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Conflicting Statements Send Dangerous Signals

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In response to the most recent allegations by the Ivorian Defense Minister, Honorable Paul Koffi, that “Liberian gunmen attacked the Ivorian border town of Grabo” (a continuous, persistent blame-game by the Ivorians against Liberia concerning the conflict in their country), Liberia’s Defense Minister, Honorable Brownie Samukai, while not speaking for nor defending the activities of mercenaries (non-state actors) or international “soldiers of fortune”, held that the Ivorians should and must seek solution to the conflict at home, in their country. Minister Samukai told a press conference of Liberian Journalists and Reuters News Agency (with interest in and long relationship with the Ivory Coast) that “Ivory Coast Lied” (FrontPageAfricaonline & New Democrat, February 25, 2014). But, about a week later on Monday, Liberia’s Government Spokesman and Information Minister, Honorable Lewis Browne, told a news conference that “Liberians are involved” (FrontPageAfricaonline, March 3, 2014).

Cognizant of and displaying diplomatic finesse, while recognizing and articulating the two, sisterly nations’ close, socio-cultural and biological relations, including their common interest in the search to transform the two nation’s ancient political, economic and security institutions into modern enterprise, we should and must cooperate/coordinate to prevent this border violence based on truth, reason, concern and care for each other’s security, peaceful co-existence among and between our two nations and peoples, rather than reckless charges and counter-charges, Defense Minister Samukai told  the press  conference. This, in fact, that which the Defense Minister said, that:

1. “If they (Ivorians) have seen mercenaries, I challenge them to produce . . . evidence . . . we have re-assured the Ivorians that an inch of Liberian territory will not be used to destabilize any country” and that “Liberia has assured the Ivorian government of Liberia’s support to protecting its borders”.

2. The crisis is “an Ivorian problem and (that) they, Ivorians, need to find a way to solve it; they (must) exclude Liberians from it (the problem). We have worked diligently and have excellent relations with the Ivorian security forces and direct exchange of notes with our counter-parts”.

3. “We (Liberians) are using our meager resources to protect our borders; we are tired of the problem. We just ended our war and have assured our neighbors that we will not allow any form aggression to go into other countries from here (Liberia)”.

4. The Republic of La Cote d’Ivoire “has high military (and security) capabilities more than us (Liberia) . . . the size of their (Ivorian) military (organization) is more than us (ours) . . . they have equipment more than us (we have) . . . I think (that) we need to work more closely together here”.

Indeed, too often, in the camaraderie of relative power and influence, officials tend to lose sight of the critical, crucial implications of their decisions and the final impact on their, individual nations. In the case of the Ivorian conflict, Defense Minister Samukai drew the attention to and reminded the Ivorian and Liberian policymakers of the fact that the Ivorian conflict is “an Ivorian problem, they need to find a way (Ivorian) to solve it” and that “they must exclude Liberians from it” in their blame-game.

Perspective analysis and understanding of the Honorable Defense Minister’s call for attention to the conflict in La Cote d’Ivoire also demands an understanding, with reflection, of the Liberian Defense Minister’s   “We just ended our war” remarks.

In an unpublished article (Tracking Liberia’s Mercenaries, January 1, 2014), we wrote, among many others, the following:

A. The December 24, 1989 Invasion of Liberia

The near-total destruction of Liberia’s its socio-cultural, economic and political order, its infrastructure and the mind-boggling human suffering and death was the result of the December 24, 1989, invasion of Liberia by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).  Mr. Charles McArthur Taylor and several, other Liberian leaders of the insurgency planned, organized in and launched the invasion from Abidjan and environs, La Cote d’Ivoire, through the Ivorian/Liberian border town of Logatuo, Nimba County, Liberia; this was made possible with the knowledge and approval of and permission by the government of the Republic of La Cote d’Ivoire for Ivorian border-crossing into Liberia. In other words, the government of La Cote d’Ivoire “aided and abetted” this act of aggression against a sister Republic. During this period (the year of 1989), the Head of state and government of La Cote d’Ivoire was the late President, Houphouet Boigny, with Mr. Alassane Ouattara who became Prime Minister, shortly, in 1990.

That the devastating impact of the armed invasion on the Republic of Liberia, particularly, the destruction of villages, town and cities, human suffering and death visited upon rural Liberia, specifically, targeted by the NPFL invasion is history that needs no recounting or proof.

B. The Endless Civil Conflict in Cote d’Ivoire

The on-going, endless civil conflict in La Cote d’Ivoire is home-grown and due to two, inevitable results of (a), competition, that nation’s deadly north-south, socio-cultural, religious, economic and political rivalry and (b), discontent, occasioned and compounded, cumulatively, by the results of the controversial elections that brought Mr. Alassane Ouattara to power as President of La Cote d’Ivoire, according to Ivorian, world Press and African Union reports. The Liberian people were and are not involved and played or play no part. 

C. Prior to the October 1995 presidential elections.

The Ivorian National Assembly passed an electoral law which barred candidates, either of whose parents were of a foreign nationality, who had not lived in Côte d’Ivoire for five years preceding the election for which one is candidate and who has served at a high position under nationality different than Ivorian. This was the case of Mr. Alassane Ouattara, who was widely believed to be Burkinabe`, served as Burkina Faso national at the IMF and who, owing to his duties with the IMF, has not resided in La Cote d’Ivoire since 1990. Also, his father was born in Burkina Faso and he, himself, is rumored to be born in Burkina Faso, according to some documents, all of which show the records of his student life as being Burkina Faso national.

After the inauguration of Mr. Laurant Gbagbo who was declared winner of the elections by the Ivorian Constitutional Court (ICC), Mr. Alassane Ouattara, recognized as the winner by most countries and the United Nations, organized an alternative inauguration. These events raised fears of resurgence of the civil war during which thousands of refugees fled the country. The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing Mr. Alassane Ouattara as winner of the elections, based on the position of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS suspended Ivory Coast from all its decision-making bodies while the African Union also suspended the country’s membership.  Therefore, the African Union (AU) dispatched the Honorable Thabo Mbeki, former President of the Republic of South Africa, as Envoy, to mediate the conflict.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations and sporadic violence, the crisis entered a critical stage as Ouattara’s forces seized control of most of the country, with Gbagbo entrenched in Abidjan. International organizations reported numerous instances of human rights violations by both sides. In the city of Duékoué, about 18 miles east of the provincial, border Capital of Guiglo, all Gbagbo strongholds, hundreds of people were estimated to have been killed, predominantly by advancing pro-Ouattara militias. In nearby Blolequin, dozens of people were killed, reportedly by retreating Liberian mercenaries who had been hired by pro-Gbagbo forces. UN and French forces took military action against Gbagbo. Gbagbo was taken into custody after a raid into his residence on 11 April. It was initially thought that he was captured by French forces, however, Ouattara’s envoy to the UN claimed it was their forces that captured him, and the French deny any involvement in his arrest. The country was severely damaged by the war, and observers consider that it will be a challenge for Ouattara to rebuild the economy and reunite Ivorians.

Ouattara Announcement

On the basis of the Ivorian Electorl Commission’s (CEI) results, Ouattara maintained that he was “the elected President” and said that the Constitutional Council had abused its authority. The New Forces and Prime Minister Soro both supported Ouattara’s claim to victory; Soro said that he considered Ouattara the rightful President and offered his resignation to Ouattara December 4, 2010.

The Grievances

According to Former, South African President, Thebo Mbeki, the International Community demonstrated no appreciation for the various, explosive allegations that have, wrongly or rightly, informed and will continue to inform the views of the Gbagbo-supporting population in southern Cote d’Ivoire and much of Francophone Africa. These allegations include (1), The claim that Alassane Ouattara was born in Burkina Faso and of Burkina nationality, not an Ivorian citizen; (2),That together, with Burkinabe` President, Blaise Compaore`, he (Ouattara) was responsible for the 2002 rebellion in Cote d’Ivoire; (3), That his (Ouattara’s) accession to power would result in the take-over of the country (La Cote d’Ivoire), especially by Burkinabe` foreigners; and (4), That he (Ouattara) has, long, been ready to advance French interests in La Cote d’Ivoire.

Presidential Election to be Postponed

Accordingly, the Africa Union (AU) understood (and held) that a lasting solution of the Ivorian crisis necessitated a negotiated agreement between the two belligerent, Ivorian factions, focused on the inter-dependent issues of democracy, peace, national reconciliation and unity. Therefore, in protracted negotiations from 2002, the Ivorians agreed that the presidential election would not be held until various conditions had been met, including, (1), Re-unification of the country, restoration of the national administration to all parts of the Ivorian territory; (2), Disarmament of the rebels and all militia and their integration in the national security machinery; and (3), That with latter process completed, at least, two months before any presidential election.

Although none of these conditions was met, the election was held anyway. In the end, Ouattara was installed as president of La Cote d’Ivoire after a long, bloody fight and Gbagbo and his wife, Simone, ended up as humiliated prisoners, with many Ivorians killed, others displaced, much infrastructure destroyed and historic animosities exacerbated.

What went Wrong

According to Thebo Mbeki, “Many things went, radically, wrong. Agreements relating to what needed to be done to create conditions for free and fair elections were, willfully and contemptuously, ignored. The Ivorian Constitutional Council (ICC) is the only body constitutionally empowered to determine the winner in any presidential election and to install the president, with the Ivorian Electoral Commission (CEI) mandated to forward its provisional results to the CC. However, the very people who insist on the sanctity of the rule of law as fundamental to all democratic practice chose, illegally, to recognize the provisional results announced by the chairman of the CEI as the authentic outcome of the election”.

As was his right under the law, Gbagbo contested the fairness of the elections in certain parts of the country, especially, the North. The ICC, rightly or wrongly, accepted the majority of the complaints made by Gbagbo, identified other “irregularities”, annulled the votes in some districts and declared Gbagbo the winner. But the CEI chairman ignored these irregularities and declared that Ouattara had won.

The United Nations (UN)

The UN Special Representative, Choi Young-jin (of South Korea), Envoy of UN Secretary-General, determined that some of Gbagbo’s complaints were legitimate but, also, that Ouattara had won the election with fewer votes than those announced by the IEC. So, in terms of the votes cast for the two candidates, the CEI & ICC, the UN Envoy reached three, different conclusions, but not specified nor announced.

Gbagbo proposed a way to resolve the matter, suggesting that an international commission be appointed to verify the election results, with the important pre-condition that both, he and Ouattara, should accept the panel’s ruling. But the international community rejected this proposal, despite the fact that it would have avoided a war and that some election observers questioned the fairness of the elections, especially in the northern Cote d’Ivoire.

Those who sounded alarms about balloting in the North were election-observing missions of the Africa Union (led by Joseph Kokou Kofigoh, former Prime Minister of Togo); the independent, civil society Societe` Civile Africaine pour la Democratie et l`Assistance Electoral (led by Seynabou Indieguene of Senegal); and the Coordination of African Election Experts, (CARE) from Cameroon, Senegal, Benin, Mali, Morocco, Gabon and Togo (led by Jean-Marie Ongjibangte of Cameroon. Problems identified included the stealing of ballot boxes, arresting of candidates’ representatives, multiple voting, refusal to admit international observers to witness counting of ballots, and the murders of representatives of candidates.

ECOWAS with-held Reports

Meanwhile, up to this day, the election-observer mission from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has not issued its report on the second round of the presidential election. Why? Clearly, the commission proposed by Gbagbo could have made a definitive, binding determination about what happened. Time will tell why this was not done.

Failures of the UN Mission

The UN Special Representative made the extraordinary decision by declaring who had won the presidential election, contrary to his mandate from the UN Security Council. This positioned the UN Mission as partisan stakeholder in the conflict, rather than a neutral peacemaker. From this point on, the UN Mission had no choice but to support the installation of Mr. Alassane Ouattara as President and the removal of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo. Achieving this goal involved the blatant use of western and UN military personnel (might) in opening a path for the pro-Ouattara Forces Nouvelles to defeat the Gbagbo forces and capture Gbagbo under the shameless pretense that it (UN) was acting to protect civilians. The UN Mission did nothing to stop the Forces Nouvelles from advancing north to south, including into Abidjan. Nor did the UN Mission or French Licorne Forces, as mandated by the UN, act to protect civilians in Due`koue`, where, evidently, the most concentrated killings of civilians took place.

Key Conclusions by Thabo Mbeki, African Union (AU) Envoy, that:

  • “The agreed conditions for holding democratic elections in Cote d’Ivoire were not created.
  • Despite strong allegations of electoral fraud, the international community decided against conducting any verification of the process and announced the results. This left unanswered the question of, who actually won the election.
  • The UN Mission abandoned its neutrality as a peacemaker, deciding to play a partisan role.
  • France used its privileged place in the UN Security Council to grab an important role in determining the future of Cote d’Ivoire, its former colony, in which it (France) has significant, economic interests. France joined the UN Security Council Mission in Cote d’Ivoire to ensure that Ouattara emerged as the victor in the Ivorian conflict.
  • Former French  President, Francois Mitterand’s remarks that “without Africa, France will have no history in 21st century”, Ouattara’s victory as President of La Cote d’Ivoire addressed the national interests of France consistent with its (France’s) FrancAfrique policies designed to perpetuate relationships with its former, African colonies”.

Our Conclusions:

From the foregoing reports/conclusions – particularly, the controversial nature of the electoral outcome – ensured as well as entrenched the deep-seated North-South, socio-cultural, religious, economic and political rivalry, competition and conflict in the nation, because:

a) The election results placed exclusive leadership and control of a deeply-divided nation in the hands of a failed, 2002 rebellious leader with awesome, reasonable responsibility, but questionable will-ability, to heal the wounds, unite the nation and determine the future of united a people, given the critical, objective conditions demanded before and, now demand, on the ground in La Cote d’Ivoire.

b) His Excellency, Alassane Ouattara is widely believed, or perceived, not to be Ivorian citizen, but a Burkinabe` who, it is also reported and widely believed, with Burkinabe` President, Blaise Compoare, to be responsible for the deadly, failed 2002 rebellion, and that with his (Ouattara’s) accession to power under these controversial conditions, would, inevitably, result in the take-over of Cote d’Ivoire by Burkinabe` foreigners. 

c) The seemingly endless, domestic conflict, with its resulting, deep-seated, cumulative discontent, compounded by the results of the controversial elections, is clearly a proven, home-grown phenomenon that requires specialized, political will-ability, enlightened and committed leadership for rational, peaceful resolution. Ignored or permitted to obtain, over time, the impact is likely to spill over to neighboring or distant countries, as it is now, invite or attract romantic “soldiers of fortune” for purely financial gain without personal and/or ideological considerations in these days of “conspicuous consumption”, instant travel of carefree, adventurous counter-culture.

According to the UN Panel of Experts, “cross-border, ethno-linguistic ties remain strong . . . between Ivorian Yacouba and Liberian Gio . . . in Nimba County, and Ivorian Guere and Liberian Krahn in Grand Gede County. There were others from the border regions along the Cavalla River, all the way through River Gee County to Maryland County”.

d. Our research/investigation shows that Ivorian citizens in western Cote d’Ivoire, Due`koue`, Guiglo and several border towns and villages, fled the onslaught of armed Burkinabe`s who took over their cocoa, coffee and other farms. All counties, from Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Maryland, bordering Cote d’Ivoire share socio-cultural and ethnic/tribal identity with many Ivorian citizens, including family and friendly relationships. Indeed, history shows that Kwa-speaking peoples of Liberia migrated from the East, the “Ivory Coast” region.

These are the underlying, critical factors that triggered the endless conflict in our neighboring, sisterly Republic of La Cote d’Ivoire. There is critical need for the two nations to cooperate and coordinate to find lasting, peaceful resolution in the light of the binding, historic ties between the two peoples, before some trigger-happy, “security” official plunge us all in the nightmare of another, deadly conflict.

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