Peace Process in Côte d’Ivoire: Laurent Gbagbo Wins it All

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 17, 2007


President Laurent Gbagbo
Laurent Gbagbo, the embattled President of Côte d’Ivoire emerges as a winner in his five year struggle to end the rebellion that has divided his country since September 2002, following a failed military coup. The signing of the March 4 Accord in Ouagadougou led to the formation of a new government headed by Soro Guillaume, leader of the rebellious New Forces and once a disciple of Laurent Gbagbo.

According to Antoine Malo and Gilles Delafon of the Parisian newspaper, Le Journal Du Dimanche, “Gbagbo is now more president than he has ever been.” They see the Ouagadougou accord as a defeat for French President Jacques Chirac and his Minister of Cooperation Brigitte Girardin who had turned the weakening – if not the departure from power – of Gbagbo into a personal issue. In as much as France was involved in the search for political solution to the conflict and convened the first peace talks in Linas-Marcoussis near Paris, it was kept away from the Ouagadougou negotiations.

After much expectation, the composition of the new government was made public over the weekend in Abidjan. An Ivorian writer said that President Gbagbo scored on at least three points: first he has all but taken control of the rebellion; second, he has weakened his historical nemesis former Prime Minister Allasane Ouattara and former President Konan Bedie and finally, he sets the agenda for the upcoming elections.

Many observers view Mr. Guillaume Soro’s agreement to be “appointed” through presidential decree in accordance with the Ivorian constitution as an act of surrender. He becomes answerable to Gbagbo as any other minister and serves “at the pleasure of the president.” According to opposition daily Le Réveil, Mr. Soro has all but given up on demands that he trumpeted last year as the reason for the rebellion.

In the government, Gbagbo’s party, the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) took the lion’s share and managed to hold on to all the important ministries, especially those that will determine the electoral process. The numbers 2, 3, and 4 highest members of the government after Prime Minister Soro are all strong Gbagbo loyalists. His former spokesman, Desire Tagro takes National Security and Territorial Administration which oversees the electoral process and local governance. Another of his partisans, Amani N’Guessan Michel controls the Ministry of Defense and covers all armed forces and paramilitary organizations and will control the new integrated central command, comprising military leaders of government forces and the rebellion. Bohoun Bouabre, also from the ruling party FPI, is the only Minister of State and serves as an unofficial deputy prime minister, takes the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. After Guillaume Soro, Mamadou Koné, the second highest minister from the rebellion occupies the number 6 position in the government at Justice. Opposition parties of Bedie and Ouattara took 5 ministries each in the 33-person government, which includes 4 women. It is the fifth government since the outbreak of the rebellion in 2002.

There are far-reaching effects of this peace accord that go beyond the government; they have greater consequences for the upcoming elections, not only on the timing but also on the strength of the different candidates.
By throwing out the UN Resolution 1721 of November 2006 which had not only confirmed former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny in his job until the elections, Gbagbo now controls both the calendar of events and the logistics surrounding the electoral process. The various ministers in charge of security, statistics and identification process for the elections are all controlled by his strong partisans. Says one political observer, “if Gbagbo decides to play fair, he could cheat mildly and wins and if decides to be really mean, he could throw everyone out and run the country just as the old man [Houphouet] did for 30 years.”

Gbagbo’s political opponents come out weaker than they have ever been, since the 1999 military coup. The new prime minister, Soro Guillaume can now take credit for everything that the people from the North stand to gain from the process, including a new national status and a greater number of representations in the government, things that Mr. Ouattara never managed to get for them. His title as Prime Minister removes the single most important prestige Ouattara ever held as a Northerner. Finally, the growing popularity of Mr. Soro and his riches could make him a real threat for Mr. Ouattara presidential ambitions.

On the other end of the spectrum, former president Konan Bedie now faces possible challenges in maintaining his grip on the former ruling party, the PDCI with Konan Banny now out of job, both as premier and as Governor of the West African Central Bank in Dakar. Banny and his older brother Jean Konan Banny, a former minister of Defense of Houphouet Boigny and mayor of Yamoussoukro agreed to iron out differences with Bedié and work with him. But that was a while ago, when the position of prime minister did not allow Banny to run for presidency.

Finally, Gbagbo’s survival and triumph through the crisis shows the limits of French influence in West Africa, a region where the former colonial power exercised a not-so-discreet control over the politics and the economy of its former colonies. That a president in Côte d’Ivoire, France’s stronghold in West Africa could stand up to a French President and survive is an indication that the notion of “pré-carré” – or zone of influence – is becoming a thing of the past.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, the government forces, the rebels, along with the UN and French troops signed an agreement to begin dismantling the buffer zone that divided the country since September 2002. The process is to begin on April 16, 2007 at midnight. The buffer zone is currently controlled by 8,000 UN troops along with 3,500 French Licorne force. They will be replaced by joint patrols of rebel and government forces. The Ouagadougou accord calls for the timely withdrawal of all foreign troops, including the French.

In the end, a conflict that could have turned into a major regional disaster is on its way to be resolved peacefully, through dialogue among the parties without any outside influence.

Elections are scheduled for December 2007. Will Soro Guillaume and Laurent Gbagbo keep that schedule, now that they are comfortably seated at the helm of power, with no international “watchdog” or referees and all local opposition somehow weakened to point of irrelevance?

© 2007 by The Perspective

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