Calling Group of Five Joint Force Important Actor, Delegate Urges Greater Funding, Logistical Assistance from International Community
Growing terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel calls for a comprehensive response that integrates human rights and international humanitarian law, a senior United Nations peace operations official told the Security Council today, as speakers expressed concern about the overlapping security, humanitarian and political crises in the region.
Briefing the 15-member organ on the activities of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations said that, since the last briefing to the Council in May, the situation in the region has continued to deteriorate, with indiscriminate violence by terrorists compounding an already disastrous humanitarian situation.
Against this backdrop, the G5 Sahel Joint Force remains an important regionally-led component of the response to insecurity in the region, complementing the multifaceted engagement by the United Nations and other regional and international partners, she continued. Therefore, it is regrettable that, in addition to financial difficulties, the Force has been weakened by the withdrawal in May of Mali, as well as been impacted in terms of its operational capacity by the second coup d’état in Burkina Faso in September, she said. However, despite such challenges, it has continued to conduct military operations across the three Joint Force sectors, with seven major military operations being conducted since May.
Underscoring that regional stakeholders must maintain political dialogue to pursue common security objectives, she noted that progress can also be made bilaterally, as demonstrated by recent attempts of national authorities in Burkina Faso and Mali to strengthen cooperation in security and defence. While welcoming the willingness of international partners to actively consider extending support to neighbouring countries in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa, which are increasingly exposed to the spillover of insecurity and violence, she called for continuous dialogue with Governments to ensure such support is aligned with national and regional priorities.
Also briefing the Council was Eric Tiaré, Executive Secretary of the G5 Sahel, who said that Mali’s withdrawal in May from all G5 Sahel bodies, including its Joint Force, has plunged the subregional organization into an institutional crisis, and led to the relocation of the headquarters from Bamako to N’Djaména, the suspension of MINUSMA’s support to the Joint Force operations, and the impossibility of carrying out joint operations in the three zones. As the G5 Sahel must continue its mission with the four countries, a review of the concept of operations was necessary, he said, noting that the consideration process for a new reconfiguration of the Force is under way and began in Niamey with the fourteenth extraordinary meeting of the Defence and Security Committee on 21 September and the meeting of Defence Ministers on 22 September. While a number of decisions were taken, and a road map drafted, the planned military expert meeting in Ouagadougou and a ministerial meeting in Ndjamena from the second fortnight in October did not take place due to events in Burkina Faso and Chad.
Despite the efforts of the Joint Dorce and the considerable sums of money spent by countries to build capacity and equip their defence and security forces to the detriment of basic social sectors, the security situation in the Sahel continues to deteriorate considerably, he went on. The resilience and hope of the Sahel people are gradually giving way to anger and frustration against the public authorities and some international partners, enabling the military to justify anti-constitutional regime changes. Calling on the Council to prioritize the situation, he warned that without a rapid emergency response, there will be a great threat to international peace and security, urging: “We must not give up.”
The Council also heard from Zakaria Ousman Ramadan, President of the Chadian Centre for Strategic Studies and Prospective Research, who pointed out that the Joint Force had achieved mixed results in spite of its noble objectives, attributing this in part to the absence of a robust mandate from the Council. In addition, soldiers were unable to fulfil the counter-terrorism mandate and stamp out cross-border crime due to the lack or the obsolescence of logistical transport resources, including the lack of intelligence services. Pointing out that Member States always have to turn to their technical and financial partners to ask for support, as the Joint Force suffers from permanent budgetary insecurity, he added that the support of financial and technical partners remains uncertain due to “donor fatigue”, while Member States in the region, most of which are poor, are unable to guarantee their contributions.
He went on to emphasize the need for financial support to ensure the continuity of relevant policies. Further, he pointed out the weakness of institutions in the Sahel and the dysfunctional role of the national security forces, including weak security strategies at the national level and the institutional fragility of the States. Accordingly, he called for reviewing the Force’s operational provisions and capacities. Expressing regret that security forces often carry out human rights abuses, which is then used by the terrorist groups as a means of recruiting people by promoting “vengeance”, he called “winning over the hearts and minds of people” the first step in combating terrorism.
In the ensuing discussion, several Council members expressed concern over Mali’s departure from the G5 Sahel Joint Force and highlighted the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the region. Several speakers also expressed alarm at the slew of coups d’état in the region, and urged Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali to return to civilian Governments through inclusive political processes.
The representative of Ghana, Council President for November and also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, called for renewed diplomatic efforts aimed at encouraging Mali to rejoin the G5 Sahel, underscoring that, despite challenges, the Joint Force remains an important actor in addressing the Sahel’s security concerns. He reiterated the need for further funding and logistical assistance from the international community and donor partners, the creation of a United Nations support office, as well as the Peacebuilding Commission’s recommendations on national and regional peacebuilding.
To enhance the Joint Force’s responsiveness, greater attention must be paid to its member countries’ political differences, he went on, calling for constitutional order to be restored and technical and operational issues, including those facing MINUSMA battalions, to be resolved. Emphasizing the need for a multidimensional approach to address dire socioeconomic conditions, he urged the Council to scale up humanitarian assistance and to summon stronger political will to address the issue of predictable funding, so the Joint Force can effectively address security challenges.
In a similar vein, France’s delegate also called for lasting and predictable funding for African peace operations, including mandatory United Nations contributions or bilateral contributions. Given the evolving threat, other regional initiatives should be considered, not confined to the G5 Sahel founding countries, he said. Underlining the need to strengthen the rule of law, he urged the Council to oppose initiatives that dial back fundamental freedoms under the pretext of fighting terrorism, like the approach of the Wagner Group, which will only bring about a dangerous spiral of violence.
Along similar lines, the representative of the United States joined speakers including those from Albania, Ireland and the United Kingdom in expressing concern over “short-sighted security partnerships with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group”, whose forces are exploiting natural resources and undermining stability in Mali and elsewhere. He went on to express disappointment over Mali’s decision to withdraw from the G5 Sahel, adding that this action weakens an organization specifically designed to address the scourge of terrorism in that country’s borders and neighbourhood. Pointing out that three of the five Sahel States — namely, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — have Governments that are neither democratically elected nor civilian-led, which increases tensions and limits the ability of foreign partners to provide support, he urged them to continue on the path towards democratic transition.
For her part, the representative of the Russian Federation said that, unlike its Western colleagues, the Russian Federation provides military and technical assistance to Bamako without any political preconditions. Spotlighting the liberation of Malian territory from the control of terrorists to ensure the successful conclusion of the transition period, she said that Mali’s armed forces in 2022 attained outstanding successes in counter-terrorism, with the support of Russian instructors. A new destabilizing factor is the surge in attempts to turn the Sahel into an arena for geopolitical standoffs, she said, adding that international assistance should be based on the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs and the principle of “African challenges, African solutions”.
Meanwhile, Norway’s delegate highlighted the need to protect civilians in accordance with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)-supported compliance framework. On the high-level independent panel on security and development in the Sahel, she called for innovative, practical and realistic proposals which have firm ownership in the region. As it should not reinvent the wheel, the panel should build on what exists, propose holistic improvements and draw inspiration from other contexts, including the United Nations—African Union partnership in Somalia. For its part, the Council must support good and legitimate governance as an essential bulwark in combating violent extremism.
Also speaking today were representatives of Ireland, Mexico, United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Albania, United Arab Emirates and India.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.