COTE D'IVOIRE: Shaky peace leading into elections

Thursday, October 2, 2008

As presidential elections approach at year-end after repeated delays, analysts worry slow progress on meeting the demands of the Ouagadougou peace agreement, combined with what they see as continued hostility among some in power towards foreign-born Ivorians, threaten the elusive stability in the still-divided country.

“Ouagadougou was a breakthrough because the protagonists of the crisis came together to agree on their own timetable and roadmap to peace rather than at the behest of the international community,” said Kissy Agyeman, country analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa for London-based think-tank Global Insight. “The pressure is now on because if there is further stalling, President Laurent Gbagbo’s legitimacy is at stake and people fear it could precipitate violence in the country.”

The rebels and government signed a power-sharing peace accord in Ouagadougou in March 2007 that called for disarming and demobilising rebel troops; identifying voters in preparation for elections; building up the state infrastructure in the north; and helping hundreds of thousands of people displaced during the civil war that broke out in 2002 return to their towns and villages.

Over eighteen months into the peace deal, demobilisation is underway, voter identification started on 15 September, and some state officials have started to be deployed to the former-rebel-held north, according to local officials.

But progress on all of these fronts has been slow, says a July 2008 UN Secretary General report.

Only 60,000 of the estimated 700,000 displaced Ivorians around the country have returned to their homes, according to the UN. After multiple delays, elections scheduled for the first half of 2008 have been pushed back once again until November 2008. Recently, President Gbagbo intimated further delays.

“President Gbagbo needs to respect his own timetable to give him credibility in the eyes of his own people as well as the international community. If he delays the polls again, it won’t look favourable,” Agyeman stressed.

Election delays

The census count, the first step towards identifying voters in preparation for the long-awaited elections, started on 15 September 2008 and is slated to be completed in 45 days, which Daniel Balint-Kurti, associate fellow at London think-tank Chatham House, says is unrealistic.

"The identification process is only just beginning now, so in two months they're expecting to overcome what has been an intractable problem for the country for several years,” he told IRIN.

Some nine million citizens out of the country’s approximate 17.6 million are expected to participate in elections, but only 3,500 were registered one week into the identification process, according to Hamadoun Touré, spokesperson for the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI); and only 1,500 out of the required 6,000 registration kits required for the elections have been put in place.

Touré told IRIN it is difficult to deliver kits any more quickly, especially to remote parts of the country.

To complicate the process, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) do not have proof of identity documents required for registration. 

Central to the 2002 outbreak of conflict were problems encountered by northerners, most of them descendants of immigrants from neighbouring countries, who said they faced discrimination by the Ivorian authorities and challenges in obtaining citizenship papers.

Disarmament delays

Elections cannot take place until former rebel combatants have been disarmed and demobilised, according to UN’s Touré. Yet, there is not enough money to carry out the process said Augustine Guehoun, head of communications in President Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party (or FPI).

The government’s failure to pay three months of allowance to each ex-combatant, and the absence of reintegration programmes are adding to demobilisation and reintegration delays, say the UN. Under the Ouagadougou peace deal, rebels were to be reintegrated into the national army.

“If the country goes to the polls and ex-rebels still haven’t disarmed there is always the threat that they could pick up arms again and resort to violence,” said Global Insight’s Agyeman.

Redeployment delays

Under the Ouagadougou agreement, state officials from the south were to be redeployed to the north; and northern localities would start to pay state taxes rather than run an informal parallel economy funded by coercion or extortion, as has been the case according to Agyeman.

The UN says tax collection has begun, and according to an official with the National Steering Committee for the Redeployment of the Administration (CNPRA), who wanted to remain anonymous, some doctors, teachers, and members of the government officials have been redeployed to the north.

But judges, law enforcement, tax and customs officers and treasury officers have not yet been put in place, which Agyeman said adds to the sense of instability and insecurity there. “Redeployment needs to be sped up because it will show a clear acceptance among northerners of state authority, which is important for peace.”

Military unrest

On 26 September forces reportedly fired in the air in the towns of Yamoussoukro and Daoukro demanding their US$205 monthly allowance, which they claim has not been paid since the beginning of 2007.

Military unrest can be contagious, Balint-Kurti pointed out. “Almost every coup or attempted coup [here] has been sparked by an army revolt over pay and it shows things could change one day to the next…any one mutiny could suddenly escalate.”

And when it comes to disarmament, he said rather than diminishing the power of ex-rebel leaders, the current process involves no independent agency to monitor arms handovers, creating the risk of ex-rebels hanging onto their weapons.

Justice and security

Since the Ouagadougou accord was signed, the once-rebel movement Forces Nouvelles which still retains control over much of the north and still has an armed faction, has made efforts to improve the human rights situation, according to Patrick N’gouan, president of the Ivorian League for Human Rights.

Despite this, criminality in the east and the north is mounting, according to UNOCI, which reports an increase in roadside robberies in the north over the past few months. Local media report on continued land conflicts and bus hijackings, some of which have turned deadly.

And reports of rape increased across the country from April to July 2008, according to the UN.

Jean-Jacques Digbeu, a professor at Concody University in Abidjan, told IRIN “War cannot resume, but crime has increased throughout the country and people are still living in fear…barricading themselves in,” pointing to the need of a functional justice system.

Election readiness

Balint-Kurti told IRIN that even if elections went ahead that would not rule out instability in the future. “There is not enough indication that people's opinions have changed. The same ways of thinking that created the problems in the past are still there.”

He said radical elements persist among some leaders in the FPI who are still hesitant to identify foreign-born Ivorians as nationals.

But Sebastian Dano Djédjé, national elections secretary at the FPI told IRIN Ivorians are ready. "The FPI has worked hard to reconcile all Ivorians across the country…northerners and our foreign-born brothers have no worries now,” he assured IRIN.

Analyst Agyeman stresses the government needs to honour its peace agreement, “Ivorians have war-fatigue. They are ready to move on. It is the state that has stalled on elections – it has to speed things up now to show a commitment to peace.”