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Côte d’Ivoire: The Flame that Guarantees Immobilisation

15 May 2006 at 07:20 | 303 views

“We are far from reaching the end of the tunnel,” writes Yveline Dévérin of the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, as she describes the complicated progression of the conflict over the last four years. She writes that: “All those who are in the position to have the power to turn the situation towards peace have an interest in the crisis continuing, not only because it is lucrative but also because it is validating. And this is exactly the same for the powers that be, as for the opposition powers, as for the rebel powers.”

By Yveline Dévérin

From the 15-19 January 2006, the Côte d’Ivoire experienced a new wave of violence of the kind it has been hitherto accustomed. In Abidjan, but also in the west and different parts of the south of the country, for some four days, troops from the ‘patriotic galaxy’ (the presidential side) occupied the streets, hijacked cars and duly occupied the Ivorian radio and TV network (Radio Télévision Ivorienne) so as to broadcast their messages. Most significantly - and this is without precedent - they attacked UN premises, and even the Blue Helmets of the United Nations Mission for Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) themselves, forcing them to withdraw into the ‘security zone’ which separates the government zone from the ‘ex-rebel’ zone.

In order to appraise the ins and outs of this new phase of the crisis, it is first appropriate to review the general circumstances that have brought about this situation.

The inexorable march of immobilisation since September
2002

Without going back over the different episodes of the saga of the Ivorian crisis, it is nevertheless useful to review the recent context of these events. It should be remembered that in the Côte d’Ivoire, since September 2002, there have been six agreements and dozens of mediation operations and that these have not succeeded in redressing the situation. Now in 2006, the population has reached the stage of exasperation. The regular refrain, repeated in Abidjan for over two years: ‘We’ve had enough’, has now become ‘Even the Bétés have had enough’.

In January 2006, the escalating tensions linked to the various deadlines to which the people had grown accustomed - an announced military coup, presidential elections, the nomination of the Prime-Minister, the formation of the government - came to a head. At every hurdle, the population fears a reprisal of the war, and so lives in a constant state of expectant anxiety.

The military coup announced by General Doué

Along with other exiled soldiers, the former Head of the Army has been sending several open letters via the internet to the Abidjan press. Whilst there are some who have recognised an unpleasant build-up in these undisclosed letters, it was nevertheless a shock that a broadcast on the 19 August 2004 on Radio France Internationale (RFI - the French language world news service) disseminated an interview with the disgraced general, in which he is cited as explaining:

“I have chosen to break the silence because I am of the opinion that the situation has lasted for too long and that a return to peace in the Côte d’Ivoire is wholly conditional on the departure of President Gbagbo. If the international community is not willing to commit to making him go quietly, I will do so myself, by any means necessary. And let it be understood that this will not be done without serious damage.”

Nothing has happened yet, but the waiting is causing everyone to live in a state of nervous exhaustion. The mysterious attack on the military camps at Akouédo on the 2 January 2006 has raised the tension yet another notch (the reasons for, and circumstances of this attack had still not been established at the beginning of April 2006).

Elections

It was constitutionally anticipated that elections would take place on the 30 October 2005; but they did not, leaving a constitutional void. On the 20 October, the UN decreed the impossibility of holding elections. In accordance with Resolution 1622, it decided instead to prolong the mandate of President Gbagbo for another 12 months, which allowed him to remain ‘head of State’, whilst at the same time delegating a major component of his executive powers to a Prime-Minister who would be ‘acceptable to everyone’. This state of affairs was supervised by the International Working Group, whose members include the African Union, ECOWAS, the UN, the EU and France.

Nomination of a Prime-Minister ‘acceptable to everyone’

After endless dithering (the differences in nuance between ‘acceptable to everyone’ and ‘acceptable for everyone’ caused huge problems), Charles Konan Banny, the governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) was finally accepted as - or rather, designated - Prime-Minister on the 4 December 2005.

Formation of the Government

After more than three weeks of bitter disagreements, Charles Konan Banny formed his Government on the 28 December 2005. The arguments were essentially over the sharing out of posts, how many were allocated to each party, and which individuals were chosen. (The parties each preferred their ‘Party bosses’, whilst Charles Konan Banny wanted technocrats.). And for the politicians the stakes were economic as well as political: much to do with personal enrichment, as with party-financing. The Ivorians refer to them as ‘fat-cat Ministers’, which aptly summarises the real problem!

The issue of the Minister of Finance

This one is far and away the fattest cat of all the ministers, and a major source of funds. He returns to the Government in the Cabinet, therefore escaping from the Ivorian Popular Front, which is finding itself cut off from a major part of its provisions. This is a crucial element in grasping the succession of events.

The National Assembly

2004 has amply demonstrated how the National Assembly has been used by Laurent Gbagbo as a mechanism for blocking reforms. But it is also a financial godsend. The members of parliament receive a not negligible amount, in a country which is weakened, and where numerous people have lost their jobs or seen their incomes much reduced following the events of November 2004.

Moreover the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI- Gbagbo’s presidential party) is largely in the majority, and therefore, importantly can make payments to the militias again: ‘A militant is someone who shares and who distributes’, declared the ‘Patriote’, the daily paper close to the opposition RDR party, remarks attributed to a mysterious and anonymous ‘official of the central office [who] was questioning Gbagbo’.

Gunpowder

Against this background, there is the additional problem of the mandate of the MPs, which, constitutionally, was supposed to expire on the 16 December 2005. As was the case for President Gbagbo, there was the problem it would be prolonged. The question was put to the International Working Group which is supposed to ‘consult all Ivorian parties with the aim of ensuring that all the Ivorian institutions function normally until elections are held’, conforming to the UN Resolution 1633. The position of the working group is clear: it acknowledges the fact that the mandate of the MPs ended on the 16 December 2005. According to the Closing Remarks of the Meeting of the International Working Group, 15 January 2006):

“In conformity with paragraph 11 of Resolution 1633 in relation to the expiry of the mandate of the National Assembly, the International Working Group has held lengthy consultations with all the Ivorian parties about the functioning of state institutions. The working group has come to the conclusion that the mandate of the National Assembly, which expired on the 16 December 2005, should not be extended.”

Incidentally, this communiqué is only repeating the terms of Resolution 1633.

The reaction was very violent by MPs, the Ivorian Popular Front, the ‘people on the streets’ and the ‘young patriots’. But we should point out that the MPs who protested were less concerned about the vindication of their function than of their status: they are quite happy no longer having legislative power, but are keen to remain MPs or to put it another way, to have their hands on the allowances. The Ivorian people were not duped by a scant mobilisation of about 3000 ‘patriots’, and this part of negotiations was notably suspect, marked by the image of the behaviour of the MPs as compared to the ordinary population.

The reaction is assuming new forms, compared with what has happened before. The ‘patriotic galaxy’ in the presidential sphere is still ahead of the game, but it is no longer mobilising the same crowds as it did in January 2003 or November 2004. Its power to cause a stir is intact, perhaps more concentrated. The theme of independence that was blown-out by the international community has been taken up again, as on previous occasions.

On the other hand, we are witnessing few physical attacks against the French (largely owing to the lack of targets). Though without historical precedent, these attacks are now being directed against the UN and the Blue Helmets. The UN headquarters are being attacked to the point where the UN is being forced to evacuate its staff. All UN symbols are being attacked; and the offices of certain UN agencies and NGOs, such as the UNOCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), UNHCR and Save the Children are being pillaged, ransacked and set on fire. These attacks on NGOs are also a new phenomenon.

Another difference between this new wave of violence and those that occurred earlier is that this time, movements can be observed in all the towns of the southern zone (Daloa, Guiglo, Douékoué, San Pedro, Yamoussoukro). In the west, recent attacks on UN bases at Guiglo led to four deaths in the ‘patriot’ ranks. Everywhere, equipment essential for working is being savaged. UN military equipment was abandoned on the spot when the Bangladeshi Blue Helmets had to evacuate their bases in Douékoué and Guiglo, and to withdraw into the security zone, escorted by the ‘Ivorian Defence and Security Forces’ (Agence France Presse 18 January 2006). These are the same security forces which a number of observers have seen openly supporting the militias in the field, for example, opening the doors of the Ivorian Radio/TV network (Radio Television Ivoriennes) for them.

The patriots are demanding the departure of the UN. Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the Secretary General of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI- Presidential party) has been very clear on this point. In a declaration, he has ‘demanded the departure of all UN and ‘Licorne’ [a French army operation] forces from the country which are exploiting and enslaving the Côte d’Ivoire’. At the same time, in line with the intentions of Abidjan, he has called for ‘the establishment of a national liberation government, which will bring together all the patriotic forces’. Which would mean the end of the government so painfully assembled by Charles Konan Banny.

Consequences

Paris is finally able to retreat from a perilous tête-à-tête with Abidjan. For once, ‘Licorne’, the French occupation army, is not in the firing line.

In contrast, the UN is totally discredited. Once again, it is brandishing threats it is then reluctant to apply: sanctions have been regularly announced for three years now. Not until the beginning of February 2006 were three names to be proposed, and then sanctions came into force on the 7 February. But those who have been sanctioned are of secondary significance - the heads of the two patriotic movements, Charles Blé Godé and Eugène Djué, and, for the sake of balance, one war leader from the north, Fofié Kouakou, the commander of the zone [2] of Korhogo (responsible for human rights violations).

Moreover stirring the UN to impose sanctions first required that its own equipment was set fire to, and its own soldiers were displaced. And yet again the ‘valets’, those who are politically responsible for the crisis remaining completely untouched by them. Meanwhile the UN has succeeded in overcoming the dilemma of its credibility: to dare to sanction despite the fear of a reprisal of violence against its personnel and equipment, so as not to make it obvious that fear of the latter is preventing all effectiveness.

Above all, we are witnessing the total discredit of the United Nations Mission for Côte d’Ivoire. The Blue Helmets have been attacked and have the Ivorian Armed Forces to thank for their ‘welcome’ to the west (Douékoué and Guiglo). This army escorted them as far as Bangolo (in the [UN] ‘security zone’!) where the Licorne army could protect them.

In Abidjan, French soldiers from the Licorne army had to intervene by helicopter to ‘filter out’ UN soldiers from their headquarters, where they had been barricaded. The UN soldiers are all the more discredited given that they had already been denounced as ‘tourists’ before this particular crisis [3]. Some newspapers have referred to them as ‘armed tourists’. Perhaps the most surreal development is that in February, transferrals of soldiers liberated by the peace in Liberia were effected not to safeguard the population, but rather, to safeguard UN agents.

The political consequences are important too: UN soldiers were supposed to ensure the security of the ministries of the ‘G7’ group (grouping of the 7 opposition parties). But the New Forces are refusing to invest any confidence in soldiers who are incapable of ensuring their own security! They are therefore demanding the return of their ministers to the northern zone, under their own control, or the possibility of providing for their own security - which would suppose allowing ex-rebel armies to enter Abidjan!

In view of the escalation of violence, John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN recently declared to the Security Council that it was possible that the United Nations Mission for Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) is more of a problem than a solution to the Ivorian crisis’. (UN Press Agence 0/02/2006).

In the event, the New Forces have identified excellent lines of argument and a supplementary excuse for postponing the deadlines for disarmament. This at any rate is what has been posted on their website since 21 January: ‘Unilateral Disarmament of the New Forces? The Ivorian Popular Front can give up hope of that’. The incapacity of the ONUCI to fulfil its mandate, added to open concern of the Ivorian Security Forces’ for the patriots is unlikely to reassure them.

Nevertheless, the international community has reaffirmed its support for Konan Banny, and this alone appears to reinforce his power.

The ‘patriotic galaxy’ has shown that it is now mobilising fewer people (about 3000 patriots - against several hundreds of thousands in November 2004 - though this weakness has however effectively succeeds in mobilising 7000 Blue Helmets of the UN). Manifestly, there are some cracks at the heart of the ‘patriotic galaxy’, particularly between the supporters of Blé Goudé and those of Eugène Djué. The latter have already protested against the fact that they are less ‘highly regarded’ (understand, ‘highly paid’) than those of Blé Goudé. It was Djué’s supporters who delayed in ‘liberating the streets’ on the 19 January 2006.

It should not be forgotten either that the military check points were also opportunities for racketeering. The troubles should not last too long: the armed forces which are collecting taxes from the population could not allow civilian ‘patriots’ to replace them for too long at the check points, and thus to compete with them: ‘The armed forces have come back in order to racketeer.’ (Le Front No: 111 8, 21 January 2006)

To understand the inward tensions of the different groups, particularly those at the heart of the army and of the patriotic galaxy, it is essential to understand the financial motive - which is a crucial element in deciphering the crisis. Exploiting the divisions within the opposing side is effectively also a component in the struggle between the ‘G7’ (coalition of Houphouétistes - the opposition) and Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front. Cutting the Ivorian Popular Front off from its resources through the biased redistribution of the ministries was one element of a strategy designed to force the government party to negotiate a peace process.

Conclusion

We are far from reaching the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it is even tempting to ask oneself if it is not circular. The sanctions the UN has finally decided to apply (freezing bank accounts, travel bans) have only affected the intermediary figures, and have not touched either those who are making the biggest profits out of the crisis, or those who are fuelling it. The ‘patriots’ who have been affected have transformed the impact of the sanctions into martyrdom - into a grand ceremony glorifying the heroes. Their flourishing investments in Côte d’Ivoire - cyber-cafés, petrol stations, property acquisitions - have not been hit, and they continue to receive tax-breaks from the presidential milieu, which, needless to say, is not affected by the sanctions either.

All those who are in the position to have the power to turn the situation towards peace have an interest in the crisis continuing, not only because it is lucrative but also because it is validating. And this is exactly the same for the powers that be, as for the opposition powers, as for the rebel powers. It would be reasonable to assume that considerable severance of the income linked to the crisis would mean that a large part of the interest in it would be lost, especially if this could be matched with the promise of an appearance before the International Criminal Court, which would at least cause some discomfort in retirement. But this would require all those responsible to be sanctioned. On both sides. And would therefore run the risk of another wave of anti-UN violence, which, the solidarity between heads of State makes all the more difficult to imagine.

* Yveline Dévérin is Lecturer in Geography, University of Toulouse-le-Mirail, France

Credit:Pambazuka News

Photo: President Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire

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