Friday, April 15, 2005

Another Ivorian agreement signed

There was tentative optimism following the latest cease fire in the Côte d'Ivoire conflict. Though perhaps the optimism is more a product of desire than expectation. A previous deal was signed in the Ghanaian capital Accra, which was supposed to clarify and implement the previous deal signed in Marcoussis, near Paris. Both remain mere pieces of paper due to a lack of political will on both sides, particularly in the pro-government camp.

The root of the rebellion is the sense of exclusion from society and state institutions felt by northerners, who are mostly Muslim and are treated as foreigners by the southern political elite. The heart of the previous aggreements had to do with integrating northerners into the political structure by revising exclusionary laws. The country's National Assembly has dragged its feet badly in doing so, blaming the rebels' refusal to disarm for their stalling. Even though political reform was supposed to be the good faith measure that PRECEDED disarmament.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has become the lead mediator between the government and rebels. Earlier this week, he asked Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo to use his special presidential powers under the constitution to allow all the parties that signed last week's Pretoria peace accord to present candidates in elections for a new head of state next October.

Essentially, Mbeki wants the main northern opposition (political) leader, Alasanne Ouatarra, to stand in the elections. Ouatarra had only one Ivorian-born parent. According a constitutional rule rigged to prevent him from standing, any presidential candidate must have two Ivorian born parents... a bizarre rule considering the fact that any presidential candidates parents would've been born in the pre-independence colony of French West Africa. The exclusion of Ouatarra has been a potent symbol of northern alienation.

The main obstacle is not necessarily the government, but the xenophobic popular hysteria in the south whipped up by the so-called 'Jeunes patriotes' (Young Patirots) militias. The 'Jeunes patriotes' are nominally aligned to the government but are really a force and a terror unto themselves. Essentially, they are the tail that's wagging the dog of the regime.

The resolution of Ivorian conflict is critical to the stability of West Africa. Each war breeds young soldiers desensitized to civilized society who are prime recruits for the next war. It's no surprise then that veterans of the Sierra Leonian civil war went to fight in Liberia's conflict. And that those who fought in Liberia eventually contaminated Côte d'Ivoire. This is a reason why Ghana and Mali have taken a keen interest in trying to help the warring sides settle their differences.

That's why I'll put my rational skepticism aside and pray that this agreement will actually lead to the resumption of normality in Côte d'Ivoire. The future of the mucy of West Africa depends on it.

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