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Updated on 28 February 2016


Section 5(c):   Political missions and offices


Contested merger of Office of the SG’s Special Envoy for the Sahel into UNOWA


On 14 January 2016, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Security Council President presenting the main findings and recommendations of the strategic review carried out with respect to the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel (OSES) by the Department of Political Affairs (S/2016/88).  The Secretary-General noted that out of the three options for the institutional design of the Office of the Special Envoy discussed in the review, he had decided to proceed with implementing the third option.  That option was to merge OSES into the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), which would be renamed the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).  However, in this connection the Secretary-General decided to implement “a light merger, whereby existing capacity to support the integrated strategy would remain largely unchanged, except for its reporting line through my Special Representative for West Africa and Head of UNOWA”.


The Council had voiced its support for the strategic review of OSES in a Statement by the President adopted on 8 December 2015 (S/PRST/2015/24).  In that connection, the Statement affirmed that


“The Security Council looks forward to considering the recommendations of the Secretary-

General’s strategic review of the OSES to be conducted in December 2015, and requests the

inclusion of recommendations on the location of the OSES, in consultation with the Member

States of the Sahel region including the G5 Sahel Member States and regional and international

actors, bearing in mind the need to more fully and directly anchor the implementation of the

UNISS [UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel] in the region including the five priority countries,

namely Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as well as to maximize synergies with

the relevant entities of the United Nations system.”


Although consultations with the “five priority countries” of the region were referred to in both the Statement by the President and the Secretary-General’s letter of 14 January 2016, these consultations were not fully satisfactory from the viewpoint of those countries.  On 22 January 2016 (S/2016/66), a letter was sent to the Council President by the representative of Chad, in his capacity as the representative of the country chairing the Group of Five for the Sahel and the Ministerial Coordination Platform for the Sahel.  In the letter, the Chadian representative noted that despite that fact that S/PRST/2015/24


“called upon the Secretariat to hold at least one meeting per quarter with the permanent

representatives of the member States of the Group of Five for the Sahel in New York, to share information and follow up on the implementation of the United Nations integrated strategy for

the Sahel, the representatives have neither been consulted with respect to the findings of the

strategic review nor received any draft report of the strategic review.”


Moreover, the Chadian representative informed the Council President that “The member States of the Group of Five for the Sahel are deeply troubled by the idea of merging” OSES and UNOWA, an action which he said would contradict “the spirit and the letter” of the Council’s most recent presidential statements on the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel (S/PRST/2014/17 and S/PRST/2015/24).  The Chadian representative underscored that there is not a complete overlap between the countries of the Sahel (as related to the mandate of OSES), and the countries of West Africa (as related to the mandate of UNOWA), when he pointed out that “Chad is not a West African country”.  Concluding, “the member States of the Group of Five for the Sahel ask the members of the Council to keep to their decision and to maintain the Office as a stand-alone entity, while continuing to strengthen it.”


Despite this appeal by the Group of Five for the Sahel, on 28 January 2016, the President of the Security Council wrote a letter to the Secretary-General (S/2016/89) stating that the Council members “request you to proceed with the [light] merger, with a view to maximizing synergies by ensuring a unified management and structure of the new United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).”


The letter from Chad had also stressed that “it is critical to take into account” the request contained in the final communiqué of the Heads of State of the Group of Five for the Sahel, adopted on 20 November 2015 in N’Djamena, that the United Nations relocate OSES “to the headquarters of the Group of Five for the Sahel, in Nouakchott, with a view to improving coordination and cooperation in the implementation of joint projects”.  In his letter, the Secretary-General stated that this request was discussed by the review team, but that in light of the “operational challenges relating to a relocation of the Office, the team noted that the deployment of a light liaison cell to Nouakchott could be a constructive alternative.”  Thus, the merged UNOWAS will remain based in Dakar.


On page 426, the book explains that


“Whenever the Council President sends a letter, he or she is acting ‘under the authority of the

Security Council’, pursuant to Rule 19 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, to represent the

Council ‘in its capacity as an organ of the United Nations’. Accordingly, letters sent by the Council President are in every case consensus documents.” 


Therefore, the Council President’s letter requesting the Secretary-General to proceed with the light merger of OSES and UNOWA had the support, or at least the acquiescence, of all fifteen members of the Council, including the three African members – Angola, Egypt and Senegal.  Had the response of the Council been negotiated the previous year, in 2015, consensus would in all likelihood have been blocked by Chad, which was a Council member at that time.


Further clarity on the “light merger” is expected to develop during a mission by Council members to the headquarters in Dakar of the newly-renamed United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel in early March 2016.


Decisions with respect to establishing UN regional offices or making changes to their structure or mandate have not always proceeded smoothly.  The book (pages 513-514) describes that it took eight months for the Council to agree to a proposal made in 2009 by the Secretary-General for the establishment of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA).  However, as pointed out in an article posted by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) on 26 February 2016, “one of the more successful approaches to conflict prevention in recent years has been the increased UN engagement at the regional level.”  The article states that its regional offices have allowed the United Nations “to actively support regional initiatives in the areas of early warning and conflict prevention”.  It adds that “This experience is behind the Secretary-General’s strong support for the call by the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations for additional regional offices.”  However, as the experiences with the establishment of UNOCA and the merger of OSES and UNOWA have shown, it is essential to hold adequate consultations with all stakeholders, including both countries of the region and major contributors to the UN budget.


Presently under consideration is the establishment of a UN regional office in Southern Africa.  In this connection, DPA Assistant Secretary-General Tayé Zerihoun has traveled twice to the region to explore the possibility of establishing such an office.



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