Report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa
Published On : 2017-07-07 08:56:18
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. 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 January to 30 June 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.
II. Developments and trends in West Africa and the Sahel
  1. The reporting period was characterized by the peaceful resolution of the postelection crisis in the Gambia; government initiatives to promote development in Cabo Verde and Ghana; and political reforms and electoral preparations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal. While some headway was made in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel remained fragile. Terrorist activities and cross-border criminality, notably piracy and trafficking in drugs, arms and persons, continued to pose serious threats to the stability of the region. Despite regional efforts to counter Boko Haram, continuing violence has deepened a serious humanitarian crisis and development deficit in the Lake Chad basin. During a visit from 2 to 7 March 2017, a delegation from the Security Council took stock of the situation and raised awareness of the crisis. The visit led to the adoption of resolution 2349 (2017) on 31 March. Meanwhile, at the fifty-first ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), held in Monrovia on 4 June, the President of Togo, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé, was elected Chair.
A. Political and governance trends
  1. On 19 January 2017, the President of the Gambia, Adama Barrow, was sworn in at the embassy of the Gambia in Dakar, where he had temporarily relocated for security reasons following the refusal by the former President, Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, to accept defeat in the presidential election held on 1 December 2016. Diplomatic efforts made by the Heads of State of the member countries of ECOWAS, with the support of my Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, pursuant to Security Council resolution 2337 (2017), resulted in the departure of the former President from the country on 21 January 2017. President Barrow returned to the Gambia on 26 January and began focusing efforts on establishing a new cabinet, supporting the preparation and conduct of legislative elections and developing a joint vision for the country, in consultation with members of the ruling coalition. In the legislative elections, held on 6 April, the United Democratic Party, a party in the ruling coalition led by the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, A. N. M. Ousainou Darboe, secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly.
  2. In Cabo Verde, the Government, led by the Prime Minister, José Ulisses Correia e Silva, advanced its reform agenda focused on privatization, decentralization and investment in the tourism sector.
  3. In Ghana, the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, appointed 54 ministers and deputy ministers to serve in his cabinet, increasing the total number of ministers to 110, up from 78 under the previous Administration. The Government immediately began implementing its key priorities of job creation; economic stabilization; the creation of a business-friendly environment; the revival of the country’s agricultural sector; and investment in the health sector.
  4. In Côte d’Ivoire, a new Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, was appointed on 11 January. In line with the provisions approved through a constitutional referendum in October 2016, Daniel Kablan Duncan, who had served as Prime Minister during the first term in office of the President, Alassane Ouattara, assumed the newly created post of Vice-President. Since January, the country has experienced a series of revolts and mutinies by soldiers demanding monetary compensation from the Government. These incidents underscore the challenges that remain to be addressed in the area of security sector reform.
  5. In Guinea, the opposition deplored the fact that local elections were not held in February, as stipulated in the political agreement of 12 October 2016 between the Government and the opposition. A number of steps still need to be taken before local elections can be organized, including the approval by the Constitutional Court of a bill reforming the Electoral Code.
  6. In Senegal, preparations are under way for parliamentary elections on 30 July. The amendment to the electoral law adopted on 3 January by the National Assembly included the addition of 15 parliamentary seats to represent the diaspora. Meanwhile, the arrest and indictment on 7 March of the Mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, a possible presidential contender for the elections in 2019, on charges of fraud, triggered heated debate over the independence of the judiciary.
  7. In Sierra Leone, the President, Ernest Bai Koroma, announced on 14 February that presidential and legislative elections would be held on 7 March 2018 and that a constitutional referendum would be held by September 2017.
  8. In Liberia, preparations continued for the presidential election scheduled for 10 October.
  9. In Togo, the Government took a number of measures in connection with the holding of the long overdue local elections and the reforms that remained pending under the comprehensive political agreement of 2006. Notably, a national committee for reflection on constitutional reform was established on 3 January to propose reforms in concert with the High Commission for Reconciliation and Strengthening of National Unity. The payment of reparations to the victims of the political violence that prevailed between 1958 and 2005, in line with the recommendations of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, began in March. Moreover, on 19 January, a National Council for Monitoring Decentralization  was established and the High Authority for Combating Corruption and Related Offences commenced operations. However, opposition leaders denounced the measures as insufficient and reiterated their demands for the holding of local elections.
  10. In Benin, the National Assembly failed to secure the majority required to consider the constitutional reforms proposed by the President, Patrice Athanase Guillaume Talon, including the imposition of a single six-year presidential term; public funding of political parties; and the prohibition of pretrial detention and police custody for incumbent presidents and cabinet members.
  11. In Burkina Faso, against the backdrop of a worsening security situation, including protests by police personnel, on 20 February, the President, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, appointed Jean-Claude Bouda as Minister of Defence. One week later, the President also replaced the heads of the police and the armed forces. In addition, a new Ministry of Security was created in February and steps were taken to implement a strategic plan on the reform of the defence sector for the period 2017-2021. Following the finalization of the constitutional reform proposals by the Constitutional Committee on 10 January, regional consultations were held between 18 March and 20 April and a referendum on their adoption is expected to be held later in 2017.
  12. In the Niger, the political situation continued to be marked by tensions between the ruling majority and the opposition. Local elections previously scheduled to be held in January were postponed indefinitely. The opposition candidate in the second round of the 2016 presidential election, Hama Amadou, was sentenced in absentia on 13 March to one year in prison on child smuggling charges. On 21 April, in response to a series of student strikes, some of which involved violent clashes with security forces, the Government signed an agreement with student representatives, in which it committed to reducing the backlog on scholarship grants and investing in building additional university infrastructure. In addition, in a cabinet reshuffle on 18 April, the President decided that the Minister of Employment, Labour and Social Protection would take the role of the Minister of Higher Education, and vice versa.
  13. In Mauritania, on 17 March, the Senate rejected a draft law for constitutional reform, which included the abolishment of the Senate and significant changes to the Constitutional Council and the High Court of Justice, as well as a modification to the national flag. The draft law had been passed by a majority of the National Assembly one week earlier. On 20 April, the Council of Ministers adopted a decree for a referendum on the draft law, which is planned for 15 July. 
  14. In Nigeria, on 5 April, following a series of protests against socioeconomic hardship held in several cities, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, launched the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, 2017-2020. The Government also continued to pursue its efforts to combat corruption. In that regard, on 19 April, the head of the National Intelligence Agency and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation were suspended in connection with the alleged misappropriation of public funds. Notwithstanding these positive developments, national debate centred on the President’s long absences from the country on medical grounds.
B. Security trends
  1. Instability in Mali continued to spread into north-eastern Burkina Faso and the western area of the Niger. On 2 March, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Mourabitoun, Ansar Eddine and Front de libération du Macina merged to form a new alliance, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, which is composed of leaders of different ethnic backgrounds. The Group has already claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks against the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and Malian forces and is expected to continue carrying out such attacks. In Burkina Faso, the number of terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets increased during the first quarter of the year.  In the Niger, terrorist and violent extremist activity spread from the north of the country and contributed to Boko Haram militant activities in the south. On 26 April, representatives of the Liptako-Gourma Integrated Development Authority, a regional organization seeking to develop the contiguous areas of Mali, Burkina Faso and the Niger, at the request of the three Heads of State, visited the Lake Chad Basin Commission in N’Djamena to discuss the establishment of a joint security force to more effectively control the borders shared by the three countries and to enhance their capacity to combat terrorism. Meanwhile, Operation Barkhane, conducted by French forces, remained under way in the region, one element of which was to provide support for forces of Mali and Burkina Faso in their efforts to search for terrorists in the Soum province of Burkina Faso. On 13 April, at its 679th meeting, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union endorsed the strategic concept of operations for the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) and authorized the deployment of the Joint Force, comprising some 5,000 military, police and civilian personnel, for an initial period of 12 months. It also requested the United Nations Security Council to authorize the deployment of the force.
  2. In Nigeria, a surge in patrols and a scaling-up of the Niger Delta amnesty programme, as well as more vigorous outreach by the Government, under the leadership of the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, led to a significant reduction in the number of violent incidents in the Niger Delta region. However, the continued detention without trial of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, despite a court ordering his release in December 2016, triggered further clashes between security forces and members of the Movement. In addition, violent clashes between farmers and pastoralists in the Middle Belt and other regions continued to strain intercommunal relations. From January to April, clashes between farmers and pastoralists resulted in over 700 deaths. Violent confrontations between pastoralists and farmers were also observed in other West African countries, including Ghana and Benin.
  3. The production and trafficking of drugs remained a source of instability. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Joint Airport Interdiction Task Force of the Airport Communication Project (AIRCOP), a multi-agency anti-trafficking initiative, seized over 7 kilograms of cocaine between January and March in Mali alone. In addition, there were reports of an increase in cannabis production and consumption, as well as in methamphetamine trafficking in the region. Moreover, on 10 April, the Chair of ECOWAS, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, called on ECOWAS member States to strengthen regulatory regimes and enforce legislation against the counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals in the region.
  4. Maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea remained a significant challenge. A shift in piracy tactics was noted, from theft of cargo to hijackings for ransom. Of the 27 maritime crew members kidnapped for ransom worldwide between January and March, 17 were abducted off the coast of Nigeria.
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