Côte d'Ivoire: Transition to peace extended by another year

 

A succession of false starts, stalemates and blockages throughout the year obliged the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the UN Security Council to give Ivorian leaders another year to organise proper elections and complete the peace process, beyond the 31 October 2006 deadline initially set by the international community. Likewise, the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was extended for an additional six months until the end of June 2007.

 

Elections would have culminated the completion of key processes agreed upon between the Ivorian parties, including the disarmament of former combatants. People without identity papers – numbering about 3 million – were to have received birth certificates at “audiences foraines”, public mobile courts, which would also deliver certificates of nationality to Ivorians and residence permits to foreigners.However, both processes suffered as a result of bickering between the country’s two main political blocks.

 

In a successful pilot project in May, 5,000 persons received duplicate birth certificates. However, when nationwide hearings were launched in July, President Laurent Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) and allied pressure groups known collectively as the Patriotic Galaxy blocked the mobile courts. This led to clashes between the Young Patriots and the youth wing of the Rally of Houphouëtistes for Democracy and Peace (RDHP), an alliance of parties opposed to the presidential camp, during which at least five people died. The clashes ended in late July when the two sides signed an agreement to bury the hatchet.

 

Members of the Bangladeshi battalion celebrate reconciliation among village chiefs in the Zone of Confidence,15 March 2006.(UNOCI Photo by Paulo Ferreira)

 

Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny subsequently issued new guidelines, as the FPI had demanded, under which the mobile courts would not have the power to issue certificates of nationality.While the new guidelines promoted the lifting of the FPI’s boycott of the mobile court hearings, it angered both the political opposition and the former rebel Forces Nouvelles (FN).President Gbagbo on Independence Day (7 August) confirmed that the courts would issue only substitute birth certificates. Then he issued a decree replacing all judges, including those who had been heading the courts. As a result, few people appeared before the mobile courts, and the operation was ultimately suspended.

 

Talks on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) proceeded erratically, involving the armed wing of the Forces Nouvelles (FAFN) on one side and the Forces de Défense et de Sécurité (FDS) on the other, an under the supervision of UNOCI and the French Force Licorne.

 

In May, a breakthrough seemed imminent when both sides started withdrawing combatants from the frontlines. But in August, the FAFN reacted to Gbagbo’s Independence Day statement, and to the new guidelines on identification issued by the Prime Minister, by suspending their participation in the DDR talks.

 

Discussions on the restructuring of the army were launched in December,but the first two sessions achieved little. Nor did the dismantling and demobilisation of militias get far. Some 1,000 militia members were demobilised in August, but the process was plagued by demands for the inclusion of more supposed members of militia and eventually suspended due to a paucity of weapons handed in.

 

Côte d’Ivoire’s peace process was also bogged down by a storm over the tenure of the National Assembly. In January, the Young Patriots showed their opposition to a statement by the International Working Group on Côte d’Ivoire, which noted that the Assembly’s term of office had ended. They attacked UN installations in Abidjan and the west and plundered residences of UN staff in the western towns of Guiglo and Daloa, prompting the relocation of UN staff and military units, as well as a temporary reinforcement of the mission by the transfer of troops from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

 

Ivorian Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny and French Minister of Development and Francophony Brigitte Girardin visit an illegal toxic waste site in Abidjan,Côte d’Ivoire, 8 September 2006.(UNOCI Photo by Ky Chung)

 

Calm returned following a meeting between the then Chairman of the AU, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Ivorian leaders. The status of the erstwhile National Assembly has since remained controversial.

 

Claims by the Patriotic Galaxy during January’s upheavals that the international community was trampling on Ivorian sovereignty, the Constitution and national institutions were voiced throughout the rest of the year.

 

One area of progress was the redeployment to FN areas of administrators displaced by the conflict who began returning in August, with the help of UNOCI, albeit limited to the identification process.

 

UNOCI also helped enable students in FN areas to take final examinations for the first time in two years by transporting examination papers and officials and generally securing the process.

 

UN peacekeepers continued to safeguard a three-year-old ceasefire, and to assist the State in other ways, such as transporting and escorting officials across the Zone of Confidence, an area controlled by UNOCI and the Force Licorne that separates the Government-controlled south from the FN-controlled north.

 

UNOCI peacekeeping contingents continued to provide health care to vulnerable populations and to carry out other humanitarian and developmental work such as building roads and rehabilitating schools and health centres.

 

If Côte d’Ivoire failed to move closer to peace in 2006, it was not for want of contacts between its main political leaders, known as the “Big Five”: President Gbagbo, Prime Minister Banny, FNleader Guillaume Soro, and the two main leaders of the RHDP, one-time Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara and ex-President Henri Konan Bédié.

 

Between March and September, the Big Five met five times in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital. Their third meeting, held in July under the sponsorship of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, yielded a timetable for delivery on commitments related to DDR, the dismantling of militias, identification, the electoral code and a code of conduct for the media.Most of these deadlines,however, were not met.

 

As part of the Secretary-General’s efforts to restore dialogue among the parties and re-launch the key processes under the roadmap, he also organized a mini-summit in New York in September, in the margins of the 61st session of the General Assembly, to take stock of the progress made.While a great number of regional and Ivorian leaders attended, President Gbagbo boycotted the meeting.

 

The President of the Republic of the Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, travelled to Abidjan on two occasions in his capacity as Chairman of the AU in an attempt to break the impasse. Other mediation efforts included appeals by the Ivorian Catholic bishops for dialogue between the parties as well as numerous initiatives by civil society.

 

Security Council resolution 1721 was adopted on 1 November, following the referral by the AU Peace and Security Council of a body of decisions made during its summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October and inspired by recommendations from an earlier ECOWAS meeting in Abuja,Nigeria.The resolution added new dimensions to the transition, including a greater role for the AU – alongside UNOCI – in daily mediation with the Ivorian parties.

 

Resolution 1721 also tasked the High Representative for Elections with verifying that measures taken at every stage of the electoral process were in keeping with international norms. It vested stronger executive powers in Prime Minister Konan Banny to enable him to push the peace process forward, including the ability to issue decrees.

 

However, as the year struggled to an end, another major crisis developed when the President issued decrees reinstating State officials whom Banny had suspended in connection with the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in August, which killed at least 10 people and sickened 100,000. Gbagbo also dismissed the directors of the state newspaper Fraternité Matin.

 

This led to an open clash between the President and the Prime Minister.When Banny criticised the measures on State TV, the President promptly removed the broadcaster’s directors. Protests followed in December by RHDP youths in the hinterland and Abidjan suburbs.Banny withdrew to Yamoussoukro, his home area.

 

Amid efforts to mediate between the two men,Gbagbo suggested, in a televised address on 19 December, direct negotiations between his camp and the FN, the scrapping of the Zone of Confidence, and other measures to end the crisis. He said time had come for Ivorians to take charge of the peace process since the international community had failed.

 

The opposition, on the other hand, stressed the need to remain within the framework of resolution 1721,while the Secretary-General urged Gbagbo and Banny to initiate a sustained political dialogue with all Ivorian political leaders to find common ground.

 

The sustained elements of the peace process throughout the year indicate that the activities are feasible, the resources exist and the international community is supportive. Whether or not the transition begun in November is the final one will depend largely on Côte d’Ivoire’s politicians.

 

 

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Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

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