Deadlock in La Cote d’Ivoire: Implications for Liberia

By Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 8, 2003

Recent news report that the Ivorian Government and the rebel forces have reached a deadlock in their negotiation to peacefully resolve their conflict is bad news for Liberia. The news is worsened by the fact that our government officials, at least publicly, appear to be disinterested in the diplomatic activities next door. About a week ago, ECOWAS Chairman and President of Ghana John Kufour convened a meeting in Accra to assist in resolving the impasse between President Laurent Gbagbo of La Cote d’Ivoire and the New Forces, as the rebel group is known. Liberia is not known to have participated in that meeting. The meeting failed to resolve the conflict.

West African Foreign Ministers from Ghana, Guinea, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire along with the Secretary General of ECOWAS recently visited the United Nations in New York and called on the United Nations to send peacekeeping troops to Cote d’Ivoire. But there are reports that the UN may not be capable of mobilising such a force due to financial constraints and fears that the United Nations Peacekeeping Office may be overstretched. The UN Secretary General, however, agreed to send an assessment mission to the country. The Liberian Minister of Foreign Affairs was not part of the delegation to New York. The delegation reportedly also visited Washington, D.C. to meet with Secretary General Colin Powell.

The latent xenophobia and false nationalism on display in Cote d’Ivoire is not helpful. The declaration of emergency in the North of the country by the rebel group is clearly “drawing a line in the sand.” In the mean time, both sides continue to blame each other for the impasse. The Government is demanding that the rebel group should take up their positions in government. The rebel group appears to be moving the goal post. At one point they called for the resignation of President Gbagbo and early election. Recently, following the Accra Summit of West African leaders, the rebels were reported to have requested for security for their leadership who are to form part of the government. They also want to run a number of key ministries including Internal Affairs and Defense. President Gbagbo and his supporters have accused neighbouring countries, specifically Burkina Faso of supporting the rebels. There has not been any visible movement on any of these issues and the longer it takes to have them resolved the more entrenched each side might become in its positions.

Given the belligerent nature of utterances from both sides, the possibility of returning to war is real. On November 24, UN Secretary General warned, “There is clearly a danger that Cote d’Ivoire could slip back into conflict.” According to him, rebel-held areas are “degenerating into lawlessness”. A senior military leader in the country has also warned of a probable return to war.

If this was to happen, it would create more difficulties in efforts to bring durable peace to Liberia. Yet our leaders in government could care less. There are reports in the media quoting the Liberian leadership that the Liberia “peace process is on track.” As a people, we are known for our complacency and this has cost the country dearly. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs needs to be actively involved in diplomatic activities in the region and elsewhere in ensuring that our peace process is indeed on track and that war in Cote d’Ivoire does not happen. He needs to work alongside other regional foreign ministers who have seen the urgency of the moment and have visited New York and Washington, D.C. to seek international assistance in averting war next door.

This is all the more compelling given the political uncertainty in Guinea, where news reports abound about the ill health of its president. With no clear succession in place, the political fallout in the event the Guinean leader is incapacitated is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, the political brouhaha surrounding the upcoming Presidential Elections is troubling to say the least. Report of an attempted coup in Sierra Leone is not of any comfort either. The Mano River Union including Cote d’Ivoire is not out of the woods yet. The recent meeting between the Presidents of Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso is encouraging. It is hoped that the two men reached an agreement, which will ensure that Cote d’Ivoire does not go to war. The November 24 Meeting between Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant and President Laurent Gbagbo is a good start. Hopefully, both men were able to reach some understanding agreement that would find manifestations in good neighbourliness and the cessation of support to armed groups. Liberia needs to embark on a robust diplomatic mission to ensure that violence is banished in the Mano River and Cote d’Ivoire. For lasting peace to come to Liberia, our neighbours have to be at peace as well. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to tell us that - now does it?

About the Author: Ezekiel Pajibo is a freelance political commentator.