Land conflicts and war indistinguishable in Ivory Coast
Ecovillage Network UK
office at evnuk.org.uk
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
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
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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