Côte d'Ivoire: Peace deal runs into dead end

Report
from AllAfrica
Published on 09 Mar 2009 View Original
Rinaldo Depagne

Two years after a peace deal ended the bloody five-year civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, the country is once again at risk of crumbling apart. Slowly recovering from multiple, inter-related conflicts on numerous fronts, West Africa can hardly afford to see Côte d'Ivoire return to war.

On 4 March 2007, the Government and the rebel Forces Nouvelles signed the Ouagadougou political agreement, halting a five-year conflict that cost thousands of lives. At first, the compromise created an atmosphere of optimism and reconciliation in Côte d'Ivoire. The dividing line between the two sides was dismantled, a new government was formed, and in-depth work was undertaken to find a solution to the two key issues underlying the conflict: Ivorian identity and the legitimacy of those in power.

Unfortunately, once the official ceremonies were over, President Laurent Gbagbo and Forces Nouvelles leader and now Prime Minister Guillaume Soro failed to live up to most of their commitments. The result is that today, inter-Ivorian peace is at a dead end.

The process of issuing identity papers to the population -- a crucial issue in the resolution of the crisis and an essential precondition for elections -- has still not been done. Despite a target completion date of 28 February, three million people remain unregistered. Following another postponement on 30 November last year, preparations for presidential elections have become an object of pure speculation.

The process of redeploying public administration following the conflict, foreseen for 15 January 2009, has not yet been implemented throughout the territory. In the centre and north of the country, rebels continue to rule in place of the law, police and tax system. The disarmament of fighters amounted to no more than to a few high profile units destroying small arms, even though the continued presence of weapons is a strong threat to elections.

Of course, the main protagonists of the crisis benefit from the status quo: the head of state who is trying to gain time to prepare an election he is not sure of winning; the military leaders of the Forces Nouvelles who are still growing rich by collecting taxes; the overpaid executives in charge of identifying and enrolling the population for the elections; and the Prime Minister's young collaborators who unashamedly benefit from the privileges of power.

Meanwhile, the population lives in misery. According to the Ivorian Planning Ministry, the poverty rate in Côte d'Ivoire rose from 49 percent in 2002 to 62.45 percent in 2008. Abidjan is an exhausted city where the cost of living has become outrageous. In private, the majority of actors from the international community share this opinion. They underline the financial irregularities and the widespread poor governance which paralyse the country's economy. Yet publicly, the international community takes part in the fiction kept alive by those who benefit from the power. A World Bank-International Monetary Fund joint mission thus welcomed in mid February the "good management" of Côte d'Ivoire's 2008 budget.

The accumulation of false promises, an uncontrolled circulation of tens of thousands of weapons on the territory, as well as the material frustrations of a growing part of the population threaten the survival of the Ouagadougou political agreement and the atmosphere of reconciliation to which it gave rise. To save it from suffocation, leading members of the international community who can influence the main parties to the crisis, starting with the president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, should apply as much pressure as possible to put an end to this cycle of empty promises.

The identification and enrolment process should be improved. The prime minister should truly drive the election process by putting together a team capable of coordinating all the operations which will lead to the elections. Political leaders and officials of the independent electoral commission should put an end to the series of official announcements setting unrealistic dates for the elections, something which has become dangerously irresponsible , and follow the United Nations Security Council's request by keeping to the final calendar. The Council at least is finally starting to understand the dangers of letting the transition continue indefinitely with such low achievements, and that it is now facing a dead end.

Prime Minister Soro, who has lost control over part of his movement, is struggling to restore order. His position prevents him from enforcing the law through violence as he was used to doing before the Ouagadougou agreement. Compaoré, who has been charged with mediating the crisis by the African Union, should apply more pressure on the mid-level leadership of the Forces Nouvelles, who are refusing the redeployment of public administration.

Relevant Links

- West Africa

- Conflict, Peace and Security

- Côte d'Ivoire

- Peacekeeping and Conflict Resolution

All the parties in conflict are manifestly reluctant to disarm completely, fearing problems in the electoral process. Retaining significant force will enable them to "adjust" the elections in their favour in their zone, and to take up arms again if the process fails to come to a successful conclusion itself or to reach the expected results. France, which still plays a key role in the security of the country, should not delude itself: the fool's game currently taking place in Abidjan is dangerous, and the time is not yet right to withdraw soldiers from its Operation Licorne.

The accumulation of empty promises, the persistent circulation of tens of thousands of weapons and the material frustration of a growing part of the population are a threat to the survival of the peace process. Time is running short to relaunch the implementation of the Ouagadougou agreement and avoid falling back into open conflict.

Rinaldo Depagne is a senior analyst for West Africa at the International Crisis Group