By Emmanuel Abalo (December 05 2005)
"...There is enough blame to go around in Cote d’Ivoire. However, the argument can be made that both rebel northerners and the government may have legitimate cases that need to be addressed through constitutional and peaceful means in order to end the division of the country and resolve the political impasse. But the use of force of arms by either side to gain an advantage at the “political table” is totally unacceptable and a violation of international law. ....”
The intractable climate of ‘No Peace, No War” in the West African country of Cote d’Ivoire, formerly known as the Ivory Coast continues too challenge peace efforts of the African Union and the United Nations and prolong economic and political instability in the suregion..
The once relatively stable nation often referred to as the “Paris” of Africa remains divided between the northerners who are predominantly of foreign origin and Islamists and the southerners who are predominantly Christians.
The Ivorian crisis finds its genesis in an attempted 1999 military coup which led to national elections in which President Laurent Gbagbo emerged as the winner and a second attempted coup by rebels in 2002 - all of which have failed to address the gripe of the rebels.
In 2002, the rebels known as the New Forces Movement launched their rebellion and quickly took control of the northern half of the country which also included the cocoa belt. Cote d’Ivoire is the world largest cocoa producer. Interestingly, the rebels did not trumpet economic disparity as the centerpiece of their rebellion. Instead, they have complained and maintain that they have been discriminated against as immigrants, and relegated to “second class’ citizens and denied political representation through the promulgation of laws by the ‘Christian” south dominated government of President Gbagbo
And so the rebels say to address their concerns, they are demanding the resignation of President Gbagbo and new elections held and the end to discrimination against northerners. They rebels are also calling for a reintegration of exiles into the Ivorian army and the premiership in government.
The Ivorian President is countering the rebels demand by demanding that they surrender their weapons and areas they occupy. International peace efforts by the former colonial power France and the African Union have so far failed to broker a deal to end the impasse resulting into a fragile, but tense truce.
In November, 2004, Ivorian government troops violated the 18-month ceasefire by launching an attack on rebels’ positions. There were dozens of deaths among civilians and the French military which is manning a buffer zone between the belligerents suffered nine casualties. The French military swiftly retaliated again the Ivorian military and destroyed that country’s air force The French government, however, not wanting become a victim of “mission creep” and not wanting to be perceived as perpetuating its colonial influence ceded its peace making role to an active African Union solution which has the blessings of the United Nations. France has about 4,000 troops in Cote d’Ivoire charged to enforce the uneasy peace between the government and rebel forces.
The danger is that both the Ivorian government and its supporters and the rebels led by Mr. Guillaune Soro are digging in along political, ethnic lines and religious lines. Hate speech against the rebels and immigrants and media reports supportive of President Gbagbo continue to fan tensions. The rebels in their area of control are reported to be utilizing cocoa resources to purchase arms and ammunitions, engaging in human rights abuses and benefitting personally from the stalemate. According to a recent U.N. team of expert report, “cocoa plays an important role in providing funds for the off-budget and extrabudgetary military procurement efforts of the Government.,"
Two years since 2003 after the Linas-Marcoussis Accord was signed by the Ivorian government and rebels in France aimed at settling the internal conflict, a resolution remains elusive. The Peace Accord addresses the issues of citizenship, Presidential eligibility and land ownership
At a U.S House Committee Congressional hearing in February, 2003 on the Ivorian situation, chaired by Republican Representative Ed Royce, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mr. Walter Kansteiner a panelist asserted the U.S. Administration’s position when he said, “…we have made clear to all of Cote d'Ivoire's neighbors that we cannot tolerate interference to further destabilize the country. We, and others, have made this point with particular emphasis to President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and President Charles Taylor of Liberia. While both presidents deny any connection with or support for the rebels, circumstantial evidence suggests that there is ample reason to remain concerned and vigilant…”
Burkina Faso and the then Charles Taylor government have been accused by the Ivorian government of “supporting, protecting and training armed opposition groups, especially the rebels.
Former President Taylor was forced out of power by advancing Liberian rebels in August, 2003, granted and remains in exile in Calabar, Nigeria and under criminal indictment by the United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.
There is enough blame to go around in Cote d’Ivoire. However, the argument can be made that both rebel northerners and the government may have legitimate cases that need to be addressed through constitutional and peaceful means in order to end the division of the country and resolve the political impasse. But the use of force of arms by either side to gain an advantage at the “political table” is totally unacceptable and a violation of international law.
Cote’d’ivoire remains a “magnet” for mercenaries looking for “work” in the sub region and the continued impasse directly threaten the fragile peace which has obtained in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In late October, 2005, the Washington DC based Human Rights Watch in a release issued said, “… Since September, Ivorian army officers and Liberian former commanders have been conducting a recruitment drive seeking ex-combatants in Liberian towns and villages bordering Côte d'Ivoire.
The Ivorian government is bolstering its military manpower by recruiting children who fought in Liberia's brutal civil war," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The international community must do all it can to ensure that these children are demobilized and that their recruiters are prosecuted."
In October, Human Rights Watch interviewed 19 Liberian ex-combatants; including three children aged 13 to 17. All of them had been approached by Liberian and Ivorian recruiters to join a fighting "mission" on behalf of Côte d'Ivoire's government. Several of those interviewed, including the children, said that they themselves were involved in the recruitment of additional fighters…”
A striking cross border threat is the fact that an ethnic conflagration may erupt on the Liberian-Ivorian border pitting the Ivorian Guere tribe and their Liberian cousins squarely behind President Gbagbo in a battle against the Yacoubas who live on both sides of the borders and are reported to be sympathetic to the rebels.
There is also large Burkinabe poverty ridden immigrant population in Cote d‘Ivoire who has complained of been harassed and subjected to intimidation and violence by Ivorians in the south who accuse the Burkinabes of supporting the rebels. Burkinabes from the homeland could come to the defense of their fellow nationals in the instance of an all out war between Cote d‘Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
Religious fanatics’ and terrorists intent on attacking western interests and their supporters may also gravitate to this West African hotspot, establish a foothold and foment trouble. After all, a stable West African sub region is strategically important for continued economic, military, social and political growth and dynamism.
The Way Forward
The solution here then is the full implementation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution backed by the African Union. A recently passed U.N. Security Council resolution supported allowing President Gbagbo up to 12 additional months in power, after presidential elections scheduled for October, 2005 were deemed impossible by the United Nations. Although peace mediation efforts continue by an African head of state delegation, the international community must insist and make clear that the post of Prime Minister is filled by a credible Ivorian candidate acceptable to all sides in order to facilitate a movement to a national resolution. According to latest news reports, an Ivorian financial heavyweight Mr. Konan Banny, who has been serving as the governor of the Central Bank of West African States, has been named as interim Prime Minister. Diplomatic and political sources say the new interim Prime Minister has a reputation for being “competent and strong willed.” . His mandate will be to disarm the rebels and organize and conduct national elections paving the way for a government to acceptable to all sides.
The government and rebels and their supporters must also be put on notice by the United Nations and the African Union that they will be indicted and prosecuted for war crimes, human rights abuses and violation of international law if they persist along this path. We also call on ordinary Ivories to begin collecting and preserving evidences of abuses by any side for potential prosecutorial criminal and civil actions against those responsible.
Additionally, we urge the imposition of economic and travel sanctions now against those stifling the resolution of the Ivorian crisis.
Never again should any African warlord or insurgent group be rewarded with the political power except through the constitutional and democratic process undertaken through free and fair elections sanctioned by the international community.
About the author:
The author, Emmanuel Abalo, is an exiled Liberian journalist , media and human rights activist. He served as a former News Director of the erstwhile Catholic owned ELCM Community Radio and later with the Liberian Broadcasting System (ELBC). He is the former Acting President of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL). Mr. Abalo presently resides in Pennsylvania, USA and works as an analyst with CITIGROUP, North America.