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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Cote d'Ivoire: Updates and Analysis, 2

Africa Policy E-Journal
January 9, 2003 (030109)

Cote d'Ivoire: Updates and Analysis, 2
(reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains two short documents and additional links for current information and analysis on the current crisis in the Cote d'Ivoire. Another posting today contains excerpts from a December background report from the Global Internally Displaced Peoples Project in Geneva on the same topic.

Note: The Africa Policy E-Journal, with a principal focus on continent-wide policy issues, does not provide regular coverage of specific countries. Occasional updates such as these, focusing on country-specific issues of wider regional significance, also include links to other sources which readers can consult for more frequent updates.

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France Presses Ivory Coast President for Concessions


January 4, 2003

By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Nairobi

[excerpts reposted by permission. For full text and additional news see]

The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, flew to Cote d'Ivoire Friday and immediately began knocking heads together, to try to end the four-month civil war which has split the country in two. He received a commitment from President Laurent Gbagbo, who pledged to observe a "total ceasefire" and to expel all foreign mercenaries.

Villepin announced that faltering West African brokered peace talks in Togo, which have made little progress since October, would shift to a new venue in Paris. He said he expected all parties to meet in the French capital in mid-January. "We need to have very strong and fast results and I do believe that everyone wants to have a political solution," Villepin told journalists shortly after he arrived in the main city, Abidjan.

In a bid to restore peace to the former French colony, Paris sent Villepin to Cote d'Ivoire to turn up the pressure on the Ivorian leader, whose loyalist army has been fighting the rebels who launched a failed coup d'etat on September 19.

Gbagbo was instructed by Paris to get rid of foreign mercenaries reported to be fighting on the side of his troops and ground all helicopter gunships, one of the rebels' main demands. The French military is currently monitoring a ceasefire between the government and the main rebel northern Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI).

Condemnation of government loyalist attack on civilian village

But Paris announced this week that the government had violated the truce, with a loyalist helicopter gunship raid behind northern rebel lines on Tuesday, on the fishing village of Menakro. The French military said a dozen civilians were killed. France strongly condemned the attack and called the incident unacceptable. Menakro is deep inside a ceasefire line being manned and monitored by French troops.

Washington shared French outrage, describing the government's aerial bombing as "senseless and ill conceived". But the Americans said the incident should not be a pretext to end peace efforts. "Individual actions such as the recent helicopter attack (on Menakro) should not be used as an excuse to abandon a ceasefire that has been relatively effective for more than two months," said Julie Reside, a State Department spokeswoman. She added: "We share with them (the French) a strong commitment to a peaceful political solution to the conflict (in Cote d'Ivoire)".

Gbagbo's government said the raid was in retaliation for a rebel attack on government positions.

Villepin appears to have won immediate concessions on both his demands. Gbagbo agreed to stricter controls on his troops and to throw out the mercenaries - this weekend. "The last of them will leave Ivorian territory tomorrow. There will be no more mercenaries on our side," Gbagbo told journalists. "We're going to abstain from all acts of war on all fronts, north, centre, west." The Ivorian leader added: "We're even going to demobilise our helicopters and stop our men in the positions they are in, because in the end we need peace."

The rebels are accused also of using the services of foreign mercenaries.

At a joint news conference on Friday, both Gbagbo and Villepin said they hoped the French peace initiative would jumpstart stalled efforts to restore peace to Cote d'Ivoire. France has been itching to relocate stop-start peace negotiations to Paris as the war intensified, with the emergence of two new rebel groups to complicate an already confused conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

So, government and rebel delegations - and most likely representatives from the newer rebel groups, the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West (MPIGO) and the Movement for Peace and Justice (MJP) - are scheduled to meet in Paris, along with West African leaders. ...

Villepin was scheduled to head to the rebel-held north on Saturday for discussions with the MPCI.

Anti-French sentiment running high

Gbagbo had to step in to protect the French minister, who was confronted by a hostile crowd of angry men and women. They prevented him from leaving the president's home in the main city Abidjan. Villepin's convoy was blocked outside Gbagbo's residence in Cocody for half an hour, after a rumour spread that the French minister was in Cote d'Ivoire to encourage Gbagbo to step down. This is one of the conditions set down by rebels, which have dragged out the talks in Togo.

Ivorian soldiers swiftly formed a security cordon, keeping the screaming hordes from surging forward. But it took Gbagbo's personal intervention to calm the mob. He struggled to be heard above the din of whistle-blowing and shouting, but eventually managed to convince them that he was not stepping down. Yelling "Dominique has come today to help us quickly find a way out of this awful war before the end of January - Do you agree?" The crowds finally responded "yes, yes". Gbagbo then accompanied the French foreign minister on the two-minute walk to his next appointment next-door at the French ambassador's residence. ...

Feelings against the former colonial power are running high, with both sides accusing the French of taking sides.

Gbagbo's supporters say the French should be doing more to help the government rout the rebels and allege that Paris is supporting the insurgents, who have vowed to depose the Ivorian leader. On the rebel side, France stands of accused of blocking their advance southwards towards the coastal metropolis, Abidjan, which has remained under government control since the rebellion began.

Ambiguous French role?

The original rebels signed a ceasefire deal agreed by the government on 17 October. French troops, already in Cote d'Ivoire to safeguard theirs and other foreign nationals, took on the task of monitoring the truce. But the French ceasefire supervision role became more difficult after the additional rebel groups appeared and opened up a western front, near the Liberian border. The new rebels are not a party to the truce agreement.

The French had vowed not to get militarily involved in the Cote d'Ivoire conflict, but changed that stance last month, with a push to stop the fighting. The French military mandate was amended from ceasefire monitoring to enforcement of the truce and Paris saw itself increasingly sucked into the civil war.

French diplomatic efforts were increased simultaneously, leading to the latest visit by Villepin to West Africa.

Faltering regional peace efforts

Regional leaders have tried and failed to get the rival Ivorian sides to end the fighting, despite the best efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). Fearing that the Cote d'Ivoire conflict will spread to the rest of the region, heads of state have held a number of summits to try to find a negotiated settlement, without success.

Ecowas pledged to sent regional peacekeepers to Cote d'Ivoire to take over from the French troops and ceasefire a peace deal. They were meant to arrive by the end of October, then November, then by the end of the year. But the main West African force is still not in place, although an advance guard has reached Cote d'Ivoire. Senegal will take command of the regional peacekeeping army.

Can Cote d'Ivoire step back from the brink?

Meanwhile, Cote d'Ivoire remains divided, literally in two, and also split on ethnic and regional lines. The government holds the south, including Abidjan, while the MPCI controls the north, with the west in a state of volatile confusion. Unlike the original well-disciplined rebels who are reported to have committed summary executions sparingly, the western rebels are said to be poorly disciplined, looting, harassing, killing and raping civilians indiscriminately.

This savage and unruly behaviour is reminiscent of the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where drugged child soldiers were given orders to kill.

Cote d'Ivoire - an eldorado and home to millions of immigrants - was long regarded as an island of calm and stability in a turbulent region. It has now conclusively lost that cherished reputation. Instead, Ivorians can hardly recognise the image of their own country, as they watch Cote d'Ivoire hurtle down the same ruinous route towards civil war, a fate they would never have believed possible, even a year ago.

Prevention genocides

[excerpts only; for full text as well as additional documents, see the website cited above]

Press Release

Brussels, 3 October 2002

Cote d'Ivoire, A Crisis Foreseen

The Cote d'Ivoire is now undergoing an attempted coup d'etat that has cost numerous deaths. The situation is worsening and becoming more complex each day. Some observers are warning of another Rwanda.

For more than two years, the non-governmental organization (NGO), Prevention Genocides, based in Brussels, Belgium, has attempted to call attention both to Ivorians and to Western policy makers, of the dangers of ethnic, xenophobic identity politics that has developed for a dozen years during the Ivorian economic crisis. A film was produced entitled, "Ivory Coast, An Explosive Identity Crisis". ...

Steps of the original analysis

Our involvement began in October 2000. A team of sociologists of our NGO was sent to the Cote d'Ivoire. Field research was carried out including hundreds of in depth interviews at many levels of the society and in many geographical regions. An analysis of recorded narratives, testimony, and images by Spring 2001 resulted in a clear diagnosis: Ivorian society is undermined by several crises:

  1. A crisis of the political elites: a battle among four leaders (Bedie, Guei, Ouattara and Gbagbo) has rocked the political life of the country for ten years and has often led to petty tactical calculation to gain or preserve power at the expense of the long-term goals of development. Corruption has also undermined the foundations of the rule of law.
  2. A crisis of finances of the Ivorian state due primarily to the fall of the price of cacao, and the suspension of certain international assistance in light of evidence of massive theft of subsidies from the European Fund for Development in the health sector.
  3. A deep identity crisis.

For almost ten years the concept of "ivoirite" ("ivorianess") was fabricated by politicians in search of legitimacy. An ideology and propaganda directed by those in power created, little by little, in the social imagination two identity groups: the "100 percent Ivorians" from the "roots"; and the "dubious Ivorians," of whom the leader is Alassane Ouattara, leader of the opposition RDR (former prime minister of Houphoet Boigny.) He was excluded from elections for his "dubious Ivorianess." Besides him, his whole community is targeted. Beyond his own community, there is a linkage of "dubious Ivoirians" with foreigners. An equation is readily made: Ouattara = RDR militants = people of the north = Muslims = Dioulas = foreigners. In these representations, the cleavage "us versus them" is deeply embedded.

There is nothing "natural" about such images. They are socially constructed. In Cote d'Ivoire, there is the desire to portray one part of the inhabitants as not belonging to the political community. ... It is an ideology founded on purity of identity determined by origin.

It is a paradox that such an illusion of identity founded on blood, on a myth of a common past, appears in particularly mixed societies, thereby including some and excluding others. It is said of a naturalized Ivorian whose family has lived in the country for many generations,"It is not because of his papers that he is Ivorian." Thus the culture is "naturalized." ... certain people call themselves "100 percent Ivorian" of multisecular origin. It is this way that collective life is deeply racialized and ethnicized. It leads to practices of apartheid, of forced emigration, and finally of ethnic cleansing.

A second aspect of this ideology and propaganda is the self-perceived victimization of the "true Ivorians." They are would-be victims of the RDR, the Dioulas, the foreigners, the foreign press, etc. Stereotypes are durably fixed in people's minds and feed their hatreds. These social markings are powerful.

The propaganda feeds fear and hatred of the "other", perceived as impure and menacing. Humiliations, extortions, and discriminations are daily. They constitute social landmines, and the smallest thing can make them explode.

The virus of origins and the powderkeg

The Cote d'Ivoire appears to us to be a veritable powderkeg. Most of the elements that preceded the conflagrations like the ethnic cleansings in Bosnia and Kosovo or the Rwandan genocide are present. ... Among the most important of these is the policy of manipulating identity and ethnicity. ...

A powderkeg and the pyromaniacs

Today, in the light of the sparks from the fire, we see that the risks that we pointed out yesterday, are unfortunately becoming realities. Listening to the speeches of political leaders and reading the press, one is led to conclude that the fragile reconciliation process is dead. More than ever, fear and hatred of the other are manufactured. Old stereotypes are again dominant. Everything is to be done again. If only the worst could be avoided!

What is to be done?

As administrators and directors of the NGO, "Prevention genocides" :

* We earnestly and strongly call upon all Ivorians (political, press, and leaders of civil society) to voluntarily abstain from any act that could accentuate the ethnicization of the conflict. This often results from speech that is indirect but damaging. For example,

  • When Alassane Ouattara reported that "the police who came to assassinate me spoke the Bete language," his words could be perceived as suspicion cast upon the whole ethnic group of his rival, the president Gbagbo.

  • When the President called on television for the "cleansing of the neighborhoods" and the press of his party cited explicitly Burkina Faso as an invader of the Cote d'Ivoire, such statements could appear as encouragement of ethnic cleansing of Burkinabes living in the country. They are about three million out of sixteen million inhabitants - Passing from these words to deeds, the police have burned many Abidjan shantytowns where the majority of foreigners live.

    All references to individual acts can in this context lead to the collective: it is the whole group that is immediately designated for popular revenge, if not for massacres.

    The most xenophobic Ivorian press fans the flames, accusing pell-mell the Western media, neighboring African countries, opposition parties, and foreigners on Ivorian soil of wanting to destroy the country. They are thus putting in place all the conditions necessary for a large-scale conflagration.

* We ask the international community to quickly conceive an integrated plan for the support of the Cote d'Ivoire in order to create conditions for long-term reconciliation. We reiterate our call for criteria of good government and formal democracy to be well-suited to socio-cultural conditions in the Ivorian context.

Without this intervention, the worst-case scenario is to be feared.

If the calls for xenophobic and ethnic hatred do not stop and if, on the contrary, politicians continue to exploit ethnicity, the following may occur:

  • Massive emigration of a major part of the three million Burkinabes living in Cote d'Ivoire to their country of origin.

    For Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries on earth, this would be a catastrophe; they would be unassimilable because of incapacity to receive, much less to feed, such an influx of refugees. An essential resource of its fragile economy would disappear - financial transfers from its citizens working in Cote d'Ivoire.

  • The economy of the Cote d'Ivoire would probably be heavily affected by the brutal disappearance of such a large number of laborers essential to the survival and vitality of its economy.

    Consequences for Ivorian society would be frightening: virulent ethnic hate speech, growing rancor, search for economic scapegoats, and social catastrophe that could lead straight to civil war.

Contrary to what is sometimes prophesied, this will not be a "simple" war of secession between North and South. Many religious and ethnic groups of the Cote d'Ivoire are present in each city, village, neighborhood, and courtyard of the country, as intricately inter-related as are the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda.

A civil war in Cote d'Ivoire would soon turn into thousands of local pogroms, and if there were secession, it would come at a price of mass forced displacements of the population as occurred in India and Pakistan.

The dissolution of the state and the rule of force that would follow could only lead the Cote d'Ivoire into a situation like Sierra Leone or Liberia, with all the predictable effects on the stability of the sub-region, of which the Cote d'Ivoire is the economic heart (40 percent of the GDP of the West African Economic Community).

[names of signatories available on website cited above] October 1 background article by Philippe Leymarie (in French), with extensive set of links to other sources.
English-language edition has article by Tiemoko Coulibaly, "Cote d'Ivoire: north vs. south." Available to site subscribers only.
Friends of Cote d'Ivoire - includes humanitarian and advocacy actions by group as well as links to current news.
IRIN web special, with five-part background article from November as well as current news.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030109
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+ +political/rights+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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