Côte d’Ivoire: What’s Needed to End the Crisis
Africa Briefing N°62
2 Jul 2009
On 4 March 2007, the two main actors in the Côte d’Ivoire crisis signed the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement (OPA). The deal initially produced a peaceful atmosphere. The demarcation line between the armed forces was dismantled, a new government formed and the groundwork laid for addressing the conflict’s key questions: Ivorian identity and citizenship, and presidential legitimacy. Yet, more than two years later, the OPA is in deep trouble. The conflict will only be resolved if the commitments made in the Burkinabé capital are finally translated into action. Organising credible elections will not be enough to rescue Côte d’Ivoire from a decade-long crisis; substantial progress in the disarmament process and genuine reunification of the administration are also needed. President Compaoré’s facilitation needs to generate new momentum, and other international partners must increase their pressure.
Political leaders have been pushed to the wall, with less than a half-year left to organise free and transparent elections as agreed and proceed with disarming thousands of combatants. Another postponement of elections would be a death blow to the OPA. If armed groups are not at least partially dismantled, there will be a severe risk of new unrest.
Electoral registration and identification were officially closed on 30 June, but the operation did not reach its initial aim. Launched in September 2008, the complex operation has been ill-conceived and mismanaged, its financing deliberately hampered by President Gbagbo, who has a vested interest in delaying the elections as much as possible. Following yet another postponement on 30 November 2008, the UN Security Council in January 2009 demanded that Ivorian leaders provide a realistic electoral timetable. In May, a new date for what is likely to be the first round of presidential elections was finally announced. But that date – 29 November 2009 – is still uncertain. To meet it, the institutions in charge of organising the vote still have a great deal to do and must dramatically improve their procedures.
Delays in the OPA’s other priorities also give cause for concern. Disarmament has been limited to a few instances of small arms destruction. Both sides maintain significant forces and continue to import military equipment, in violation of the UN arms embargo. This poses a real threat to the electoral process, since they can intimidate voters and possibly manipulate results or violently contest them. 5,000 Forces Nouvelles ex-rebel combatants are still awaiting integration into the new army, and the military zone commanders (“com’zones”) in the formerly insurgent north retain personal protection units with hundreds of fighters. A 20,000-strong militia of Gbagbo loyalists is yet to be dismantled, and his “young patriots” networks in Abidjan have not been dissolved.
There has been only partial unification of the government administration throughout the country. On 26 May, the “com’zones” relinquished their administrative powers to government-appointed prefects, a symbolic step that needs to be followed up by giving the prefects adequate financial and logistical means to restore genuine civilian state authority. It is worrying that the “com’zones” have only lost their administrative responsibilities, while retaining their security powers, particularly since they no longer take orders from Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, the former insurgent leader, who is struggling to preserve the unity of his fractious movement. Moreover, Côte d’Ivoire’s economy is in bad shape, due to poor governance as much as the global crisis. As poverty increases, thousands of young men are inclined to keep their weapons or even tempted to start a new insurgency.
The wider international community and the UN are weary and nearly helpless witnesses of these challenges. Excluded from the negotiation of the OPA – signed exclusively by African leaders – financial support is their only leverage. In view of the extensive delays and remaining difficulties of the peace process, some have started to question their continued involvement. France, for example, has already begun to repatriate a significant part of the troops it deployed under “Operation Licorne”. The Burkinabé facilitation is in the thankless position of being almost alone to arbitrate disputes and create new momentum. With a rapid countdown to elections required, it must be firmer, particularly towards the “com’zones” and the ruling party’s militias.
The following measures must be taken to advance peace in 2009:
On the electoral process. Data processing, including opening the planned 68 data processing centres, must start as soon as possible. The Independent Electoral Commission and the commercial technical body that has been hired must present a detailed plan for distributing polling cards and launch an information campaign to give people precise information on where and how to get them. The Prime Minister must supervise the electoral process and surround himself with a more competent team able to coordinate it.
On disarmament. Gbagbo and Soro must take responsibility to speed up the integration of their respective forces into the joint police and gendarmerie and to start reform of the national army, which is supposed to take in 5,000 ex-rebels. Both sides must finally engage in real disarmament by registering and giving up their weapons and ammunition in parallel.
On administrative reunification. Prime Minister Soro should strengthen his cabinet with more experienced and competent staff. A single administration is needed in the entire country by year’s end. Prefects and mayors must receive adequate financial and logistical means to restore civilian state authority in former rebel zones. The northern boundary should be secured by state police and customs officers, rather than former rebels.
The UN Security Council should increase pressure on Ivorian leaders and France make resumption of full cooperation conditional on free and transparent elections and a peaceful post-electoral period. The Burkinabé facilitation should be reinforced and, with Soro’s help, negotiate directly with each “com’zone” over their integration and work with Gbagbo to dismantle his various militias.
Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels, 2 July 2009