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Report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (S/2017/1104) [EN/AR]

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I. Introduction

  1. In a letter dated 29 December 2016 (S/2016/1129), the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) until 31 December 2019 and requested me to submit a report every six months on the implementation of its mandate. The present report covers the period from 1 July to 31 December 2017 and provides an overview of developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel. It also outlines the activities of UNOWAS and progress made in the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel. In addition, it provides an update on the situation in the Lake Chad basin, pursuant to Security Council resolution 2349 (2017).

II. Developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel

  1. During the reporting period, political tensions relating to constitutional reform and political dialogue processes in Guinea, Mauritania, the Niger and Togo took centre stage in those countries. Elections were held in Liberia and Senegal, while electoral preparations continued in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Some progress was made in key reform processes in Burkina Faso and the Gambia. Nevertheless, the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel remained fragile. Terrorist activities and cross-border crime, including piracy and trafficking in drugs and weapons, continued to pose threats to the stability of the region. While activities by Boko Haram surged, a significant number of the group’s fighters surrendered to national authorities. There were also internal security challenges in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.
    Although the humanitarian situation in the region remained dire, West African economies continued their positive trajectory. Moreover, several countries made progress in the promotion and protection of human rights.

A. Political and governance trends

  1. In Burkina Faso, the constitutional reform and national reconciliation processes continued slowly. Meanwhile, the Speaker of the National Assembly and Chair of the ruling Mouvement du peuple pour le progrès, Salif Diallo, passed away in France on 19 August. He was replaced by Alassane Bala Sakandé, also a member of the ruling party, on 8 September. On 10 October, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Djibril Bassolé, was temporarily released from prison pending trial and placed under house arrest. He had been imprisoned since September 2015 because of his alleged involvement in the failed coup attempt of 2015. His release renewed controversy about the capacity of the judicial authorities to speedily bring to trial individuals accused of crimes committed under the previous political dispensation.

  2. In Côte d’Ivoire, a government reshuffle was announced on 19 July. The Minister of the Interior and Security, Hamed Bakayoko, was reassigned to the Ministry of Defence, while his former post went to the former Mayor of Abidjan, Sidiki Diakité. Changes also occurred within the ruling Rassemblement des républicains (RDR), which held its third congress on 9 and 10 September. During the congress, Henriette Diabaté, who has been Secretary-General of RDR since 1999, was elected President of the party, while the current Prime Minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, was appointed its First Vice-President.

  3. In the Gambia, the administration of the President, Adama Barrow, launched reform processes in the areas of security, transitional justice and reconciliation. Rumours of possible attempts by supporters of the former President, Yahya Jammeh, to destabilize the country from abroad did not materialize. Political tension remained localized in the Foni area, a stronghold of the former President. To mitigate the tension, a dialogue and reconciliation event was organized by the National Council for Civic Education with residents of the area in June. On 8 September, Fatoumata Tambajang was appointed Vice-President, following the adoption of a constitutional amendment raising the age limit for serving as President or Vice-President from 65 to 75 years. She was sworn in on 9 November.

  4. In Guinea, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced that local elections would be held on 4 February 2018. Meanwhile, the opposition continued to stage demonstrations calling for the full implementation of the political agreement of 12 October 2016 and suspended its participation in the follow-up committee responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement. Protests were also conducted by citizens in mining communities in the Boké region of the country to raise complaints about the inadequate provision of social services. In September, protesters clashed with security forces, which resulted in two deaths and several injuries.

  5. In Liberia, general elections were held on 10 October. Twenty presidential candidates and 1,026 legislative candidates participated in the polls, which were marked by high voter turnout and a peaceful environment. Regional and international partners, including the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), deployed electoral observation missions. In the presidential election, George Weah, of the Coalition for Democratic Change, received 38.4 per cent of the vote, while the incumbent Vice-President, Joseph Boakai, of the Unity Party, came in second with 28.8 per cent. A run-off presidential election, initially scheduled for 7 November, was postponed by the Supreme Court following the filing of complaints against the National Elections Commission management of the electoral process by the All Liberia Coalition Party, the Liberty Party and the Unity Party. On 7 December, the Court dismissed the complaints for lack of evidence and ordered the National Elections Commission to proceed with scheduling the run-off. It has now been scheduled for 26 December.

  6. In Mauritania, a constitutional referendum called by the President, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, was held on 5 August. It approved the abolishment of the Senate and the establishment of regional councils, in addition to changes to the national flag, the national anthem and the composition of the Constitutional Court. Several opposition parties and civil society organizations, which had campaigned for a boycott of the referendum, rejected its results. They argued that the referendum could pave the way for further constitutional changes to extend presidential powers and remove term limits. The President has repeatedly denied such claims. Following the referendum, the opposition leader, Mohamed Ould Ghadda, who had been an outspoken opponent of the referendum, was arrested on allegations of corruption. A number of senators and journalists were also summoned and interrogated.

  7. In the Niger, tensions between the ruling party and the opposition continued in the absence of an inclusive dialogue process. A new electoral code, under which a permanent independent national electoral commission was established, was adopted on 14 October.

  8. Nigeria witnessed renewed secessionist agitation for an independent Biafra State in the south-eastern part of the country. The agitation exposed persisting ethnic and religious divisions between mainly Muslim communities in the north and Christian Igbo communities in the south-east. In what was considered a counter-move to the agitation, the Arewa Youth Forum, a coalition of youth leaders in northern Nigeria, issued an ultimatum to all members of the Igbo community residing in the north to leave the region by 1 October. In response, the then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, led consultations with political, religious and traditional authorities to promote national unity. In addition, following his return from medical leave abroad, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, underscored in a speech on 21 August that the unity of Nigeria was “not negotiable”. Meanwhile, the Government continued to pursue its anti-graft campaign. In that regard, the exoneration of the President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, from charges of fraud prompted civil society activists to question the independence of the judiciary.

  9. In Senegal, legislative elections were held on 30 July. The ruling coalition, Benno Bokk Yakaar, secured 125 out of the 165 seats in the National Assembly. The coalition led by the former President, Abdoulaye Wade, came second. Although elected to the parliament, the Mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, has remained in detention since March on charges of mismanagement of public funds.

  10. In Sierra Leone, preparations continued for the holding of presidential, legislative and local elections scheduled for 7 March 2018. Violent incidents, involving party supporters, occurred throughout the reporting period. Meanwhile, the constitutional referendum, which had been scheduled for September 2017, was not held.

  11. In Togo, a wave of protests was initiated by the opposition Parti national panafricain on 19 August in Lomé, Sokodé and Kara. The protesters amplified their long-standing demands for a return to the Constitution of 1992, the introduction of a two-round voting system for the presidential election and the full implementation of the comprehensive political agreement of 2006, signed by the Government, the opposition and other national stakeholders. On 19 September, the National Assembly adopted a bill to amend the Constitution by reintroducing presidential term limits and a two-round voting modality for the presidential election. The opposition boycotted the vote on the bill, as it did not include a provision, similar to that contained in the Constitution of 1992, stipulating that “under no circumstances” could a person serve for more than two presidential terms. Consequently, the parliamentary vote did not attain the four-fifths majority required to amend the Constitution and the bill was deferred, to be voted on through a referendum that has yet to be held. Regional leaders have since taken the lead in efforts to assist national stakeholders in peacefully resolving the crisis.

B.  Security trends

  1. The security situation in West Africa and the Sahel continued to be marked by asymmetrical and terrorist attacks against security forces and civilians. Some countries in the region faced several internal security challenges. In addition, maritime piracy, drug trafficking and transnational organized crime continue d to affect the security situation.

  2. In Burkina Faso, a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, carried out on 13 August, resulted in 18 casualties. The northern province of Soum witnessed frequent attacks on military and civilian targets, leading to, among other things, the closure of many schools in the area. Meanwhile, militant activities, including those carried out by the home-grown Ansar al-Islam movement, gradually spread to the north-western part of the country.

  3. In Côte d’Ivoire, the reporting period was marked by clashes relating to land in the cocoa belt, attacks against security facilities, a wave of jailbreaks and continuing protests by former elements of the Forces nouvelles who had been demobilized following the post-electoral crisis. On 7 September, the Minister of the Interior and Security announced that 35 people had been arrested following investigations into the attacks on security installations. On 9 November, the Chief of Protocol of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Souleymane Kamaraté Koné, was arrested following an investigation into a cache of weapons that had been discovered in Bouaké in May.

  4. In Mali, the security situation was characterized by asymmetrical attacks against security forces and humanitarian actors as well as by fighting between parties signatory to the peace agreement. As a result, the anticipated reinstatement of State services faced challenges, while some local communities resorted to aligning themselves with militant groups for protection.

  5. In the Niger, multiple attacks in the Tillabéri region resulted in the deaths of several security personnel, including members of a mixed patrol of special forces of the Niger and the United States of America, on 4 October. However, the number of violent incidents declined significantly in the Diffa region, on the border with northeastern Nigeria.

  6. Nigeria continued to face multiple security challenges. Security forces clashed with members of the secessionist Indigenous People of Biafra movement in Abia State in September. In addition, there were violent confrontations between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt and other regions, leading to increased intercommunal tensions. Some 100 people died as a result of two incidents that occurred in July, in Kaduna and Benue States. On 16 October, 29 people were killed while seeking shelter in a school in Plateau State. The level of armed violence in the Delta area remained low owing to the reinstated amnesty programme, new deployments of troops in six Delta states and peace initiatives by local, regional, and national leaders.

  7. According to the International Maritime Bureau, the number of incidents of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea fell slightly during the reporting period.
    Between January and September, the Bureau registered 31 actual and attempted attacks on vessels in the larger Gulf of Guinea area, compared with 46 incidents during the same period in 2016, accounting for one quarter of such incidents reported by the Bureau worldwide. The majority of the incidents occurred in Nigerian waters.

  8. Drug trafficking and transnational organized crime remained a source of instability. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), several seizures of drugs were reported, including a number of cocaine shipments that were confiscated between Mali and the Niger in September. In Mauritania on 24 September, security forces arrested smugglers carrying drugs, weapons and communications equipment. In Nigeria, the authorities reported the seizure of sever al container-loads of weapons being smuggled into the country.

Boko Haram

  1. National and international efforts notwithstanding, attacks by Boko Haram surged during the reporting period, especially in Nigeria. Of the 156 suspected Boko Haram attacks carried out in July, August and September, 100 took place in Nigeria and 5 in the Niger. Overall, 295 fatalities were recorded between June and September in the two countries, exceeding figures for the first six months of the year. In Nigeria, Boko Haram continued to conduct raids and incursions, often using suicide bombers, usually women and girls, and improvised explosive devices targeting crowded places.
    Security forces were also targeted, as illustrated by the raid on a military base conducted in the town of Marte, Borno State, on 13 October and the attack on a military convoy carried out near Damboa, Borno State, on 18 October. Eleven cases of abduction by Boko Haram were also recorded during the reporting period. Of the approximately 32 people abducted, 19 were reportedly minors, including 13 girls.
    Meanwhile, significant numbers of Boko Haram fighters surrendered to national authorities.

  2. The withdrawal of Chadian troops from the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Niger, which was completed in September, had an impact on the response effort of the Force. In addition, allegations of human rights violations by security personnel undermined cooperation with affected communities and intelligence -gathering.

  3. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union visited the Lake Chad basin from 27 to 31 July. It subsequently adopted a decision, on 28 September, in which it expressed concern about the resource challenges facing the Multinational Joint Task Force, reaffirmed the need for a comprehensive approach in efforts to combat Boko Haram and called for a dedicated summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and ECOWAS to be held to develop a strategy for the promotion of peace, security and development in the Lake Chad basin.

  4. From 2 to 4 November, the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission convened a regional stabilization conference in N’Djamena on supporting the development of a framework for a regional stabilization strategy for areas affected by Boko Haram. Conference participants recommended the establishment of a task force for the development of a comprehensive strategy for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration activities in the areas affected by Boko Haram.

Sahel/Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel

  1. Following the adoption by the Security Council of its resolution 2359 (2017) on the deployment of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel), a delegation from the Council visited Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania from 19 to 22 October. Subsequently, on 30 October, the Council convened a ministerial meeting on the Force, during which I gave a briefing on the status of its operationalization. I reaffirmed the need for the Force to have sound mechanisms for the protection of civilians. I also reaffirmed the necessity of a comprehensive approach to addressing the root causes of the situation in the Sahel.

  2. On 8 December, the Security Council adopted resolution 2391 (2017), in which it set out the modalities for United Nations support to the Force. I was requested to conclude a technical agreement among the States members of the G-5 Sahel, the European Union and the United Nations for the provision of operational and logistical support to the Force through the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.

  3. On 13 July, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and the European Union announced the launch of the Alliance for the Sahel, intended to ensure security and stability in the short term and development in the long term in the region. The initiative involves other States members of the European Union, the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and is intended to fast track the provision of assistance, including the mobilization of resources for the Joint Force. On 13 December, the President of France convened a high-level meeting with the States members of the G-5 Sahel and their partners in Paris to mobilize support for the Force.