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Côte d’Ivoire’s Great West: Key to Reconciliation
Côte d’Ivoire’s Great West: Key to Reconciliation
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Côte d’Ivoire: A Need for Facilitation
Côte d’Ivoire: A Need for Facilitation
Report 212 / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire’s Great West: Key to Reconciliation

Working to reduce tensions in western Côte d’Ivoire, a flashpoint for ethnic, political and economic rivalries, is imperative to ensure lasting stability and pave the way for national reconciliation.

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Executive Summary

Western Côte d’Ivoire’s land, security and identity problems make this vast border territory the country’s most unstable area. Reconciliation has yet to begin there and communal tensions remain acute. Two administrative regions are especially problematic: Cavally and Guémon. Outside Abidjan, these are the two regions where the post-electoral crisis claimed the most victims and which saw the gravest violence. The Ivorian government’s preference for a security clampdown there, rather than measures to address political and economic problems has done little to address instability, which could provide the spark that reignites the crisis. Since December, the government has taken some steps nationally to lower political tension and promote national reconciliation: these should be immediately extended to these two regions, which remain strongholds of former President Laurent Gbagbo.

Since independence, the central government has ignored Cavally and Guémon when distributing the nation’s wealth. These two outlying regions produce a significant proportion of the cocoa that makes Côte d’Ivoire the world’s biggest producer, as well as large quantities of other plant-derived raw materials. Yet they missed the “Ivorian miracle” and have remained undeveloped. Their exceptionally fertile land is both a source of wealth and their main problem. Poorly regulated and subject to fierce competition, land ownership is a recurring cause of conflict. Land is a magnet for migrants, both from other parts of the country and from abroad, who often outnumber those “native” to the area and leave them with a strong sense of dispossession.

For a long time, conflicts have been resolved peacefully through local and customary dispute resolution systems. However, the economic crisis, demographic pressures and the spread of a xenophobic political discourse in the 1990s have exhausted these systems. Land conflicts, exploited by the three major political parties that disputed the succession to President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, have increasingly provoked violence between “native” landowners and migrants.

The government of then-President Henri Konan Bédié tried in 1998 to resolve the situation by introducing a land code that was never enforced. The war in September 2002 and its aftermath then considerably worsened the conflicts. During this period, the violence that affected the west was worse than anywhere else in Côte d’Ivoire, bar the capital Abidjan, with large-scale criminality claiming dozens, even hundreds, of victims.

This was partly due to Cavally’s and Guémon’s strategic location, not only because they produce cocoa but also because they are at the centre of the transport network that takes the raw material to the coast for export. Whoever controls these two regions also controls the country’s main source of foreign currency. Liberia’s proximity is another aggravating factor. Mercenaries from that country have exported the brutal behaviour that characterised the Mano River wars and make regular, deadly incursions into Ivorian territory, taking advantage of the weakness of Liberian and Ivorian armed forces.

During the 2011 post-electoral crisis, further massacres took place in Cavally and Guémon. The gravest, with a death toll of hundreds in just a few days, took place in the town of Duékoué. Then, in July 2012, more than one year after the end of the crisis, other violent crimes were committed at the Nahibly camp for the internally displaced, just outside Duékoué. In 2013, several incursions into Côte d’Ivoire by Liberian and Ivorian militia from Liberia claimed further victims and displaced thousands. These recent events proved just how volatile these two regions are, and showed they are likely to be the first to boil over if political tensions increase.

At the moment, serious crimes against members of ethnic groups considered to be supporters of former President Gbagbo remain unpunished, which lends credibility to allegations of a two-tiered justice system. The government in Abidjan must shed light on these crimes and take other significant measures to stabilise Cavally and Guémon.

Commentary / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire: A Need for Facilitation

Preparing for the 2015 Presidential Election in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire’s political parties have begun campaigning without having settled how to run the election in the first place. That is a mistake. There needs to be a consensus on the election mechanics, and now is the ideal time to develop one. The conditions for a constructive dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition have never been better. The Ivorian political class should seize this opportunity to find agreement on at least three issues in order to guarantee the success of the next election: revising electoral lists; setting up a new electoral commission; and giving election losers a greater stake in the system. The international community should enable this dialogue by dispatching a facilitator to Abidjan to stimulate and arbitrate a meeting of minds among the ruling party and the opposition.

Since the end of the post-electoral crisis in 2011, the two main rival parties, the Rally of Republicans (RDR) and the opposition Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), have officially met only once face to face, in January. This meeting did not lead to any concrete decisions but it did show that dialogue was possible. As one diplomat noted, “Unlike in some other African countries, we are in a situation where it is conceivable to put political leaders face to face”.

The liberation in August of fourteen members of the FPI – they had been detained without trial since 2011 – ushered in a truce. This fortunate period is likely to grow more productive politically once the question is resolved of whether former FPI head (and former president) Laurent Gbagbo will face International Criminal Court prosecution. The FPI, hoping for a Gbagbo comeback, has frozen every important decision, including whether to engage in serious negotiations with the RDR. But the ICC’s judges gave prosecutors until 15November to finalise their accusation. If Gbagbo is kept in detention, the FPI will have to start making key decisions for itself.

Last January’s meeting between the ruling party and the opposition showed the importance of an external facilitator: it took place thanks to the intervention of Senegal’s president, Macky Sall. Since the signing of the Ouagadougou political agreement in March 2007, the most successful phases of dialogue have occurred under the aegis of a mediator. Disputes over the 2010 presidential election were settled within a permanent consultative framework arbitrated by Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré. More recently, efforts made by representatives of the UN Secretary-General paved the way for informal meetings and reinforced trust.

The appointment of an external facilitator accepted by the whole political scene would help stimulate dialogue and arbitrate meetings that otherwise tend to get very personal very fast. A facilitator could also help Ivorians focus their efforts on creating a pragmatic agenda with one simple objective: inclusive, transparent and peaceful presidential elections. This would be altogether new for Côte d’Ivoire.

The main risk today is that FPI leaders boycott the next presidential election if they are not involved in its preparation. Such a boycott would mean a low level of participation that will harm the legacy and legitimacy of the current president, Alassane Ouattara, and the whole reconciliation process. To avoid this, the opposition and ruling party have to find common ground on several issues. First is the problem of the electoral lists: the Ivorian register, counting 5.7 million potential voters, is outdated. This list does not include hundreds of thousands of youth, nor the thousands of voters left unregistered during identification operations carried out before the 2010 elections. Furthermore, if thousands of exiled pro-Gbabgo supporters decide not to come back, their participation in the vote has to be discussed.

Second, Côte d’Ivoire also inherited an outdated electoral commission that doesn’t reflect political reality and is dominated by the ruling party. This commission must be reformed to reflect a balance between the different parties – or, alternatively to be nonpartisan, though that is probably unrealistic given the currently polarised politics.

The redefinition of a legal electoral framework would not only help ensure a peaceful presidential election in 2015, it will greatly improve the prospects for successful parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2016. The return to a balanced national assembly in which the opposition is represented is crucial to political normalisation. Updating the voters list and reforming the electoral commission are not just technical issues. Forging consensus between the parties on how both processes will happen, and bringing them all on board, are essential if elections are to move the country forward – which is why a facilitator is needed.

Finally, the Ivorian constitution, largely inspired by the French one, gives immense powers to the president. Unfortunately, the president does not then tend to leave much for his opponents. Constitutional reform should give more weight to the opposition in political life and party financing. Reform is unlikely ahead of the 2015 polls but remains vital to reducing the stakes of political competition – and the price of political defeat. Without those reforms, the loser will always be tempted to contest election results, including by resorting to violence, out of fear of being left with nothing.