COTE D'IVOIRE: Graft continues despite reunification pledges

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More than a year after Cote d’Ivoire’s government signed a peace deal and formed a joint government with rebels that had held the north of the country for five years, former rebels continue to levy taxes on trade and transport in the north and the government has not succeeded in bringing large parts of the country under its control.

“The parallel and illegitimate system of taxes, [commercial and public vehicles] laissez-passer [to circulate in different rebel fiefdoms] and roadblocks instituted by the [main rebel group] Forces Nouvelles does nothing except encourage corruption,” said Patrick Alley, director of the conflict and natural resources watchdog Global Witness in a statement on Thursday.

A report by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in January 2008 identified the former rebels as one of the main possible spoilers to the country’s peace process.

“While [former rebel] commanders have expressed a willingness to transfer their administrative and financial authority to the administrators redeployed in the areas under their control, as long as their command structures remain intact, the existence of such parallel authority structures may create unnecessary tensions,” Ban’s report stated.

In December 2007, IRIN reporting found that attacks on civilians by armed men had become increasingly common in many areas of the country, especially the northwest and west. Attacks on civilians at roadblocks occur in both the rebel and government-controlled areas.

Ex-rebels are profiting especially from their control of the cocoa and diamond industries “despite the process of reunification that is happening” in Cote d’Ivoire, Alley said.

Human rights are “frequently” being abused in rebel-controlled areas, he said, linking the profit-making activities of the rebels and the lack of concrete progress towards full reunification despite a peace deal signed in 2006 and the dismantlement of the “line of control” which had formally split the country.

Drissa Bamba, a Forces Nouvelles commander in Pôgô, a town on the Cote d’Ivoire border with Burkina Faso, told IRIN: “After five years living well on these informal taxes, most rebels are unwilling to relinquish this steady income stream.”

“For more than five years we have been able to live because of these taxes,” he said. “We do not have any other way of surviving.” Bamba, speaking by telephone from the border town, said the redeployment of the state administration had not taken place in all of the country.

Many say the behaviour of those manning roadblocks mirrors the very kinds of social division and abuse that were integral to the causes of Côte d’Ivoire’s rebellion. One factor that gave rise to the rebellion was northerners’ exasperation over what they called blatant discrimination and abuse on the part of government security forces. At roadblocks people with names from northern ethnic groups would be singled out and made to pay bribes.

Source: IRIN