West Africa: What Went Wrong with Ivory Coast's Peace Process - by Senegal's Foreign Minister

5 March 2003

Washington, DC — Attempts to resolve the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire show scant progress. Three rebel factions still hold Ivory Coast's north, and parts of the west. Over a thousand people have died and more than a million have been forced from their homes. The government of President Laurent Gbagbo holds the south of the country and the continuing conflict highlights longstanding political, ethnic and religious tensions.

A messy peace process and a negotiated agreement which, at first, provoked street protest and repudiation by key actors like the armed forces loyal to Gbagbo, have given way to a grudging, sullen acceptance that there is no other game in town.

Anti-French feeling in the south is running high after the French government brokered the Marcoussis agreement, even though French troops have played a vital role in underpinning the ceasefire. Sporadic fighting flares, nonetheless; rebels and their supporters are impatient about the time it is taking to implement the agreement.

Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, whose appointment came as a result of the peace agreement, has been shuttling back and forth to try and get all sides on board. He has warned he may step down if his attempt to form a government of national unity fails. He was nominated for the post as someone acceptable to both the rebels and the Gbagbo government but, faced with poor cooperation on both sides, he said this week that he was getting tired.

Governments in the region and others, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, have warned of the danger of 'contagion' - the possibility that the war in Cote d'Ivoire may spill across borders provoking conflict in other currently peaceful countries. The role of Liberia's president, Charles Taylor, with his government's history of fomenting war in Sierra Leone, is particularly troubling to observers who note the increasing conflict at the western border with Liberia, involving Liberian fighters.

One individual who has been at the centre of attempts to resolve the crisis is Senegal's foreign minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio. It was Gadio who successfully brokered the original ceasefire on October 17, 2002, less than two months after the fighting first began.

Inexplicably, however, Senegal - which was then leading the regional organisation, Ecowas - was suddenly sidelined in the peace process and the baton passed to Togo and President Gnassingbe Eyadema, the region's longest reigning president who himself came to power through a coup in 1967 and has been in power for thirty-five years.

Senegal was not included in the Contact Group charged with resolving the Ivorian crisis, despite having built relationships with all sides in the process or reaching a ceasefire. While little was said openly, behind the scenes it was clear that there were deep tensions in Ecowas on the issue, tensions which may have undermined the search for peace in Ivory Coast.

Foreign minister Gadio is in Washington, DC this week. He talked to allAfrica's Charles Cobb and Akwe Amosu about the continuing war in Liberia and the Ivorian peace process.

Things seem to have really run into the sands in Cote d'Ivoire. There is serious fighting flaring, Prime Minister Diarra says he is being made to look ridiculous, and there are so many players involved - the current Ecowas leader, Ghana's President Kufuor, the Comité de Suivi [follow-up committee], Togo's President Eyadema... What is supposed to be happening now and why are things are in such a mess?

I don't think we have that much confusion because the good news I was told yesterday [Monday March 3] is that a meeting is scheduled on Thursday between President Kufuor of Ghana and leaders of all political parties that were in Linas-Marcoussis [the site outside Paris where the Marcoussis agreement was negotiated].

I think Prime Minister Diarra will take this opportunity to present his government there. Personally, I know - for different reasons - that he is ready. He has a government that I believe is balanced. He is taking into account all peoples' concerns and preoccupations. And if he got the support he deserved from President Gbagbo, from the heads of different political parties, from what they call now "the new forces" - the rebel forces; if he gets the support he deserves, then he will make it.

This is a difficult situation for him, almost an embarrassment to be appointed prime minister a month ago; given the mandate to form a government and then to run into all these obstacles and delays. People telling you, "Okay, I will tell you my position but not today... tomorrow." So he is telling them that there is a cut-off date for him. He is saying: "If we cannot agree on something by the end of this week then perhaps I am not the man for this situation; you need someone else."

He is a very humble person saying so because, the way I see him working, he is the man for this situation. He is a man of big heart and devotion. His family is in Senegal right now so he comes to visit us as often as he can and that gives us a chance to discuss with him all the time. This is a very committed man; he will surprise not only Africa, but the world, once he has revealed everything that he has done and prepared for his country.

And if given the chance, he will conduct the disarmament process successfully, and he will have rebuilt Cote d'Ivoire. It takes such a strong, courageous man to agree to do all of these "dirty jobs" of getting a country that was almost destroyed by civil war back on its feet. He has made the commitment not to run for office; he is leaving after. So frankly, this guy, this human being, this great Ivorian leader, needs the support of everybody. If it was not for Mr. Diarra, I think civil war would have resumed and Cote d'Ivoire would have been almost destroyed beyond repair.

It looked, from the outside, as though Senegal, and you individually, played a valuable role in getting the first ceasefire signed last October. It was obviously a diplomatic achievement and also seemed as if a good basis for the next steps had been laid. But then Togo ended up being in charge of the process, Ecowas peacekeeping troops did not show up as promised to replace the French troops, only Senegal and Niger sent some troops. And it seems as though, from Senegal's point of view, you made your contribution and but the project got taken away from you. What went wrong?

I would correct one point on the Ecowas troops - the Senegalese General Fall who was in charge of the troops used the name "Ecoforce" [short for] Ecowas Forces - there are more than 1,200 soldiers, mostly Senegalese, Togolese, Ghanaians - all the countries that were supposed to contribute troops have done so.

But it took a very long time for them to arrive.

You see that's one reason that I give for why France intervened in terms of getting the meeting in Paris - the Marcoussis discussions.

The day we signed the ceasefire in Bouake around four or five in the afternoon, six hours later the French were there on the ceasefire line to secure the ceasefire and help keep it together. In Ecowas, we promised the French that we would be going back and talking to our leaders and within one week or ten days we would position our troops. The first Ecowas troops came into Cote d'Ivoire two months later.

That's why I sometimes believe that people are being unfair to France; six hours later they were there; sixty days later we were there.

Secondly, I agree that if we did not have those rigid mechanisms, if we were given a chance, after what we achieved in Bouake, even by bringing in foreign ministers from Togo and other countries to push for negotiations, perhaps two weeks later we would have had a meeting of all political parties and gotten the deal signed and moved on.

Because we had the momentum after Bouake and I had excellent discussions with the rebels. They were treated as human beings and they were listened to and they felt confident in that relationship. We built trust between them and us. And they were ready to move forward.

Unfortunately, as soon as we did this, Ecowas - even before the Bouake ceasefire - decided to put together what they call a "contact group". That contact group couldn't meet in Cote d'Ivoire because there was no ceasefire, there was still civil war until we got the ceasefire. Then they met in Cote d'Ivoire and they decided that we were no longer relevant in the process because the contact group without Senegal could do the job.

And so they elected a coordinator - President Eyadema - and started, for two months trying to get it together. And while they were in Lome, the rebels on a regular basis were asking, "Where is Senegal because we signed a cease fire with Senegal." Senegal was the Chair of Ecowas. They were calling us saying, why don't you come and explain what we discussed before, what we agreed on.

So we got this odd situation. And what is absolutely sad, is that once we went back into the archives of Ecowas, we realized there had been a [mediation] attempt by a contact group during the Sierra Leone crisis and it failed. Ecowas then called a special meeting to get rid of contact groups and to create what they called the Security and Mediation Council that was attached to the current chair of Ecowas. The chair, through the Security and Mediation Council, could do the job of mediating conflicts.

So we decided five or six years ago to get rid of contact groups. And here we are making the same mistake again - the Contact Group in Lome and the chair in Dakar!

Why did that happen?

I cannot really explain. We had a new executive secretary, Dr. [Mohamed ibn Chambas - he's a good man - and dedicated to the sub-region and to the continent. The former Secretary General told Mr. Chambas - I was sitting there - that "the first mistake that was made was that the people that keep the institutional memory should have told you never to put together a contact group, because that is what it does, becomes a problem instead of helping."

Personally, I am very sad to see that Ecowas as a sub-region, instead of bragging about economic success, political success, we're wasting a lot of talent and time bragging about our talent as mediators. It means that we need conflicts so that we can go and mediate the conflicts and we can have medals of honor and that sort of thing.

Me, I am not proud of spending four months of my time almost 24-hours a day trying to help resolve the Cote d'Ivoire crisis.

I am proud that I am doing it as a Senegalese showing that I care about the Ivorian people and that Cote d'Ivoire is my country, just as Senegal is. On that side of the issue - yes! - I am proud of that.

On the other side, conflicts, dealing with conflicts, managing conflicts - that should not be a way of life. We have something else to do: health, agriculture, education, infrastructure - we have so much on our plate. People should not be competing in terms of "I am the better mediator, I will bring peace." No!

Peace should be a given. Security should be a given. And then we will start building our sub-region. And I think all our leaders need to hear that, mine included. That's the concern of our generation. We need to build our sub-region and get rid of conflicts and fighting and even mediation. If there is no conflict, there is no [need for] mediation Or perhaps we will be called to Asia or to the U.S. to mediate some of your problems here - diplomatic firefighters!

What about the role of Liberia's Charles Taylor here and in the region? There is fighting along the Cote d'Ivoire-Liberia border and tensions with Burkina Faso, whose leadership in the past has had ties to Taylor. To what extent is stability in Cote d'Ivoire threatened by these kinds of ambitions in the region? And Mr Taylor in particular - just what does he want?

(laugh) That's a very good question! I will inform President Taylor that I need his help to answer some questions that some friends are really concerned about.

In our official discussions and in all the meetings I have attended with President Taylor he is sharing all the commitments of all the leaders of the West Africa sub-region: to help bring back peace in Cote d'Ivoire, to get rid of weapons, and help rebuild the sub-region. That's what he is saying in terms of his commitment. And I am in a situation, as the foreign minister of a country - Senegal - sharing the sub-region with Liberia, where I cannot make a comment on how true or not true the commitment of our leaders is - not only President Taylor, but all the leaders.

What I may say is that Senegal is really involved with the larger international contact group on Liberia and we are trying to help the peace process there and trying to get the belligerents - Lurd [rebels] and President Taylor - to sign a peace agreement. Then to get the international community to jump in and help within the six months left to prepare for elections to bring back peace, economic recovery and a voter registration process that will allow elections to be held in conditions of security for everybody.

We know that it is going to be extremely difficult and the war in Cote d'Ivoire is not helping because now all the Liberian factions are involved, whether government troops or rebel troops.

Frankly, it is perhaps the heart of the crisis in West Africa, to be honest. We need to think of the Liberian crisis and what it does in terms of spillover into other countries of the sub-region and it is time for the international community to really do something about the Liberian situation.

Now the way of dealing with it is with things like sanctions and criticizing President Taylor and his government, his regime, but I think we need to do more. We need perhaps an international conference on Liberia at the United Nations or something like that.

While understanding the difficulty you might have responding to this as foreign minister of Senegal, isn't it clear that over a fairly long period of time, Charles Taylor has played a destabilizing role in West Africa? Isn't it clear that he has at least one hand in Cote d'Ivoire? And given the commitment in the African Union for Africa to tackle these problems directly, isn't there some discussion specifically about what to do about Mr. Taylor?

You know, you are describing a very ideal Africa that we would love to achieve as soon as we can, because what you are saying is absolutely true. We have been circling around issues - I am not talking about the Liberian issue specifically. But in our continent we know what the problems are; we know what we need to do.

If, like I said, we had an international conference on West Africa, I am sure that people like you would come and take the floor and say exactly how they feel about issues. When Senegal said that the elections in Zimbabwe were not of good standard, everybody thought the same. They said, "Oh, Senegal is the daring country; go ahead and say it." But then they would go and tell Mugabe, "You see, Senegal should not have said that. We have to stick together as one continent, one people." That's nice!

But what I am saying is that for other people to say what we should have said is still bondage, still dependency and not being responsible for your own destiny. It is time for Africa to have some courage and I hope there will be a resolution somewhere allowing foreign ministers to say exactly what is in their heart. Then I will speak a different language! But now if I do, if I speak that language now, it is the end of a lot of things.

This interview has been posted in two parts: to read Minister Gadio's views on the Iraq crisis, see : Senegal Steers Steady Course on Iraq, Neither Paris nor Washington

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