IVORY COAST: A Peace Agreement That Holds, At Last
Thomas Cromwell

After years of political turmoil and civil war, Ivory Coast’s leaders seem to have finally found a formula for lasting peace and democratic transition. In a recent interview with DiplomaticTraffic.com, Ivory Coast’s ambassador to Washington, Daouda Diabate, gave an upbeat assessment of recent developments on the ground in his country, which before fighting broke out in 2001, but for decades after independence from France in 1960, was a model of stability and economic development in West Africa.

At the core of the solution is a power-sharing agreement between President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, forged in October last year after a UN proposal was rejected by the president. The agreement was formalized in Ouagadougou, the Burkina capital, on March 4 this year, and so far is proving durable.

This is due in large measure to international support for the agreement. The United Nations Security Council endorsed it on March 14 and ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States) gave its full support on March 16, followed by African Union endorsement on March 19.

The Ouagadougou Agreement, as it is called, came at the end of a series of peace initiatives and covered a number of key issues:

• Power-sharing between Gbagbo’s government and the northern opposition, led by Soro 
• Removal of the buffer zone
• Establishment of a national civil service
• A general amnesty for those who engaged in the civil war
• A program of aid for the return of those displaced by war

Relative to the long-running civil war in neighboring Liberia, and the grotesque violence of the civil war in nearby Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast’s four-year conflict was modest. The extensive French commercial interests in the country (in everything from telecommunications and electricity generation to cocoa growing the trading) kept pan-African, French, European and United Nations attention focused on the need to find a solution.

This, coupled with active involvement of ECOWAS, African Union mediation and UN involvement, all contributed to both sides coming under considerable pressure to reach an accommodation that would end the de facto division of the country and periodic violence.

The critical issue now is whether the two sides will stick to their commitments and keep a unified government in place beyond elections to be held next year. If they succeed in this, Ivory Coast will have a chance to begin rebuilding international confidence and to reclaim the enviable role of leading West African state.

So far signs are encouraging. Soro took office on April 4 and a new government, including former rebels, was formed on April 7. On April 12 an amnesty agreement was signed into law and on April 16 the buffer zone was dismantled and a joint command center (for combined forces) was inaugurated.

On June 29 it was reported that rockets were fired at Soro’s plane as it landed at Bouake, the northern base of the Northern Forces, which he had led and which apparently were opposed to his deal with Gbagbo. But otherwise, implementation of the agreement seems to be on track.

The country is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, and the port of Abidjan, the seaside capital, serves not only domestic shipping needs but also those of landlocked interior states, especially Burkino Faso and Mali, two cotton-growing countries. 

Neighbors Ghana and Ivory Coast provide Francophone and Anglophone West Africa with examples of relative development, both politically and economically. In recent years, though, Ghana has done better on the political front.

Senegal has benefited from the problems in Ivory Coast, but development in that country has largely stalled, giving Ivory Coast an opportunity to regain a leadership role.