus” for implementing the UNISS in last month’s resolution 2391 on the G5 Sahel Joint Force. Some members could stress the need for tangible results. Chambas may further elaborate on UNOWAS’ technical assistance to bolster the capacity of the G5 Sahel Secretariat, which the Council requested it do within its existing resources and mandate in resolution 2391.

The rise in Boko Haram violence over the past year remains a key concern for members, some of whom are keen that the Council maintains attention to the situation. Members may welcome the recent AU and Lake Chad Basin Commission regional stabilisation conference held from 2 to 4 November in N’Djamena, which the Secretary-General’s report notes might be a first step towards developing a regional strategy to address the root causes of the Boko Haram crisis.

On Nigeria, where Chambas undertook a mission from 30 October to 9 November 2017, the Secretary-General’s report documents broader challenges, including continued violence between pastoralists and farmers, renewed agitation for an independent Biafra State, and upcoming elections in February 2019. Some members may refer to the violence among herders and farming communities, which, according to the International Crisis Group, resulted in approximately 2500 deaths in 2016, as representing another example of the destabilising impact of climate change on the region, with desertification causing pastoralists to increasingly migrate from their traditional grazing areas. At a 16 December 2017 ECOWAS summit, West African leaders characterized increased conflicts related to transhumance in several states as constituting a new threat to regional security, directing the ECOWAS Commission to work with UNOWAS to conduct a comprehensive study and recommend an action plan to address the problem.

Members are likely to point to some of the positive developments highlighted in the report. This includes generally good economic growth across the sub-region, advances in reform processes, including in the security sectors of The Gambia and Burkina Faso, and Liberia’s presidential election last month.

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