Conflict and civil in Cote d’ Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
By Dr. Claude Shema R. (Canada)
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Conflict and civil in Cote d’ Ivoire ( Ivory Coast )
It is an aberration to perceive the war as a volcanic eruption. The Ivory Coast’s conflict situation laid back in the era of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the first president to rule the country early and after independence from France. He held power until he died in 1993. Even though Felix Houphouet-Boigny ruled the country for decades; he managed to hold it peacefully, till he adopted the multi-parties political system, and the same multiparty elections that were held in 1990. President Felix Houphouet-Boigny won over Laurent Gbagbo without any difficulties. In 1993, Henri Konan Bedie became president following the death of Houphouet-Boigny. According to the opposition, Henri Konan Bedie was supposed to take over the power just as an interim President who would govern the country until new general elections. Meanwhile, the ethnic and religious conflict was boiling underneath.
The first conflict escalation
In October 1995, Henri Konan Bedie won the boycotted elections, and the opposition protested massively. The north and south conflict escalated, but with involvement of military, the civil prevented at some extents.
In 1999, the new era of Cote d’Ivoire was marked by the arrival of Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim from North, who’s labeled by the Henri Bedie regime as a foreigner from Burkina-Faso (neighboring country ). He left the job at International Monetary Fund ( IMF) and returned to run for president in 2000. Like some other different countries in Africa, Henri Bedie’s era ended up in military coup, overthrown by Robert Guei who proclaimed himself as a winner of another election characterized by massive irregularities. Meanwhile, Henri Bedie fled to France (the former colonial master of Cote d’Ivoire), and Alassane Ouatara was excluded from running the presidency by Robert Guei regime. Then, the boycotted elections, ethnic and religious upheaval, then military coup, exclusion of Ouatara which meant the exclusion of northern part of Cote d’Ivoire. Power sharing issue or south vs. North conflict? Still the conflict pot was boiling.
The conflict at the pick
As usual, when our interests, our rights, our needs are unmet, there would be always upheaval in different ways. Pacific one or coercive one. For the oppressed Ivorian people, the gun was the ultimate solution to let their voices be heard. So an open war erupted in October 2000. The conflict went on unsolved, top politicians fled the country and came back after a while, others survived the assassin tempt etc… In brief, there was total insecurity and fear among politicians and simple citizens, and sometimes the 3rd part like France and UN played key roles in the dynamic of conflict in Cote d’ Ivoire.
Both parts involved youth in their matters. Militiamen were created, and the violence took place. Many women became victims of gang-raping, and kids forced to carry guns and taught to kill and rape or be raped as well. Those little angels faced unprecedented inhumane cruelty, and more than 90% of them had a high level of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorders).
Peacebuilding, mediation for new era
My experience in the aftermath intervention in Cote d’Ivoire was a real challenge. Dealing with different perceptions ( i.e Muslims vs. Christians, north vs east, ethnicity etc). But the key issue was “Power sharing to maintain security and human rights matters.”
It was my pleasure to be part of the mediation team member, and my contribution to peace in Cote d’Ivoire was one of my successes. I thought! But since the conflict dynamic can change from time to time, depending on the involved parts and the context, there was no sustainable peace so far. The peace matter was a temporary move. But still there was an opportunity to maintain that peace and prevent any further escalation.
Peace talks held different times could have reached sustainable peace in the Cote d’Ivoire if there was willingness on both side, especially the Gbagbo’s side. My point of view is that if the country managed to end the first civil war between the government military forces backed by its militiamen and the main rebel group New Forces (Forces Nouvelles), it had a chance also to begin new era of harmony among Ivoirian people.
The last but not least missed opportunity was 2010 presidential elections. Democratically speaking, free-and-fair elections are a greater sign towards peace. But Gbagbo refused to cede power, and this ruined country into bloodshed, and African Union ( AU) and UN or international community become “bystanders” while thousands of hundreds of people were murdered, mainly children and women.
The way out now
It is hard to predict the outcomes of efforts made by ECOWAS, UN, AU, France and US mainly to bring about peace in this country, since the former president Laurent Gbagbo does not want to step down. Without taking part, since Ouatarra has been declared the winner of last year's presidential election, and so done by the national election commission, doubtlessly Alassane Ouatarra should be given a chance to govern the country, and make changes.
The first priority which is even a most challenging one, would be a long journey: Reconciliation. But before that, we need rehabilitation (psychological and social). This should be the top priority. Then since there is civil war, in additional to the fact that the rehabilitation the country would need disarmament-demilitarization demobilization, and reintegration of former militiamen and rebels. Healing wounds of the past, dealing with fresh challenges and rebuilding the country in all sectors through sustainable peacebuilding program and reconciliation, is a key ingredient for a better future and prosperity in Cote d’Ivoire, the world largest Cacao producer.