The Life of the Party: The UN’s Plan for Ivory Coast

By Jordan Katz

Peacekeepers make bad dinner party guests. They either leave too early, or they stay too late, jokes Albert Koenders, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative and Head of Operations in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). Koenders spoke on Friday, January 18, at the International Peace Institute in New York on the UN's challenges facing Ivory Coast following ex-president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2010 elections. In Koenders’ dinner party, the UN tries—but fails—to calm the hosts, who can’t mask their contempt for one another. Eight years after a civil war erupted, the 2010 elections had the potential to be a graceful note on which to end the UN’s involvement in Ivory Coast. But the last few years made clear that the post-colonial nation, divided along ethnic and religious lines, was still a long way from peace.

Ivory Coast was once a beacon of economic prosperity and inter-ethnic harmony in West Africa, accounting for 40 percent of the region’s GDP and boasting the peaceful co-existence of over 60 ethnic groups under the 33-year command of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. But ever since an economic downturn and the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, nationalist rhetoric has fomented anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiment throughout the country. It was at the height of this sentiment that current President Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim whose father was rumored to have been born in Burkina Faso, was first barred from presidential candidacy in 1995.

Fast forward to 2007, when, after years of fighting controversy over his familial origins in the context of a newly strict electoral code, Ouattara was finally accepted as a candidate against Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo’s roots in the presidency were already on shaky grounds; he was installed only after a coup d’état unseated Robert Guéï in 2000. So when the outcome of elections showed a Ouattara victory in 2010, Gbagbo and his supporters ignored it. The international community, however, including the UN, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States, has since stood in virtually universal support of Ouattara. 

Clashes between a pro-Ouattara, mostly Muslim north and a pro-Gbagbo, mostly Christian South in the months since the election have left thousands dead or displaced. UNOCI  has been working in close conjunction with the Ouattara administration toward integrating its disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration strategies (DDR) with its security sector reform (SSR), but Koenders says that, though there has been progress, “it remains a major challenge because, obviously, if you have an army which is made up of different factions of the former regime and of the [rebel forces], it is always a challenge [to] build that confidence.” He says that ensuring transparency and that disarmament happens in a “politically-balanced way” are some of the greatest obstacles to the DDR process. Last summer’s attacks near the Liberian border, in which seven UN peacekeepers and at least 10 others were killed, were a stark reminder that the demobilization and reintegration processes must extend to ex-combatants beyond borders, particularly in Ghana and Liberia where many Gbagbo loyalists remain in exile, as well as within the country. 

Ouattara, an economist who has worked for the IMF, seems to have set his sights on economic development as a solution to security threats, initiating programs to draw outside investors back into the Ivorian economy. In September 2011, the IMF and the Ivorian government launched a three-year-long economic and financial recovery program, including measures to reform the legal system with regard to commerce, secure pensions in the long-term, and expand the tax base. The Ouattara administration also launched reforms to its prized cocoa industry in November 2011, aimed at raising and stabilizing prices, spurring internal investment, and ensuring production even if there are  future drops in world cocoa prices through a reserve fund. 

Koenders insists, though, that UNOCI’s first priority is human security—9,000 military personnel and 1,000 police personnel are on the ground  in sensitive areas, but SSR alone cannot restore institutional trust. And it certainly won’t as long as the security sector keeps going after civilians in its search for elusive militant actors, as Human Rights Watch says is occuring. 

Koenders says UNOCI will focus on a development trifecta in the coming months: jobs, security, and justice. But there are still major challenges in each of those sectors. Increasing employment will mean closing a growing gap between youth training and job opportunities. Fortunately, the World Bank is contributing to this cause with a program aimed at opening avenues to temporary employment and skills training to young men and women, many of whom joined a violent post-electoral group merely as a means of earning money. The security situation remains bleak due to competition over control of resources, land tenure disputes, and the convergence of arms and former militia within and outside of Ivory Coast. Finally, solidifying the justice system will mean abolishing widespread, deep-seated impunity. The International Criminal Court’s recent announcement that proceedings will begin in February against Laurent Gbagbo for crimes against humanity was a good start, but if the ICC stops there, many believe the institution and the government will lose credibility. 



Jordan Katz is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal. 

[Photo courtesy of UN by Basile Zoma.]


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