By its resolution 2359 (2017) of 21 June 2017, the Security Council welcomed the deployment of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel throughout the territories of its contributing countries, with a view to restoring peace and security in the Sahel region.1 The Council also welcomed its strategic concept of operations, which was endorsed by the Peace and Security Council of the African Union at its 679th meeting, held on 13 April 2017.
The Security Council requested me to report on the activities of the Joint Force, including on its operationalization, challenges encountered and possible measures for further consideration, as well as on ways to mitigate any adverse impact of its military operations on civilians, including women and children, within four months of the adoption of the resolution. To that end, between 6 and 14 September, I deployed an assessment team to States members of G-5 Sahel. The team comprised staff from the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support and Political Affairs, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). Its findings have informed the drafting of the present report, prepared in close collaboration with the States members of G-5 Sahel and the African Union.
II. Challenges facing the Sahel
The security situation in the Sahel deteriorated significantly following the Libya crisis of 2011, the Mali crisis of 2012 and the insurgency led by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram, which exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities. In its report of January 2012 on the impact of the Libyan crisis on the Sahel region (S/2012/42), the assessment mission dispatched by my predecessor outlined how governance shortfalls, poverty and the devastating impact of climate change, including successive droughts and food insecurity, had already resulted in serious humanitarian emergencies. Local conflicts over access to natural resources, exacerbated by the continuous marginalization of parts of the population, threaten livelihoods and aggravate living conditions. While the majority of these challenges pre-date the Libyan conflict, the resulting mass displacement of people, increase in migration and influx of weapons and armed combatants from northern Libya further exacerbated the already precarious situation in the Sahel. The subsequent crisis in Mali in 2012 resulted in the complete erosion of State authority in the northern and central parts of the country and provided a safe haven for violent extremist groups with ties to Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and groups in Libya, which subsequently expanded into Burkina Faso and the Niger. In such a context,
Governments are unable to sustain the delivery of social services, including access to education and health care, while ensuring the safety and security of their population.
Countries of the Sahel have repeatedly called for the creation of a regional military capacity to respond to threats more effectively, showcasing a collec tive determination to enhance regional ownership. In November 2015, the Heads of State of the G-5 Sahel countries decided to create a joint force to combat terrorism and transnational criminal networks. This was followed by high-level consultations in 2016 and 2017, including with the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). During the African Union summit held in January 2017, the Heads of State of the G-5 Sahel countries informed me of their decision to formally establish a joint force, which they subsequently announced during their sixth ordinary summit, held in Bamako on 6 February. On that occasion, I pledged my support for this commendable initiative and promised to address the many challenges facing the Sahel holistically. Important as it is, the Joint Force initiative, in order to be successful and sustainable, should dovetail into a comprehensive package, bringing together the security, humanitarian and development aspects. The United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel, which was endorsed by the Security Council in 2013, provides a framework for United Nations support for such a response. To speed up its implementation, earlier in 2017, I assigned the Deputy Secretary-General the task of mobilizing the entire system to support the region through an Executive Committee working group on the Sahel, comprising the heads of United Nations offices, agencies, funds and programmes.
Terrorist attacks in Bamako, Niamey and Ouagadougou between 2015 and 2017, as well as continuous attacks on defence and security forces in the tri-border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger and frequent deadly attacks on United Nations peacekeepers, are reminders of a deteriorating situation that carries serious risks of spillover effects on regional and international peace and security if not addressed rapidly. These attacks have further strengthened the political resolve and shared sense of urgency to render the Joint Force operational as swiftly as possible and to launch its first joint border operations in the Liptako-Gourma region before the end of 2017.
- Weak political, financial and security governance remain at the core of instability in the Sahel. The limited presence of national institutions in remote and border areas has further disenfranchised parts of the population and actively fuelled the rapid growth of violent extremism across the region, contributing to the creation of contested and ungoverned spaces. Socioeconomic exclusion and deprivation, poverty and underdevelopment create grievances that have been exploited by violent extremist groups. Consequently, such groups have encroached on areas in which the State is largely absent, such as in northern and central Mali, but also increasingly in northern Burkina Faso, specifically targeting State civilian, security or military officials and institutions. The presence of those groups has further undermined access to basic services and resulted in the closure of schools and health-care centres, further eroding State authority. In some cases, extremist groups have formed alternatives to governance and exploited existing tensions between herders and pastoralists, as well as between ethnic groups, perpetuating the risk of armed violence. In other cases, they enjoy the support of disenfranchised citizens, having established parallel administrations, including taxation systems in return for protection and the provision of essential basic services, including justice services.
Border protection and migration
The past five years have seen a dramatic increase in mass displacements and irregular migration across the Sahel. As at the time of reporting, some 4.9 million people had been forcibly displaced, demonstrating the toll of the conflict and violence in the region. Most of the displaced have lost their livelihoods and are often being hosted in already highly vulnerable communities. Migrants transit through all G-5 Sahel countries, although the vast majority cross the Niger and, to a lesser extent, Mali. The facilitation of irregular migration has become a major source of income for the population of parts of northern Mali and the northern Niger and has led to an increase in criminal activity based on smuggling of and trafficking in persons. This state of affairs highlights the need for a shared vision and a joint approach to improving border security and to better control with respect to the movement of persons and goods in West Africa, beyond the States members of G-5 Sahel.
The members of the assessment team found that the level and sophistication of border protection varied greatly across the region. While Chad and Mauritania had invested significantly in border security, Mali and the Niger had been calling upon the international community for support since 2011, owing to their limited capacity to ensure effective border control and to contain the influx of weapons and fighters from Libya. The team found that little progress had been made in that domain and that State presence in border areas in northern Burkina Faso and northern and central Mali had, in fact, decreased.
Following the Libyan crisis, large quantities of weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles were smuggled into the Sahel region. In addition, the Sahelo - Saharan region has long been an area where illicit trafficking has thrived, with Mali,
Mauritania and the Niger at the centre of trading routes. The recent increase in drug trafficking, combined with an increase in smuggling of and trafficking in persons, has provided new sources of income for terrorist armed groups, in some cases with the complicity of government officials, and has further destabilized the region.
Consequently, and as a result of widespread neglect, equipment and training shortfalls and a lack of adequate accountability and oversight, security forces are unwilling or ill-equipped to respond to such threats.
Consequently, G-5 Sahel countries have progressively augmented their security spending, as evidenced by an ever-increasing share of their national budgets being devoted to security and defence expenditures. This has been true in particular for countries confronted with multiple security threats. Chad and the Niger, for example, face simultaneous crises on their borders with Libya on the one hand and the Boko Haram insurgency in the south on the other. Chad also has had to contend with the deterioration of security along its borders with the Sudan and the Central African Republic, and the Niger has faced similar issues along its border with Mali. Mauritania significantly invested in national security after suffering several terrorist attacks in the early 2000s. Interlocutors in Chad and Mauritania reported that they had to prioritize defence spending over development initiatives. Officials in the Niger also noted that threats were rapidly evolving, requiring dynamic responses.
- The socioeconomic situation in the Sahel, a region with economies that are poorly diversified and highly dependent on agriculture, pastoralism and the exploitation of mineral resources, is marked by a rapidly growing youth population, worsening inequalities, including in the provision of basic social services, and an uneven distribution of resources. Poor financial governance and an increased reliance on imports, resulting in high exposure to fluctuations in the price of raw materials, have directly affected national revenues and aggravated dependencies on foreign assistance. These trends have been further exacerbated by environmental degradation and the rampant effects of climate change, which have also had an adverse impact on agricultural output and rural development.
Currently, some 24 million people are in need of life-saving assistance in the Sahel region. Humanitarian actors have increasingly had to step in to provide basic social services to vulnerable and marginalized communities, filling the void left by the erosion of State authority. As a result, the sheer size of the Sahelo-Saharan region, which features some of the highest demographic rates in Africa combined with a deteriorating security situation, represents a significant challenge for humanitarian access to the affected population, as the magnitude and multitude of issues to be addressed far exceed existing humanitarian capacities. The capacity of humanitarian actors to respond to needs is further hampered by the lack of available funding. As at the time of reporting, only 49 per cent of the total $2.7 billion required for humanitarian assistance in 2017 in the region had been received.
The region is now trapped in a vicious cycle in which poor political and security governance, combined with chronic poverty and the effects of climate change, has contributed to the spread of insecurity. The rise of terrorism and lawlessness has further undermined State authority, leaving Governments unable to provide for or protect their citizens, which, in turn, has contributed to radicalization and further instability.
In order to support the region in addressing the root causes of instability beyond a military response, I have reoriented the United Nations system to streamline and enhance its support through the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel, developed in 2013. As at the time of reporting, the Executive Committee working group on the Sahel had already agreed to a clear division of labour among United Nations entities in the region, had initiated a mapping exercise of ongoing programmes by the United Nations and other actors in order to identify gaps and was developing an investment strategy for mobilizing resources.
In addition to the United Nations, other international and regional organizations have developed comprehensive regional strategic frameworks. Those organizations include the European Union (2012), the World Bank (2013), ECOWAS (2013), the African Union (2014) and the G-5 Sahel (2014).