Statement by Ms. Giovanie Biha, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). - Archive

   Peacebuilding Commission Meeting on the Sahel region and the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.

Wednesday 28 April 2021, 14.00 GMT

Mr. Chairman,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for this opportunity to brief you and for the continued interest and engagement of the PBC for the Sahel. My remarks will complement those of my dear colleague Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the Special coordinator for development in the Sahel, whom I have the great pleasure to work with since his appointment.

I will focus on the recent political and security developments in the Sahel, and key events that are shaping the work of UNOWAS and the UN System in responding to peace and security challenges in the Sahel. This complements the SG’s December 2020 Report on activities in West Africa and the Sahel as well as the recommendations of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) Steering Committee meeting of February 2021.

First, I wish to inform you that the newly appointed SRSG, Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh, has arrived in Dakar yesterday to assume his functions at UNOWAS. Since my last briefing to this forum in October 2020, extremist attacks on the communities and on defense and security forces have not receded. I wish to address my sympathies today to the authorities and the population of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, who have paid a high tribute to this violence since the beginning of the year.

I also wish to recognize the leadership of the countries in the Sahel, the regional and sub-regional institutions who have demonstrated, through a number of initiatives, their commitment to addressing the security challenges in the region, within the framework of the G-5 Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin Commission, ECOWAS and the African Union.

Despite the multiple challenges faced by the Sahel region, it remains a region of opportunity, as highlighted by Mar. We have seen progress in governance and democratic consolidation. Over the last six months, five presidential, three legislative and two local elections have taken place in West Africa and the Sahel, including in Niger and Burkina Faso. UNOWAS has worked hand-in-hand with ECOWAS, the African Union and international partners to support these processes.

On 21 February, Niger held the runoff presidential election. Despite security challenges and COVID-19, the turnout showed the active participation of women and youth in the process. These elections ushered in a critical democratic transfer of power. In Burkina Faso, dialogue between political actors led to an unanimously accepted outcome in November, with the opponents committing to work together with President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.

President Kaboré has placed an emphasis on national reconciliation. At the same time, there is an increased push for local peace talks to reduce inter-community conflicts in Burkina Faso and other countries of the region. Catalytic support to national and local level dialogue is being provided by the United Nations, including through the Peacebuilding Fund.

Preserving this fragile democratic space will be a key challenge in the coming period. This will depend on more inclusive governance, including a stronger role for women and youth. In all countries, there were more women candidates for Members of Parliament, municipal councilors, and mayors. Unfortunately, this did not translate into more women elected to Parliament; with only 13.2 per cent in Burkina Faso, and 17 percent in Niger.

There is a growing commitment by states to actively engage women in their strategies to counter violent extremism by working with women. Countries such as Nigeria and Burkina Faso have implemented projects targeting women in preventing and combating violent extremism
leading to terrorism. Within the framework of the United Nations Strategy for the Sahel,
UNOWAS, UNWOMEN, the African Union and the Permanent Secretariat of the G5 Sahel have developed a partnership that has led to the establishment of the G5 Sahel Women’s Platform and a gender unit within the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat, the strengthening of the capacities of women parliamentarians of the G5 Sahel space, in collaboration with Femmes Africa Solidarité.

Nonetheless, more needs to be done to support the region to effectively implement UNSCR 1325 (2000), 2250 (2015) and related resolutions to ensure that women and youth, especially in the Sahel, play their part for sustainable peace, security and development. Through the Gender and Youth Promotion Initiative, the PBF is already playing an important part in achieving that.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing fragilities in the Sahel. In a context of overstretched social services and an economic downturn linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the security landscape is increasingly volatile. Increased collaboration between Al-Qaeda and the
‘Islamic State’ affiliates operating in the Lake Chad Basin and the Liptako Gourma region has resulted in technically more sophisticated and deadly attacks. In such a continuously shifting and complex landscape, there is an increasing need for collective and coherent regional and international action to address instability through integrated security, political and developmental responses.

This integrated approach is the key pillar of UNOWAS and the Office of the Special Coordinator for Development in the Sahel’s collaboration. We continue to work closely with the UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) on supporting a cross-regional approach to addressing the Boko Haram crisis. There is currently a joint UNOWAS-UNOCA mission in Borno State this week, which comes just one week after the attack on the garrison town of Damasak that caused up to 50,000 people to flee the city. The mission follows up on visits to Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

During the trip last week to Diffa, the UNOCA-UNOWAS mission was accompanied by the LCBC Secretariat to harmonize our interventions at both a national and regional level. The humanitarian community continues to be a target in both the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, as former SRSG Ibn Chambas emphasized during his briefing to the Security Council in January. This conditions our ability to stay and deliver.

The human rights situation of the region continues to call for more attention. In addition to being in the cross-hair of armed groups, national armed forces in the region are also suspect of reprisal operations against civilians. In January 2021, the G5 Sahel Joint Force launched the Civilian Casualties Identification, Tracking and Analysis Cell, in partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights the Center for Civilians in Conflict and the EU, to enhance civilian
harm mitigation practices. Both violence and impunity continue to be stumbling blocks to peace and stability.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to highlight critical events that occurred since the last briefing, which are furthering the work of UNOWAS and the UN system in addressing the intertwined nature of challenges in the Sahel. Your continued support and that of the Peacebuilding fund will be critical this year and beyond to sustain ongoing efforts. On 3 February 2021 the Security Council welcomed the report of the SG on the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel and the briefing held on 11 January 2021 by former SRSG Ibn Chambas.

In its Presidential Statement, it requested the SG to explore the feasibility of a civilian joint project between UNOWAS and regional organizations, such as the G5 Sahel, ECOWAS and the African Union, with the aim of stemming the increasingly destabilizing phenomena of intercommunal violence and preventing its recurrence in the region. This is an opportunity for further collaboration across the UN System in the context of UNISS and with other partners.

On 7-9 February, UNOWAS in partnership with UNDP Regional Director for Africa, convened the UNISS steering committee with the participation of the Special Coordinator, all Resident Coordinators of the Sahel region and Regional Directors for West and Central Africa. The meeting took stock of status of implementation of the UNISS; most important, an ambitious road map to revamp the UNISS with scale, speed, enhanced integration of the 3 pillars of the strategy, i.e. resilience, governance and security, and greater impact was agreed to.

As indicated by Mar, this road map is the guiding light of the UN system strategic interventions in the coming years. The PBF catalytical funding will be leveraged. The Seventh Summit of the G5 Sahel Heads of State held in February 2021 included for the first time other West African leaders,
including President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and President Macky Sall of Senegal. They announced an ambitious inter-ministerial strategy to redeploy state institutions and ensure the provision of basic social services, with the Mopti/Gao area in Mali and the Ouagadougou/Kaya/Dori axis in Burkina Faso selected for the pilot phase.

They also pledged more intercommunity dialogues, reconciliation and responses to land conflicts. These are areas where the Peacebuilding Commission, and the accompanying Peacebuilding Fund,
are particularly well suited to engage. Finally, the recent high-level conference in Niamey held in March 2021 on ‘Stabilisation dans les zones de conflit et lutte contre le terrorisme insurrectionnel dans le Sahel Central et le bassin du Lac Chad’ recognizes that the solution to the problems in the Sahel is first and foremost political, and the responsibility of states and political actors
in the Sahel.

The role of external partners is that of support to nationally and regionally-owned strategies. It also highlights the whole-of-society approach taking into consideration governance stakes at different levels (security, political, socio-economic). This is another opportunity for the UN System to continue in this trajectory with the support of the PBC and PBF.

In closing, I would like to underscore that the Peacebuilding Commission has an important role to ensure that engagement in the Sahel is based on national priorities as well as local and regional
dynamics. I encourage the Peacebuilding Commission to continue to leverage its convening role to mobilize partners in view of supporting nationally and regionally-driven processes.

I thank you for your attention.