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The situation in Central Africa and the activities of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2021/517)

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I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to the statement of the President of the Security Council dated 10 August 2018 (S/PRST/2018/17), in which the Council requested the Secretary-General to keep it informed about the activities of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) every six months. It provides an assessment of the major political and security trends in Central Africa since the report dated 1 December 2020 (S/2020/1154). The report also provides an update on the situation in the Lake Chad basin region, pursuant to Council resolution 2349 (2017).

II. Major developments in the Central Africa subregion

A. Political, peace and security developments and trends

2. The Central Africa subregion continued to face several political, peace and security challenges. The period under review was marked by the passing of the President of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno and the establishment of a transitional administration in the country; continued violence in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Lake Chad basin; and elections in the Central African Republic, Chad and the Congo. Countries of the subregion continued to bolster efforts towards addressing the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, including by maintaining some restrictive measures and launching immunization plans. The subregion has demonstrated some resilience to COVID-19 by keeping the levels of infections and deaths relatively low, but at a high socioeconomic cost. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) advanced its institutional reform and mandate in the area of peace and security.

Political developments and trends

3. Several regional initiatives were taken to address the situation in the Central African Republic. On 26 December, the President of the Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, in his capacity as Chair of ECCAS, hosted the tenth extraordinary session of the Conference of ECCAS Heads of State and Government to review the situation in the country and mobilize regional support ahead of the presidential and legislative elections on 27 December. On 29 January, Angola convened in Luanda a mini-summit of the outgoing, current and incoming Chairs of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region on the situation in the Central African Republic. On 20 April, a follow-up summit was convened in Luanda. Both meetings were attended by the Presidents of the Central African Republic, Chad, the Congo and Rwanda.

4. In Angola, on 15 January, the leader of the main opposition party, União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, called for the holding of municipal elections in 2021. The elections had been initially announced for 2020 before being postponed owing to COVID-19 and the need to put in place the required legal framework. On 18 March, the National Assembly adopted a revised Constitution intended to strengthen the rule of law in the country. The opposition expressed concern that the revision could contribute to postponing the local and general elections. On 12 April, the Supreme Court sentenced Manuel Rabelais, a former communication minister under the former President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, to 14 years’ imprisonment for money-laundering and embezzlement.

5. In Cameroon, the Government took steps towards decentralization in line with the recommendations of the major national dialogue, including by holding regional elections on 6 December. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement won those elections, controlling 9 of 10 regions. The elections were key to the implementation of the “special status” for the North-West and South-West Regions. The opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement and Social Democratic Front boycotted the elections. On 9 December, the authorities lifted the security measures taken around the residence of the leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, Maurice Kamto, which had been in place since 22 September 2020, and, on 5 February, released from detention the party’s first Vice-President, following his arrest on 1 June 2019. On 18 March, the Presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate of Cameroon were re-elected to their positions.

6. Notwithstanding several initiatives, no progress was made on continuing political dialogue to achieve a durable solution to the unrest in the North -West and South-West Regions of Cameroon. From 28 January to 2 February, the Secretary of State of the Holy See visited Cameroon, where he met the President, Paul Biya, in Yaoundé to discuss the crisis in the two Regions and the role of the Catholic Church in addressing it. On 31 January, he called for inclusive dialogue, peace and reconciliation during a mass held in Bamenda, North-West Region. On 9 April, the National Assembly announced the holding of a debate on the crisis in the two Regions during its June session, the first parliamentary debate on the crisis since its onset.

7. In Chad, on 14 December, President Déby promulgated a new Constitution, endorsing recommendations from the “second national inclusive forum”, held in 2020. Changes included the establishment of the position of Vice -President and an upper chamber of parliament and the reduction in the minimum age for the presidency from 45 to 40 years.

8. Restrictions on democratic space and political tensions increased in Chad in the lead-up to the presidential election on 11 April. On 28 February, Chadian security forces raided the residence of a declared presidential candidate and former rebel, Yaya Dillo. During the operation, Mr. Dillo’s mother was killed. On 3 March, the Supreme Court validated 10 of 17 presidential candidatures, including of the first female presidential candidate. Three validated candidates, including former opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo, announced their withdrawal from the presidential race and campaigned for a boycott of the election. During the weeks leading up to the poll, opposition entities and civil society groups organized weekly protests against President Déby’s candidature. Dozens of protestors took to the streets in N´Djamena. Authorities banned and dispersed those gatherings, citing public health and security reasons.

9. On 19 April, the electoral commission of Chad announced that President Déby had won the presidential election with 79.32 per cent of the votes cast. On 20 April, a military spokesperson announced that the President had succumbed to injuries reportedly sustained in the context of fighting between the army and rebels from the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad that had entered Chad on election day.
The State funeral for the late President was held in N’Djamena on 23 April and attended by various Heads of State and Government.

10. A 15-member transitional military council, led by the head of the presidential guard, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, took power and vowed to organize a new presidential election within 18 months. The transitional military council issued a transitional charter, which superseded the Constitution. On 26 April, the former Prime Minister, Albert Pahimi Padacké, who had placed second in the presidential election, was appointed transitional Prime Minister. On 2 May, the leader of the transitional military council and the transitional Prime Minister established a transitional Government comprising 31 ministers and 9 secretaries of State. On 27 April and 8 May, civil society groups and opposition political parties organized demonstrations in N’Djamena and other cities to protest against the takeover by the transitional military council. On 7 May, the new Minister of Justice and Human Rights ordered the release of all demonstrators detained after past protests, except those who had committed proven criminal acts against persons or property. The same day, the Minister for Public Security and Migration issued a decree by which peaceful demonstrations that met specific conditions would be authorized. On 3 May, the party of opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo joined the transitional Government and withdrew from the Coordination des actions citoyennes.

11. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union issued a communiqué on 23 April, in which it expressed “grave concern” with respect to the establishment of the transitional military council and urged “the Chadian defence and security forces and all national stakeholders to respect the constitutional mandate and order, and to expeditiously embark on a process of restoration of constitutional order and handing over of political power to the civilian authorities, in accordance with the Constitutio n of the Republic of Chad”. It also called for national dialogue and deployed a factfinding mission, from 29 April to 9 May, to N’Djamena. On 20 May, the Peace and Security Council, informed by the recommendations of the fact-finding mission, issued another communiqué, in which it requested, among others, an urgent review of the transition charter to ensure it met Chadians’ aspirations “for civilian -led democratic governance”; the completion of the transition to democratic rule within an 18-month period (from 20 April 2021); assurances that members of the transitional military council would not run in the election; and the establishment of a national transition council to serve as an interim legislative body, mandated to draft a new constitution. The Peace and Security Council also requested that the transitional Government organize an inclusive national dialogue within three months and restore civic and political rights immediately. On 24 May, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission appointed Basile Ikouébé of the Congo as his Special Representative in Chad to support the transition process in the country. On 20 May, the head of the transitional military council and its members made statements in which they committed themselves not to running in the upcoming elections, as requested by the Peace and Security Council.

12. In the Congo, President Nguesso won the presidential election on 21 March. On 6 April, the Constitutional Court confirmed that the incumbent had received 88.4 per cent of the votes cast. The main opposition candidate, who, according to official reports, succumbed to COVID-19 after the election, received 7.76 per cent of the vote. Voter turnout was announced at 67 per Voter turnout was announced at 67 per cent. The President faced six male candidates, while the main parliamentary opposition party and others boycotted the election. The Episcopal Conference of the Congo voiced serious reservations over the electoral process. The African Union, ECCAS and International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, all of which had sent observers, welcomed what they deemed was a peaceful and orderly election. They provided recommendations to further improve the political and electoral processes. On 16 April, the President was sworn in for a fifth term in office. On 16 May, President Nguesso appointed a new cabinet of 36 members, including 8 women.

13. In Equatorial Guinea, the strategic context remained marked by an economic crisis resulting from the fall in oil prices aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On 11 December, the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of France over the confiscation in 2012 of a mansion in Paris belonging to the Vice-President, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, as part of a corruption probe. On 22 February, the Third Deputy Prime Minister in charge of human rights addressed the forty-sixth session of the Human Rights Council and reported on an ongoing process in Parliament to abolish the death penalty. He called upon the United Nations to support ongoing national efforts in promoting the human rights agenda. On 28 April, the Senate approved a bill on the prevention of and efforts to combat corruption.

14. In Gabon, authorities focused on governance and economic recovery in the context of the economic and health crises facing the country. On 29 December, Parliament adopted a new Constitution, which was promulgated on 8 January. According to the new Constitution, a triumvirate of the Presidents of the National Assembly and Senate and the Minister of Defence would collectively assume presidential powers during an interim period of a vacancy or temporary incapacity at the presidency. Moreover, a former Head of State would have stronger immunity from judicial proceedings for crimes committed during his or her tenure. Segments of the opposition and civil society criticized the absence of consultations during the process. In line with the new Constitution, on 27 February, the President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, appointed 15 senators, including 7 women. In senatorial elections on 6 February, the ruling Parti démocratique gabonais, won 46 of the 52 remaining seats. On 1 March, the President of the Senate was re-elected for a second term.

15. In Sao Tome and Principe, authorities made progress towards modernizing the justice system, but persisting divisions in the political class regarding an electoral law reform delayed the preparations for the presidential election scheduled for 18 July. On 11 December, the President, Evaristo Carvalho, hosted the second high-level dialogue on justice reform, which approved the country’s justice modernization programme. On 30 December, he vetoed an electoral reform bill adopted by the National Assembly on 15 December, citing the ill-timing of and lack of consensus on the reform. Nevertheless, on 12 February, he promulgated it, after the National Assembly had removed contentious provisions. This paved the way for the installation of the National Electoral Commission on 16 February and for preparations to commence for the presidential election. On 29 April, the Government and the European Union held their annual political dialogue.

16. On 5 March, proceedings before the International Court of Justice were jointly instituted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon concerning the delimitation of their common maritime and land boundaries and sovereignty over several islands. The proceedings were instituted by way of a special agreement, which was signed by the two countries in 2016 and entered into force in March 2020.

Security developments and trends

17. Violence persisted in the Far North, North-West and South-West Regions of Cameroon. In the latter two regions, attacks by separatist armed groups against government officials, traditional leaders and school personnel increased in the run -up to the regional elections and have since continued, also featuring the use of improvised explosive devices.

18. On 8 December, the house of the Mayor of Bamenda, North-West Region of Cameroon, was set ablaze. On 13 December, non-State armed groups invaded the palaces of three traditional rulers in the South-West Region and took them hostage. One traditional ruler reportedly died in captivity while the other two were released the following day. On 5 January, non-State armed groups attacked the convoy of the Senior Divisional Officer of Momo Division, North-West Region, killing five members of his delegation. On 9 January, armed secessionists attacked a military checkpoint in Matazem, North-West Region, killing four military personnel and two civilians. On 9 January, armed separatists allegedly killed the principal of a public high school in Ossing, South-West Region. On 23 January, government forces disabled two improvised explosive devices in Limbe, South-West Region, while one device exploded near a stadium, with no injuries reported.

19. On 10 February, government forces launched a military operation against separatist armed groups suspected of fomenting attacks on Kumba, South -West Region of Cameroon. According to the authorities, the operation resulted in the killing of five militants, including the leader of a group that had staged a deadly attack against a school in Kumba last October. On 15 February, the Cameroonian army announced the arrest of two gendarmes, two soldiers and four police officers accused of torturing a separatist fighter in the North-West Region. Between 22 and 26 February, suspected armed men attacked civilians in at least seven villages in Nwa subdivision, North-West Region. At least 8 people were killed, more than 14 injured, some 100 houses and 3 churches looted and burned and approximately 4,200 civilians displaced.

20. In Chad, on 11 April, election day, the Chadian rebel group Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad launched an incursion from south-western Libya into Tibesti Province, advancing into west-central Chad within a week, with the declared intention of marching to N’Djamena. On 25 April, the transitional military council rejected the offer of a ceasefire made by the Front to allow for a political resolution of the conflict through dialogue. Following confrontations with the Chadian army, the operational capability of the Front was reportedly reduced and some of its fighters withdrew into the Niger. Renewed fighting was reported in Kanem Province on 29 April. On 9 May, the minister of defence declared victory over the Front, stating that the national territory was secure. Meanwhile, in the south, recurrent but intensified clashes between nomadic herders and local agricultural communities resulted in the deaths of at least 170 people during the reporting period.

Boko Haram/Lake Chad basin

21. The reporting period witnessed an increase in reported Boko Haram-related incidents in Cameroon and Chad. Between 1 December 2020 and 30 April 2021, there were 423 reported Boko Haram-related security incidents in Cameroon, with 145 civilian fatalities, and 62 incidents in Chad, with 199 civilian fatalities.

22. In the Far North Region of Cameroon, attacks launched by Boko Haram factions against civilians continued to predominantly affect areas in the Mayo-Tsanaga and Mayo-Sava departments, close to the border with Nigeria. On 4 December, Boko Haram militants attacked the locality of Assighassia, killing three civilians and injuring three more, and on 10 December, they attacked the locality of Gakara, burning down 14 houses and injuring a member of a local vigilante group. On 8 January, a female suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device in Mozogo, killing 17 civilians, including 5 children, and wounding 12 others. On 21 March, Boko Haram militants attacked Bla-Gossi Tourou, reportedly killing three civilians.

23. On 20 March, two Cameroonian soldiers were killed in an attack by a Boko Haram faction in north-eastern Borno State, Nigeria, while lending support to their Nigerian counterparts who were attacked by Boko Haram elements outside the Nigerian town of Wulgo. The Cameroonian support was within the framework of the Multinational Joint Task Force. In December, Boko Haram factions undertook five attacks in Lac Province of Chad, killing 7 civilians and kidnapping 33, including at least 7 women. On 8 April, Boko Haram elements ambushed Chadian soldiers in the Ngouboua area, bordering Nigeria, killing 2 soldiers and injuring 11 others, including 4 civilians. On 27 April, a suspected Boko Haram faction attacked an army position in Litri, killing at least 12 Chadian soldiers. According to the Governor of Lac Province, more than 40 of the faction’s fighters were also killed.

Lord’s Resistance Army

24. According to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children, on 22 January, the Lord’s Resistance Army splinter faction led by Achaye Doctor abducted 11 civilians, including 3 women and 2 children, from Biro, east of Zemio, Central African Republic. Subsequently, on 24 January, the armed group released 8 of the 11 civilians, retaining 1 woman and 2 children.

25. According to Invisible Children, attacks by suspected Lord’s Resistance Army groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo also increased in late February as the Owila faction looted and abducted civilians in Haut-Ulélé. Between February and April, at least 23 people were abducted, including 8 children. The surge in attacks mirrors trends in 2019 and 2020, in which Lord’s Resistance Army violence in Haut-Ulélé and Bas-Ulélé Provinces spiked between March and May, coinciding with the last few months of the dry season, during which movement is less arduous. Since January 2021, 60 people have escaped or defected from Lord’s Resistance Army splinter factions. On 25 February, 21 people, including 2 Congolese combatants, escaped from the Achaye faction and surrendered to Congolese security forces.

26. On 6 May, the International Criminal Court sentenced Dominic Ongwen, a Lord’s Resistance Army commander who surrendered in 2015 to 25 years in prison after he had been found guilty of 61 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes that had taken place in Northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005. Mr. Ongwen was the first member of the Lord’s Resistance Army to be tried by the Court and the first person to be convicted by the Court for the crime of forced pregnancy. The sentencing also marked the first time that the crime of forced marriage had been considered by the Court.

Maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea

27. According to the International Maritime Bureau, in 2020, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 95 per cent of maritime crew members kidnapped worldwide, with an increasing number in the Central Africa maritime domain. The Interregional Coordination Centre for Maritime Safety and Security in the Gulf of Guinea reported 20 security incidents at sea, including 11 in the ECCAS maritime space, between January and March 2021, a decrease compared with the 45 incidents, including 9 in the ECCAS maritime space, reported in the fourth quarter of 2020.

28. On 4 May, the Government of the Congo convened a virtual ministerial meeting of the Council for Peace and Security in Central Africa on maritime security in Central Africa. Ministers agreed to promote the use of existing protocols on maritime security and improve interministerial coordination at the State level. They called upon the ECCAS Commission to mobilize adequate resources to strengthen existing mechanisms in the effort to combat maritime insecurity.

Effects of climate change, ecological changes and natural disasters on the stability of Central Africa

29. Some countries in the subregion, including Angola, Burundi and Rwanda, experienced severe drought and renewed cycles of flooding owing to excessive rainfall, which affected more than 1 million people in 2020. The resulting destruction of houses, goods, crops and fields threatened the livelihoods of many communities reliant on rain-fed agriculture, further contributing to food insecurity, forced displacement, natural resource scarcity and intensified land conflicts and accentuating farmer-herder conflicts. Women were often among those hit hardest, given that structural inequalities in income, ownership and access to land, and decision-making power impaired their options to cope with and adapt to the effects of climate change.