Côte d’Ivoire: “The War Is Not Yet Over”
Côte d’Ivoire: “The War Is Not Yet Over”
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Retour de Laurent Gbagbo en Côte d’Ivoire : une nouvelle occasion de réconciliation
Retour de Laurent Gbagbo en Côte d’Ivoire : une nouvelle occasion de réconciliation
Report 72 / Africa 6 minutes

Côte d’Ivoire: “The War Is Not Yet Over”

“The war is not yet over”, an ICG mission to Côte d’Ivoire repeatedly heard in November 2003. There are ominous signs that the Côte d’Ivoire peace process initiated in January 2003 has broken down.

Executive Summary

“The war is not yet over”, an ICG mission to Côte d’Ivoire repeatedly heard in November 2003. There are ominous signs that the Côte d’Ivoire peace process initiated in January 2003 has broken down. If the country goes back to war, it could well take all West Africa with it, endangering even recent progress in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The UN Security Council needs to take a leading role in the peace process, initially by upgrading its current presence to a full peacekeeping mission. This could include subsuming some 1,400 West African troops under the umbrella of an expanded operation. The UN should also step up cooperation between its ongoing peace operation in Liberia and its Ivorian peace mission, MINUCI.

The immediate concern has been instability and war threats following the resignation from the government in September of ministers from former rebel groups, (now called the Forces Nouvelles). They acted to protest what they considered obstacles, created by President Laurent Gbagbo, to implementation of the January 2003 Linas-Marcoussis peace accords, notably his appointment of ministers to the defence and interior portfolios in the government of national reconciliation in contravention of agreed procedures and his unwillingness to delegate executive powers to the prime minister and government as stipulated by the accords. Gbagbo’s response was to call his opponents “kids with pistols” and “houseboys turned rebels”. Disarmament of former rebels and other unofficial groups failed to begin as promised on 1 October and is inconceivable in the current climate. A declaration by the chief of army staff on 15 November that “the war could begin again at any moment”, in response to which the Forces Nouvelles declared a state of emergency in their zone, shows how close the peace process is to foundering.

Until recently, it appeared that some progress had been made. On 4 July 2003, the military protagonists said the war, which began on 19 September 2002, was over. The government re-opened the border between Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso on 10 September. The National Assembly adopted an amnesty law and trade relations were normalised with Burkina Faso and Mali.  These steps were broadly in line with the Linas-Marcoussis peace accords, negotiated with French mediation. That agreement established a reconciliation government with wide executive powers, comprised of ministers from the main political parties and the insurgent groups, that is meant to lead the country to general elections in 2005. The accords outlined a nine-point program on disarmament, security sector reform, human rights violations and media incitement to xenophobia and violence, the organisation and supervision of elections, and measures to end divisive policies on national identification, citizenship, foreign nationals, land tenure and eligibility for the presidency. 

The impasse over implementation, however, has set the stage for a new phase in a struggle that goes back a decade. There are worrying signs that, without new international initiatives, there could soon be serious new fighting. Since late October, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has increased its diplomatic interventions, but to no avail. Neither President Gbagbo nor the Forces Nouvelles appear willing to stop the escalation towards violence. The agreement signed in January 2003 has been a source of discontent among hardliners in Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) ruling party, but also among rebel leaders, who distrust the president’s commitment. In addition, the accords have fuelled anti-French sentiment, not least because they were seen to have legitimated an armed rebellion. They were also problematic in that they appeared to many Ivorians to frustrate their aspirations to reduce the pervasive influence of the former colonial power, France.

Even before they began to fray so obviously, there were indications that the accords were not a perfect solution. Their slow, incomplete and sometimes flawed implementation created considerable frustration among the Forces Nouvelles. Indeed, Gbagbo and many in his party lost little time in creating numerous and sometimes violent obstacles to implementation. They calculated with some reason that strict implementation could well result in their electoral defeat in 2005. Gbagbo has sought to buy time, playing on the rebellion’s internal divisions and hoping for its disintegration. And the Forces Nouvelles are indeed splintering, with political and military leaders increasingly losing control over local commanders, who are distinguishing themselves by growing indiscipline, warlordism and violence.

Supported by ultra-nationalist “patriotic youth” groups, some organised into urban militias, government security forces undertook a witch hunt against the major opposition party and those thought to support it. The president’s party charged that opposition party, the RDR, with masterminding the coup and supporting the rebellion. The growth of urban tribal militias throughout government territory, with access to arms and voicing a violent discourse of “ethnic cleansing”, is perhaps the most alarming development, and there is a spectre of massive urban violence. In the process of ultra-national radicalisation, the press has played a major role. Both sides have been guilty of massive human rights violations. International inquiries and judicial proceedings will be needed to help sort out and bring to book the most guilty, and so end a vicious three-year cycle of impunity.

The accords failed to address the conflict’s regional aspect. The leaders of the main rebel group, the Mouvement Patriotique de la Côte d’Ivoire (MPCI), planned the rebellion from exile in Burkina Faso, whose president, Blaise Compaoré, was aware of at least the outlines of their plans. Liberia’s then president, Charles Taylor, was directly implicated in the creation of two rebel groups in the west of the country largely composed of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. A French peacekeeping force has played a leading role since late 2002. The situation in Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire’s western neighbour, which had a significant part in the recent war and is in the early stages of its own fragile peace process, will be important in determining whether Côte d’Ivoire regains stability; but by the same token, peace in Liberia has little chance unless Côte d’Ivoire is quiet.

Gbagbo in turn armed other Liberians, thus assisting the creation of a new anti-Taylor insurgency, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). Elements of a tribal militia he recruited, the Forces de Libération du Grand Ouest (FLGO), fought beside MODEL inside Liberia as Gbagbo gained tacit U.S. approval to pressure Taylor. Like Taylor, Gbagbo and Compaoré have broken the arms embargo on Liberia and fuelled regional instability, making their governments potential targets of sanctions if they continue to support rebellions.

Before the recent setbacks, a four-party military operation, composed of France, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Forces Armées Nationales de Côte d’Ivoire (FANCI, the government’s official military) and the rebel Forces Nouvelles, had begun to end the violence in the west. Confidence between government and rebel forces seemed to be growing, with their cooperation suggesting a model for Ivorian politicians. However, given the direct involvement of Liberians in the conflict and the political interests backing armed groups, a systematic and regional disarmament program must accompany any localised “clean-up” operation. Simply pushing the Liberians and others back across a porous border will solve nothing.

The arrival of a Security Council Mission, MINUCI, on 27 June 2003 to assist the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General was an important sign of international commitment. However, MINUCI has only 34 officers, to be increased to 76 by year’s end. France played a central role in brokering the Linas-Marcoussis accords and maintains 4,000 troops in-country but its high profile means many Ivorians see the accords as an attack on their sovereignty by the ex-colonial power. The FPI and its supporters are particularly suspicious, accusing Paris of siding with the rebellion. ECOWAS was unable to broker the end of the war but it has successfully deployed a 1,400-strong force known as MICECI (ECOMICI in English) to police the ceasefire.

While there is still time, these three key players – the UN, France, and ECOWAS – need to coordinate a robust strategy that can prevent the guns from speaking again by saving at least the core of the Linas-Marcoussis accords and kickstarting a comeback for a country whose economic health, as much as its political situation, is a key to regional stability. France, however, needs to guard against being put in a position where it may be seen to collaborate with any future Gbagbo attempt to restore central authority by force.

Freetown/Brussels, 28 November 2003

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