Coronavirus complicates Sahel’s complex security situation

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COVID-19 is complicating an already complex security situation in the Sahel, with terrorist groups exploiting the pandemic stepping up attacks on national and international forces according to the UN peacekeeping chief.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council the last six months were particularly challenging as the G5 Sahel group of nations – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – deployed a joint force to restore stability to the African sub-region.

“We are seeing attempts by terrorists and other groups to capitalise on the pandemic to undermine State authority and destabilise governments”, with innocent lives lost daily, schools shuttered and many people denied access to basic social services,” he said.

“It will take years to rebuild affected communities even under the best of circumstances as well as sustained efforts to ensure no-one is left behind”, the under Secretary-General for peace operations said.

“In the face of such loss and devastation, we cannot be passive.”

Lacroix was briefing a videoconference meeting of the Council as the UN considers options to beef up support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, including through its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali.

He said the Joint Force was making “tangible and encouraging progress” in building up ranks and establishing a command structure in Niamey to co-operate with other international forces in the Sahel.

Those efforts to date led to an ongoing major military operation, code-named Sama, which is “progressing well” he reported.

With financial support from the European Union, MINUSMA – the French acronym for the UN Stabilisation Mission in Mali – is providing “life support consumables” (food, water and fuel) within its mandate.

Lacroix warned the Mission is running at maximum capacity and cannot do more for the Joint Force within its current Council-defined mandate and resources.

He called for a comprehensive support package, funded by member states through assessed contributions to the world body.

“This would allow for predictable and sustainable support and make it easier to pursue a long-term strategy to phase out support and to render the Joint Force autonomous,” he said.

It would also free up MINUSMA to focus exclusively on supporting the peace process and stabilisation in central Mali.

“The G5 Sahel Joint force is on the right track, but there is a long way to go”, he said, adding a stronger Joint Force was part of a comprehensive international approach for the Sahel including improved governance, eradicating poverty and protecting human rights.