New Accord Signals Peace in Côte d’Ivoire

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 19, 2007


In a nationwide address on Friday March 9, 2007, Ivoirian President Laurent Gbagbo profusely thanked his colleague from Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré for successfully overseeing the latest peace negotiations between the Ivorian government and rebels of the New Forces who have been in control of the northern half of the country since September 2002.

Gbagbo’s words of gratitude for Compaoré came in the wake of a new peace accord signed in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou on March 4, 2007 after four weeks of quiet negotiations between rebel and government delegates.

Aubrey Hooks, the United States Ambassador to Côte d'Ivoire, said after meeting with the Ivorian president on Wednesday that he was confident the United Nations will have no problem endorsing the new peace accord. "The fact that it was negotiated by the two sides makes it a very positive step in the peace process," he said.

The new accord outlines six key provisions--a new government, disarmament of the rebel fighters, the issuance of ID cards to all Ivorians, the creation of a new integrated central military command, gradual elimination of the buffer zone and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Côte d’Ivoire (including the French), and the promise of presidential elections under international supervision.

The first novelty of this new peace accord, is that none of the major political parties took part in the negotiations process. Indeed neither the former ruling PDCI of ousted president Henri Konan Bedié, nor Alassane Ouattara's RDR were invited, as they are accused by some of derailing previous peace attempts. Both are political arch-rivals of Gbagbo and each had established alliances with the rebels. Also, unlike the previous talks, there was no intermediary between the two parties. Burkina Faso is said to have only facilitated, while Ivorian delegates negotiated every term of the accord. The usual peace brokers - ECOWAS, AU and the UN - were all absent from the process.

Reactions to the accord in the subregion have been rather positive, and several heads of State extended congratulations to both the rebels and the government. The special representative of the UN in Cote d’Ivoire said that he looks forward to presenting the accord to the UN Security Council for its endorsement. France dispatched its minister of cooperation to Ouagadougou for the conclusion of the talks and the signing ceremony but stopped short of a full endorsement. This, according to political observers, may be because of the clause calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Côte d’Ivoire. France has always maintained a military base in the country but Gbagbo, even before he became president in 2002, has been calling for their withdrawal.

There is a certain irony in the fact that back in the late 1980s and much of the 1990s, Gbagbo was a political mentor and somewhat of a father figure for Soro. At the time, Gbagbo was a perofessor at the University of Abidjan, where Soro was a student leader. Close ties developed between the student movement and the growing political opposition, of which Gbagbo was part. They espoused much of the same nationalistic ideals, which included an opposition to both the strong French presence in Côte d’Ivoire and the autocratic rule of Felix Houphouet Boigny, the country's first president.

Today, the entire West African subregion stands to gain from a strife-free Côte d’Ivoire, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the GNP of the entire ECOWAS economic conglomerate, Nigeria excluded.

A five-year war notwithstanding, the country continues to be the world leader in cocoa production and a major coffee exporter. Unlike in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire caused minimal damage to its modern infrastructure, and government services continued to function at all times despite disruptions in the rebel-held North.

Burkina Faso, which previously provided sanctuary to Ivorian rebel leaders, had a stake in the peace process in Côte d’Ivoire. More than 1 million Burkinabes, mostly migrant workers in the coffee and cocoa farms had been victimized by the policy of “Ivoirite,” which denied full rights to Ivorians of mixed origins. Voted into law under the presidency of Konan Bedie in the mid-1990s, it resulted in a strong backlash against foreigners in general (who account for more than 30 percent of the population in Côte d’Ivoire), but had a higher impact on migrants from Burkina Faso, who lost right over land they had acquired during the open-borders era under Houphouet Boigny.

The war that broke in September 2002 was the culmination of a long power struggle that ensued Houphouet Boigny's death in 1993. A buffer zone was established between the belligerent forces, and Burkina Faso became “a natural ally” of the rebellion, due for ethnic and other reasons.

Several peace talks were held, with little progress on the ground. In October 2006, a new UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC 1721) sponsored by France sought to suspend the Ivorian Constitution and give more powers to the Prime Minister at the expense of the President. The original draft was blocked, and the Security Council passed a less crippling resolution. Two months after its adoption, President Gbagbo decided to launch a new set of negotiations by dealing directly with the rebels. Blaise Compaoré, who meanwhile had become the Chairman of the sub-regional organization ECOWAS, endorsed the idea after some prodding from South Africa Thabo Mbeki and accepted to provide a venue for the talks.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Soro announced that he has instructed his troops to drop their weapons and prepare to be integrated in a unified army. "We've understood that there is no point pursuing this war, which will further increase the number of casualties and wreak havoc to many," he said. Meanwhile, negotiations have begun for the formation of a new government and all indications point to the possibility of him becoming the new prime minister.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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