Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: UNOCI holds its first information forum in the northeast

Some of the effects of the Ivorian crisis on the city of Bouna, located 650 kilometres northeast of Abidjan, are painfully obvious. There are several dilapidated and, in some cases, abandoned houses. Certain administrative buildings have neither roofs nor windows. The collecting of garbage has been interrupted because the municipality's front end loaders have been damaged.

Other consequences of the crisis are less visible, such as the lack of basic services and the worsening of socioeconomic conflicts, which were among the main concerns voiced by participants at a forum organized on Saturday 12 May 2007 by the United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) for civil society in the town. The participants - some 400 of them - also had other concerns, the main one being the lack of tangible progress in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR).

The forum was attended by representatives of civil society, the Force Nouvelles' Deputy Zone Commander for Bouna, the deputy mayor, traditional and religious leaders, as well as representatives of political parties.

Once the pouring of libations and traditional welcome addresses were over, UNOCI representatives explained the role and the activities of their respective sections. When the time came for exchanges between the audience and UNOCI officials, a young man rushed to speak. "We want paved roads. There is no radio, except ONUCI FM. We do not have a hospital in Bouna. When a woman is sick, she has to be sent to Burkina Faso", which is impossible if you do not have money, he said. "There is no water. There is no electricity. As from today, we want an ambulance. As from today or tomorrow, they must send us doctors and competent nurses in Bouna". The audience's appreciation for his expression of the community's grievances was evident from the thunderous applause.

The young man's indictment was confirmed by the reports of three working groups which participated in a preparatory pre-forum workshop during which civil society representatives analysed information they collected earlier from area residents. The report of the Working Group on Social Services mentioned a severe deterioration of essential services such as water, electricity, public health and education, which suffer from a lack of financial, material and human resources, even though joint efforts by UNOCI, humanitarian agencies, civil servants and local NGOs had prevented the situation from becoming disastrous.

An ongoing conflict between pastoralists and farmers was a major cause of concern, according to the Working Group on Social Cohesion, which warned that it was in the process of becoming an inter-ethnic conflict. Moreover, parties were questioning the traditional and military mechanisms of conflict management, claiming that the penalties set were too high or that those arbitrating favoured the opposing camp, according to the Group's report.

The crisis has had a significant effect on women and young people, according to the Working Group on Gender and Development. In each of their traditional economic activities - market gardening, small-scale chicken farming, retail trade - women faced shrinking demand, due to the fact that many civil servants had left, people had been displaced by the crisis, those who remained behind were poorer than before and "taxes" had been imposed by the Forces Nouvelles (FN). Similar factors affected young people, who were mainly small farmers, transporters and transport workers, hairdressers, poultry and cashew nut vendors, motor mechanics and dressmakers.

Other issues raised by the Working Group concerned the rights of girls and women, which are often ignored or sacrificed, due to socio-cultural pressures exerted on them. These included circumcision, forced marriages and the exploitation of girls as water sellers and servants. They added that under-aged children were sometimes subjected to sexual exploitation as a result of poverty.

Among their recommendations, the working groups underlined the need to urgently reunify the country, which will allow the redeployment of the administration, the elimination of roadblocks, the installation of irrigation dams and water pumps, and the creation of a fund to provide financial support for small traders. They also suggested the strengthening of the technical and organizational capacities of local NGOs that work in the field of social cohesion, the financing of projects targeting young people, women and community leaders, and the sensitization and mobilization of the community around women's and children's rights.

Other key points raised included the fate of volunteer teachers and the absence of television and radio services, except for ONUCI FM. The participants underlined the importance of having radio programmes in local languages so as to have access to a large portion of the population who do not speak French. In this regard, they asked for additional support for the local community radio, which benefited some time ago from a donation of equipment by UNOCI under its Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) programme, but is still waiting for its building to be rehabilitated in order to become operational.