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Uncertainty Despite Progress in Ivory Coast

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Credit: Wikimedia CommonsBy Jaya Ramachandran
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BRUSSELS (IDN) - An eminent think-tank has urged the international community to continue its political and financial support to Ivorian government's efforts toward political and economic stabilisation.

"Côte d'Ivoire's main partners, notably the U.S., France and other EU members, must keep a critical eye on the new authorities and, in particular, reiterate to President Alassane Ouattara the need for him to meet his commitments to fair justice, national reconciliation and a genuine SSR (security sector reform)," the International Crisis Group advises.

The Brussels-based group is headed by Louise Arbour, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"Significant progress has been recorded in many areas since (President) Alassane Ouattara's inauguration in May 2011," says Rinaldo Depagne, Crisis Group's West Africa Senior Analyst. "But the economic revival focuses on urban centres and highlights a lack of political will to prioritise the regions and communities that suffered most from the conflict."

The Crisis Group also asks the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to encourage the president to commit personally to SSR and provide political support to this reform.

The backdrop to the study, titled 'Côte d’Ivoire: Continuing the Recovery', is that despite a marked improvement, the situation in the West African country remains fragile. The transfer to The Hague of former President Laurent Gbagbo – charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – only twelve days before the parliamentary elections of December 11, 2011 has stoked political tensions.

"The involvement of the ICC is an important step to fight impunity," says Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group's West Africa Project Director. "But it can only reconcile Ivorians on one condition: that the ICC prosecutor investigates those most responsible on both sides for serious war crimes and crimes against humanity during the post-election period and also since September 2002."

The study points out: "After a vote characterised by low turnout, the country remains deeply divided and still faces grave threats. The weakness and imbalance of the security apparatus and the two-tiered justice system, both of which reinforce the convictions of extremists, are the two main challenges the government must overcome in the months ahead."

It adds: "Although voting itself was peaceful, an electoral campaign marred by incidents serves as a reminder that political violence is still an everyday reality. The installation of a new Assembly marks a further step towards normalisation, but the country has yet to escape trouble."

The results of the parliamentary elections have not come as a surprise: President Ouattara's party, the Rally of Republicans (Rassemblement des républicains, RDR), has won a majority of seats, followed by the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire, PDCI) of former President Henri Konan Bédié, who supported Ouattara during the 2010 presidential election run-off.

The Crisis Group attributes low voter mobilisation to the trauma caused by the recent post-election conflict. "But for the Ivorian Popular Front (Front populaire ivoirien, FPI), Gbagbo’s party, it reflects the success of its call for a boycott," says the report, adding: "The Ouattara camp must be modest in its victory and consider the voters' lack of enthusiasm as a sign of the scale of efforts needed to reconcile Ivorians with their democratic institutions, and reach national consensus on necessary reforms."

The Crisis Group asks President Ouattara to "personally prioritise" the overhaul of the defence sector, and avoid delegating responsibility for this essential reform. Members of the Gbagbo-era Defence and Security Forces (Forces de défense et de sécurité, FDS) coexist uneasily with former New Forces rebels (Forces nouvelles, FN) in the new army, the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire, FRCI).

According to the Crisis Group, FN military leaders who were promoted to senior ranks – some of whom continue to conduct criminal activities – wield disproportionate power.

Having endorsed the installation of a democratically elected president by ex-rebel forces, says the report, the international community could have predicted the difficulty of pressing them to restore state authority rather than celebrate victory and continue abuses.

"Security reform, moreover, falls under the purview of their political head, Prime Minister and Defence Minister Guillaume Soro. Côte d’Ivoire’s foreign partners, notably France, the U.S. and the European Union (EU), should play a crucial role of assisting disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration (DDR) efforts and security sector reform (SSR)," the Crisis Group says.

The global think-tank acknowledges that many areas have seen major progress since President Ouattara's inauguration on May 21, 2011. Because of better governance and significant international aid, the Ivorian economy has re-started. But growth in itself will not guarantee lasting stability, cautions the report, especially as the economic revival focuses on urban centers and highlights a reluctance to prioritise the regions and communities that suffered most from the conflict.

The study avers: "Justice is still partisan." The reason: To date, none of the ex-rebels incorporated into the FRCI have been prosecuted, despite strong suspicions some committed serious crimes. Prosecutions have targeted only the former president’s supporters.

International justice is also perceived as biased by many Ivorians, who consider the transfer of Laurent Gbagbo to the ICC as an impediment to reconciliation. Though, the report argues, the involvement of the ICC is actually a vital step to fight the impunity which has fed political violence over the last decade.

But, adds the Crisis Group, it can only reconcile Ivorians if the ICC prosecutor investigates those responsible on both sides for serious war crimes and crimes against humanity during the recent crisis and also since September 2002. [IDN-InDepthNews – December 27, 2011]

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Image: President Alassane Ouattara | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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