Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: IRIN Interview with ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas

ADDIS ABABA, 5 February (IRIN) - Mohamed Ibn Chambas is the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has been spearheading efforts to bring peace to Cote d'Ivoire. While attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa he talked with IRIN about the Marcoussis agreement, a peace pact concluded in late January by the Ivorian government, political parties and rebel groups, and the role which the AU and UN should be playing.
Question: What forms the background to this crisis?

Answer: Cote d'Ivoire was almost unique in West Africa because for a long time it was an island of peace and stability and relative prosperity. The growth in the prosperity in that country attracted many nationals from other West African countries so in time the issue of who is an Ivorian and who is not has become a political question.

In the last elections in particular when certain candidates were prevented from running this issue came to the fore and the feeling of exclusion, especially of Ivorians of northern extraction, definitely is one of the forces of the war.

Q: Do you think the Marcoussis agreement can work as it is or that some amendments are needed?

A: Certainly, that is why we believe the Marcoussis agreement is the right framework for resolving the crisis because Marcoussis was not about sharing posts and forming a cabinet. It addressed the fundamental issues and called for constitutional amendments based on a consensus by all the major political formations in Cote d'Ivoire who agree they will make the necessary changes on the nationality law. They made the necessary changes not to exclude any active political participants. In other words to change the eligibility rules to allow, say, Mr [opposition leader Alassane Dramane] Ouattara to be a candidate.

Q: Do you think the rebels can have the defence department or can't it work like this?

A: The question of who will have what portfolio is something that should be negotiated by the Prime Minister who, after all, is the one to appoint his cabinet. The Marcoussis agreement did not share posts so this came after, in an effort to implement Marcoussis and form a government of national consensus. The sharing took place and then the difficulties came out so there should be continuing dialogue and discussion by all sides to see how best to overcome this problem of who will hold what post. That should not stand in the way of implementing the Marcoussis agreement, which set out to address some very fundamental problems in Cote d'Ivoire.

Q: Should the rebels have a role in government?

A: We are not saying that rebel groups should be in government. Sometimes you have to make the principles practical with some realism also. But the principle remains that you cannot change the government through violence in Africa - it is not acceptable and we are sticking with that principle. You have a situation on the ground where force clearly commands some political support and it is a real force to deal with and you cannot ignore it. So you have to balance the realism with respect for principles without in any way compromising constitutional rule and respect for rule of law and democracy which we are trying to build.

Q: Why should Ivorians have any confidence about the AU resolving this conflict given their record elsewhere on the continent?

A: ECOWAS has done very well with the AU. In this particular crisis the AU has acted very promptly in appointing a special representative and the interim president Amara Essy himself has been very involved - as you know he is Ivorian - and the role of President Mbeki who from the very beginning was in Accra to participate in summit meetings and was in Paris and Abidjan. The context in this case is that ECOWAS should play the lead role and the AU should support.>

The regional economic groups are the building blocks for the AU and they need to be strengthened to take the lead role in resolving subregional crises and the AU should play a supporting complementary role. Sub-regional efforts should lead the way and we should avoid duplication of efforts. You have to strengthen subregional blocks.

Q: If the AU's Peace and Security Council was up and running would this crisis provide a good example of them sending in troops.

A: I would still say you have to go through the region because we have taken the steps to send in troops. So even at the continental level what the Peace and Security Council could be doing is by seeing how can we help ECOWAS. It would premature for them to send troops, even the UN. That is why we say to the UN 'Why don't you look at UN intervention within the context of what the sub-region is doing'.

Q: Have the French played the role ECOWAS should by sending troops early on?

A: ECOWAS has sent troops now. They are there and by the end of this week we will have a 1,300-member force there. We have a significant force and we have worked very closely with the French forces to monitor the ceasefires, the three ceasefire agreements that have been signed, and help implement the Marcoussis agreement which for us remains the framework within which we should work.

Q: Is ECOWAS fearful of another coup in Cote d'Ivoire?

A: As you know the position of the African Union and of ECOWAS is that we cannot recognise any government that will come to power through a coup d'etat or unconstitutional incidents. We urge the groups to continue to observe the ceasefire, to continue to have the spirit of reconciliation and consensus building which is what has enabled them to reach the Marcoussis agreement. Within that spirit, even this current phase, we can overcome it. All sides have to be willing to make compromises. In Africa these days if you do that you will not get recognised so they have to work within the framework of Marcoussis. I have been in touch with all parties and all parties remain engaged in dialogue and negotiations.

Q: So when will Ivorians see peace?

A: We will keep working at it and we see from here that the ECOWAS position is accepted as the correct framework to approach the crisis. It is hard to put time on this. The sub-region will move very quickly to try and help and negate this impact. This is something we cannot let fester. After the summit you will see some activities by the subregion to engage both sides and find a compromise.


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