Côte d'Ivoire

US: Côte d'Ivoire is a threat to region, USIP scholar tells Congress

By Kelly Machinchick, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The importance of preventing further warfare in Cote d'Ivoire cannot be exaggerated, said Dr. Timothy M. Docking, an African Affairs specialist at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), during a hearing before the House of Representatives' International Relations Subcommittee on Africa on Wednesday, February 12.

At a hearing titled "Prospects for Peace in Ivory Coast," Docking testified to the magnitude of the problems facing both Cote d'Ivoire and the international community as all sides attempt to broker asolution to end the violence. The human cost is mounting daily, he said, with huge numbers of displaced persons throughout the country and many more refugees in neighboring countries.

"The Ivory Coast is just the most recent state to fall victim to the cancer of violent instability that has plagued West Africa for 14 years," said Docking. "In the Ivory Coast there are multiple engines driving the conflict, including the cynical quest for political power, ethnic schisms, economic recessions, as well as international opportunism and banditry." But, he sees the religious divide between Muslims and Christians as the most dangerous, a divide that politicians have played upon for years.

The violence within Cote d'Ivoire also has many socio-economic factors involved, namely the "politicizing of religious and ethnic differences by opportunistic politicians, the absence of a democratic history and the lack of economic diversification of the nation's agricultural-based economy," he said.

"Along with Nigeria, the Ivory Coast is a linchpin for the region," he said. It has "long been a stable and relatively prosperous state" with sub-Saharan Africa's fourth-largest economy. In addition, Docking averred, the Ivory Coast is the world's leading producer of cacao, and Abidjan, the capital, has become a financial and trade center in the region, home to banking institutions as well as a developed port and road system. It is important to the region to maintain stability, he said, because Cote d'Ivoire's landlocked northern neighbors depend on its ports for access to the Atlantic.

But, he pointed out that West Africa, with 240 million people in 15 states, is the poorest region on earth, home to 12 of the 22 most underdeveloped countries. "Weak governance, the growing presence of mafias, gun and drug runners, international meddlers such as Libyan President Muammar Qadhafi and a surfeit of young, well-armed men, who lie in wait to prey on weak and exposed people and their decaying governments," plagues these states said Docking.

The scholar believes the spreading war in Cote d'Ivoire is part of a larger conflict spanning the entire region, and at the "epicenter" of the conflict is Liberia President Charles Taylor, another example of a meddling international figure. Also, he said, it is possible that Burkina Faso is supporting the Ivoirian rebel forces. If this were true, Docking would like to see both Liberia and Burkina Faso penalized by the international community.

In spite of some meddling, Docking gave credit to other regional actors who have tried to promote peace rather than conflict. He praised the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for leading the charge for a ceasefire. Although ECOWAS was unable to broker a peace settlement, its efforts caused the French to become more involved, whereby they brought the warring factions together in January in Linas-Marcoussis for talks. Docking suggested ECOWAS would have had more success if the member states were more united on a course of action.

As far as American foreign policy is concerned, Docking would like to see the United States support the French as it supported the British when violence erupted in Sierra Leone. "U.S. policymakers must do more than just stand behind the French: we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. At the same time, we need to send a clear message to the northern rebels that the U.S. does not accept a divided Ivory Coast," he said.

The U.S. government has the capability to penalize-through financial means-any group that tries to renege on the Marcoussis agreement, and Docking believes this may be one of the best ways to compel the sides to act in accordance with the deal.

The U.S could help prevent state disintegration by increasing aid to the region, he said. The aid would serve as an "investment in stability and socio-economic development" in addition to creating new markets for American goods. He would like to see a foreign policy plan that considers long-term factors such as economic and human development trends. Also, providing military assistance to regional armies would help strengthen links to the U.S., said Docking.

Docking worries that a collapsed Cote d'Ivoire will have serious repercussions for the region's stable states. Cote d'Ivoire borders three stable nations, including "two of Africa's brightest democratic stars, Ghana and Mali," he said.

"Despite the area's struggling economies, West Africa has more democracies than any other region of Africa, in both the Anglophone and Francophone world," Docking said. "There have been success stories, but the region -- and the world -- must maintain vigilance against forces trying to destroy the progress made."

Presently, the most important issue is establishing a ceasefire, said Docking. While the parties agreed to one in Marcoussis, the fighting has not stopped everywhere, and that is a major impediment, said the scholar. He then explained how the human cost is mounting: "There are one million internally-displaced people in the Ivory Coast and tens of thousands of refugees."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)