Land conflicts and war indistinguishable in Ivory Coast

Ecovillage Network UK office at
Wed Feb 15 13:28:38 GMT 2006

"It is often difficult to tell which massacres are sparked by war and 
which are squabbles over land rights, but many of them inspire revenge 
attacks, pushing the peace process further back."

The cost of peace in Ivory Coast
Katharine Houreld
15 - FEB - 2006

With Ivory Coast's civil war now flaring against the United Nations' 
peacekeeping mission, Katharine Houreld asks what has gone wrong given 
recent UN success in Liberia, and what it will take for the conflict to 

Champagne and Molotov cocktails were both on the menu at United Nations 
bases in west Africa in January. In Liberia, world leaders toasted the 
inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first female president 
and the poster-child for international intervention. But in neighbouring 
Ivory Coast, angry mobs gathered at UN bases around the country to 
demand their withdrawal, hurling petrol bombs and looting humanitarian 
offices. Two neighbours, two civil wars, two UN peacekeeping missions. 
In one country the UN are hailed as saviours. Next door, they are 
vilified. Where did it all go wrong?

In the last two decades, civil war has spread like a cancer through west 
Africa. In Liberia, fourteen years of brutal conflict was only ended 
after the intervention of international peacekeepers in 2003. While the 
UN has managed to disarm over 100,000 combatants and hold credible 
elections, resulting in the presidency of Johnson-Sirleaf, intervention 
in neighbouring Ivory Coast does not seem so successful.

The country has been frozen into civil war since a failed coup attempt 
in 2002. International troops patrol a zone of confidence separating the 
northern rebels from the government controlled south but last year's 
elections were postponed, prompting the formation of an interim 
government with representatives from both sides. In January, a UN-backed 
mediation group tried to kick-start a stalled peace process by 
recommending parliament's mandate not be renewed. The institution, 
stuffed with supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, is seen as one of 
the main stumbling-blocks to peace.

In response, militant youths targeted UN bases across the country. While 
donors stood up to pledge hundreds of millions to help reconstruct 
Liberia, across the border humanitarian agencies were torched. "There is 
lots of fuel for continuing the conflict," observed one western 
diplomat, staring out his window at the traffic on a tree-lined avenue 
in Abidjan. Following the violence, he had asked not to be named. "In 
Liberia, the conflict stopped when there was nothing left to loot but 
there is a lot of money left in this country. Both the rebels and the 
government are making money."

He says three key issues have hampered the peace process in the Ivory 
Coast: a lack of resources compared to peacekeeping operations in 
Liberia; uncertainty over whether the peace agreement takes legal 
precedence over the constitution, as was agreed for Liberia; and most 
importantly, the survival of strong state structures with a vested 
interest in maintaining the status quo. Liberia, in contrast, had simply 
collapsed and peacekeeping forces stepped into the vacuum.

Alan Doss, who was the second-in-command in the Ivory Coast before 
leaving to head the UN mission in Liberia last summer, says that 
flooding the country with peacekeepers was vital to disarmament. "It's a 
relatively small UN presence [in Ivory Coast]. It may seem a lot, 7,000 
soldiers, but per capita we should have 70,000 for a similar ratio as we 
have here and had in Sierra Leone… We also had a much more radical 
disarmament programme in Liberia…we [the UN] have monopoly on arms and 
the use of force."

The thinly stretched forces have been unable to stop frequent attacks on 
villages. This week, twelve people were killed in the west of the country.

It is often difficult to tell which massacres are sparked by war and 
which are squabbles over land rights, but many of them inspire revenge 
attacks, pushing the peace process further back. Next door, the tiny 
country of Liberia hosts 15,000 blue helmets; it was announced this week 
that 250 of them will be moved across to Ivory Coast and more are being 
deployed to the border.

Gilles Yabi, the Ivory Coast analyst for think-tank International Crisis 
Group, says that greater military clout must be backed up with political 
negotiations. "The key issue is to get a commitment to solve the problem 
of identity cards for northerners but the President's party is worried 
that this means they might lose power in the next elections," he noted. 
Identity cards are required for casting a vote.

Pro-Gbagbo Ivorians say that northerners born in the Ivory Coast to 
parents from neighbouring countries should not be entitled to vote in 
the upcoming presidential elections. The Ivorian constitution, which 
concentrates enormous power in the hands of the executive, means that 
whoever wins the presidency is able to heavily influence all arms of 

"All these people just have to share the power, look at how we did it 
here – Mandingo, Gio, Krahn, Mano…they all had to sit side-by-side in 
the government," said Edwin Allen, alluding to Liberian tribes who are 
traditional enemies. The Liberian taxi driver just returned from eight 
years spent as a refugee in Ivory Coast.

"Even the Mandingo, they come from Guinea but we let them in for peace. 
We are tired of war," he said, referring to the mainly Muslim traders 
from the north of the country who formed the backbone of Liberia's main 
rebel movement.

Outside the UN compound in Abidjan, 26-year-old protestor Serge Pacome 
disagrees. "The UN behaves like the Ivorians are illiterate and they 
make decisions without taking into account the wishes of the people," he 
said, kicking a teargas canister. "I am ready to come out and protest 
for a month if I have to."

The UN's head of mission in Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, is resigned to 
further demonstrations. Behind the blackened walls of his headquarters, 
he points out that both Liberia and Sierra Leone went through numerous 
failed mediations and broken peace pacts before a solution was finally 

"We need the political will in Ivory Coast…right now each side is 
sitting in his camp looking at the other," he sighed.

Although many Ivorians blame the UN for the stuttering peace process, 
they still live in a relatively prosperous country compared to their 
devastated neighbours, and the peacekeepers' presence means that 
relatively few people have died in the conflict there. Some Liberians 
think that Ivory Coast will have to sink to the depths of its devastated 
neighbour before peace is possible.

"Ivory Coast is a very fine place, they have skyscrapers and very nice 
things," said Allen. But as he gestured from his window to the darkened 
shells of buildings pocked with bullet holes he added, "they should not 
forget that Liberia was once one of the richest countries in west 
Africa. Now look at us. They should all come over here and see what war 
can really do."

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