Ivory Coast: The Crisis is Good for Business


May 24, 2006 10:47 | by Yveline Dévérin

As the crisis in Ivory Coast drags on and each successive peace process ends in disappointment after disappointment, many have reached the conclusion that the situation of "neither war nor peace" prevails because it suits those who are benefiting. Yveline Dévérin makes a case for this argument, identifying the trends in the war economy of the country and the forces behind the profiteering.

The Ivorian crisis has now lasted for over three and a half years, from September 2002 to March 2006. The country is split into two zones - the governmental zone in the south, and the 'ex-rebel' zone in the north - separated by a 'security zone' which is patrolled by the United Nations Mission for Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) and the UN-mandated French army operation 'Licorne'. Despite repeated attempts at mediation, the crisis persists.

For mediation to be effective, there must be the political will to make it work on both sides. In the Côte d'Ivoire, this is effectively stage-managed. Officially and publicly, political will conforms to political correctness: it would be unimaginable for the protagonists to state otherwise. Who could dare to claim they rejected peace and were content with being at war - with a situation of limbo, of 'neither peace nor war'? There is therefore considerable dissonance between official political will and vested interests; between staged political correctness, and the economic and social interests that both sides of the conflict are actually pursuing.

The mediation process can only fulfil its mandate so long as the protagonists agree in principle about the final goal - peace, and are only divided as to the means of how to achieve it. However, the unpleasant evidence resulting from close observation of the facts indicates that in Côte d'Ivoire, it is otherwise the case: everyone is in agreement with the status quo. The situation has even been blessed locally as 'neither peace nor war' - which is a perfect expression of the reality. The hard truth is that the current situation suits all those who have the power to make it stop. From whatever angle you look at it, no one is interested in unblocking it.

After three years of the crisis, the overwhelming impression is, firstly, that there is extremely weak motivation on either side to achieve peace. On one side, as on the other, there is an endless offloading of responsibilities for the conflict on to others. The crisis is always 'someone else's fault', that someone being - depending on the argument - France, Burkina Faso, Mali, or the whole World (an international conspiracy), or the 'presidential entourage'. United in mutual, beautiful irresponsibility, the different sides also feign unanimous agreement that resolution of the conflict rests with the mediator. We are thus witnessing total abdication of all responsibilities by the powers that be: for each side, the conflict is the fault of another, and there must be a third-party resolution - to which each side is accordingly indifferent.

Both sides would like to see the conflict resolved to their own advantage. Delays are furthermore in the interests of both sides, as each is gradually becoming deserving of the label people in Ivorian circles are slowly daring to truthfully name: war profiteers. Not only from an economic viewpoint but also from social and political perspectives, the crisis is lining the pockets of the perpetrators.

The Economic Profiteers: 'We're still building, even at night'

The economic profiteers are the most visible; their spoils being all the more manifest for being ostentatious, whilst conversely, the 'ordinary' people are being driven to stagnation, depression and economic insecurity.

Government zone

In the government zone, right from the onset of the crisis, there has been a proliferation of luxury cars and elaborate buildings, without there even first being denunciation of the profits of those close to power. Bank accounts abroad, luxury vehicles, generous expense allowances, apartments in France, investments in cyber-cafés and petrol stations - which have multiplied in Abidjan since the crisis began - are some of the many signs of personal wealth, all the more visible, since their beneficiaries often had no assets before the crisis. The people of Abidjan, on their own initiative, have moreover coined relevant terms for this group of people who are popularly referred to as 'patriots of the stomach'. And beyond the rhetoric of patriotism, there is a clear understanding, as in all such similar situations, that this is a classic case of a war economy, operating on the basis of various underhand deals. This flourishing war economy is epitomised by the anguished cry of one man in Abidjan: 'We're building in Abidjan at the moment; it's not a crisis for everyone. We're still building, even at night.'

Northern zone

In the northern zone, the phenomenon is less perceptible owing to the problems of access to and distribution of information. But we do know for example, that following the death of the war leader 'Kass' (Bamba Kassoum), during the conflicts in Bouaké in June 2004, his cyber-café was pillaged, confirming that he did at least own a cyber-café - which was not the situation in 2002! Other testimonies from the northern zone indicate that petrol stations are springing up all over the area.

Korhogo, a onetime sleepy northern town has undergone important urban change, and there has been an upsurge in activity linked to the war. Unlike Bouaké, Korhogo was not a battle zone, and was therefore not destroyed in 2002. It is far enough to the north to not be in the frontline, were conflict to resume, and it is in a prime location for trafficking between Burkina Faso and Mali.

Even though the 'ordinary' people are suffering from the war, they are at least finding some compensation in the new parallel economy: taxes are lower than in the southern zone, and thus, for example, there are reports that it is possible to buy motor-vehicles 'tax-free', imported from Burkina Faso. This gives many habitants who are have stayed in the zone access to materials to which they previously had none. By the end of 2005 some were beginning to recognise a conflict between on the one hand wanting to see the situation normalise, and on the other, fearing loss of the 'collateral' advantages, which, at the end of the day, are not negligible to the ordinary people.

Finally, it seems certain that the most financially influential people have invested heavily in Burkina Faso, particularly in Ouagadougou.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has concluded meanwhile that, 'it is clear the current situation in the west is serving the economic interests of politicians and pro-government military chiefs', who are omnipresent in the region. One journalist expressed it thus: 'Even the soldiers in the zones under government control are able to buy motorbikes in Bouaké.' (L'intelligent d'Abidjan 10/3/2005).

The role of the cocoa industry

On a completely different level, the cocoa industry has supplied billions of CFA francs to the various presidential regimes. An expert report underlines that the Fund for the Regulation of Cocoa (FRC), the institution responsible for 'the financial regulation and management of the industry's funds', is being used by those in power to finance the purchase of arms. The report also mentions that 'a loan of some 10 billion CFA francs', stipulated for 'the war effort' was completed in October 2003.

The boundaries between the war effort and personal enrichment have not been established very clearly. The Dakar-based Journal de l'Economie reported in November 2004 that more than 200 billion CFA francs spent every year are simply accounted for by the State under the heading 'exceptional right to withdrawal' (Le Journal de l'Economie, Dakar 16 November 2004). The Ivorian press meanwhile, regularly denounces irregular transactions. Funds are thus being used with complete impunity. Stakeholders in the cocoa industry are meanwhile immune from any public control procedures, and treat the monies allocated to them by the State as bribes. In September 2005, a joint IMF and World Bank investigation concluded that out of the 400 billion CFA francs allocated to the cocoa planters between 2002 and 2004, only 130 billion had been spent to the benefit of the industry. Meantime, between 1997 and 2003, the foreign multinationals (American, Dutch etc.) have seen their market share grow from 10% to 30%; the big concerns having never been so powerful or so profitable as since the war began in Côte d'Ivoire.

The Social Profiteers: To be counted amongst 'those to be reckoned with'

Beyond the economic gains, the war - or rather the situation of 'neither peace nor war' - has proved for some to be a genuine social accelerator, which, moreover, is perceived as being provisional: it will only last as long as the current situation obtains. There are numerous people, in the north as well as the south, who, from being 'nobodies', have become important overnight, individuals to be reckoned with at a national level, whose names are suddenly cropping up everywhere.

In the southern zone, young people, who are frustrated and who are blaming society for their marginalisation ,constitute an important component of the 'patriotic entourage'. Now suddenly, they are becoming significant, are patronising the 'great and the good', and are conversing with major Statesmen, at the very least indirectly, whenever there are significant developments. They occupy TV screens, even the RTI (Radio, Television Ivorienne) network itself. They are dominating the press and deciding what information is distributed, even what is published. Thus in November 2004, just before the hostilities which led to the bombardment of the French military base in Bouaké resumed, the 'patriots' first made the distribution of opposition newspapers very difficult through effecting commando operations to destroy opposition newspapers at newsstands. Then on the 3 November, the night before the first bombardments in the north, they finally destroyed the newspapers' headquarters, thus demonstrating their extreme closeness of coordination with the powers that be.

In the northern zone, it is equally apparent that a band of young people has joined the rebellion, though here the phenomenon is on a smaller scale. To avoid making them visible at national, indeed at international levels, the rebellion has lent them importance at a local level. It is also worth reflecting on a particular grouping, called the 'Dozos', referring to the members of a brotherhood of traditional huntsmen from the north, who were, before the war, relegated to private security functions for the entire national territory. Overnight, they have resumed their primary function of local public security, and are officially recognised by the new authorities.

The assimilation of the rebellion forces into the military world is straightforward, particularly as many of the soldiers already belong, by personal name, to the brotherhood of the Dozos. What is new however is that the Dozos are being identified as a group, and discussed the world over, a phenomenon that is not insignificant, even if it entails no immediate direct material advantage.

Finally, the local chiefs of the two zones are gaining international recognition. Guilllaume Soro was until recently only a student, and his sole position of responsibility had been as head of the Ivorian student union, 1995-1998, 'FESCI' (The federation of students and school pupils in Côte d'Ivoire, a union created in 1990 as part of the development of a multi-party system). Now he is seeing his name published in all the world's media, and he is summoned to speak with the elites. Soro does not simply talk on the phone to the heads of political parties, but also to heads of State. Furthermore, on the 29 December 2005, he became 'Minister of State', a position regarded to be number two in the government, and some are even now calling him the 'vice-Prime-minister'. This is an honour he owes entirely to the situation of 'neither war nor peace', which has made him a major negotiator in the peace process.

On the same side, there is Charles Blé Goudé, who was also a student and the successor to Guillaume Soro, as head of the student union from 1998-2000. He is known as the 'general', the 'youth general', and the 'street general' (the 'general of the public street' as he detractors refer to him). He is leader of the young patriots, an inescapable personality. Charles Blé Goudé was the founder of the 'Coordination of young patriots' ('COJEP'). He is regularly interviewed on international channels, and his face is known all over the world. He has debated face to face with Emmanuel Beth, the leader of the French 'Licorne' operation in Abidjan in 2003.

Eugène Djué, president of the 'Patriotic Union for the total Liberation of Côte d'Ivoire' ('UPLTCI') is less renowned internationally but it is nevertheless in charge of an entire section of the 'patriotic galaxy'. The battles for influence between the different groups play themselves out as the fame of some casts a shadow over others. This is sharpened, as the stakes are often financial (there are incessant and unverifiable rumours of 'suitcases' being distributed by the President to some, and not others).

The war is therefore no longer merely about gains in personal wealth but also about demonstrating advancement in the social hierarchy. The same kinds of phenomena can be observed in the patriotic sphere, particularly in the west, where there has been an emergence of local war chiefs who are becoming all-powerful. This level of recognition cannot be dreamed of in peace times, even for those on the 'winning' side.

The Political Profiteers

Beyond the direct material and social interests, the situation of 'neither peace nor war' is equally beneficial from a political point of view. First of all, it provides a space for the surfacing of personal ambition: the most visible case is that of Guillaume Kigbafori Soro. Even though the name of the 'MPCI' has been communicated in the press since the 20 September 2002, this mysterious movement, outwardly very organised, with surprisingly well coordinated actions and equipment, remained faceless until the press conference of the 14 October (almost a month after the onset of the rebellion), when Guillaume Soro was presented as its Secretary General. Until then, he had appeared to be the likely 'straw man', standing in for a discreet silent partner. Little by little, he gained in statue, was recognised as a spokesperson, and invited by various media from Marcoussis, through Pretoria to Accra, Tana (Togo) and Abuja as a representative of the rebellion. He communicates with heads of States and international organisations. Gradually, he became a leading authority until when on the 28 December 2005 he became the number two in the Government of the Côte d'Ivoire.

On the presidential side, the President of the National Assembly, Mamadou Koulibaly, the President of the FPI (the 'Ivorian Popular Front' - President Gbagbo's party), Pascal Affi N'Guessam, the President of the Ivorian Popular Front group at the National Assembly and Simone Gbagbo (wife of the President, Laurent Gbagobo) are all becoming important personalities in their party, thanks to the positions or actions they have taken in the debates about the conduct of the peace process. But here again, if peace comes, their positions will simply reveal themselves to be nothing more than internal rivalries.

In summary, the situation of 'neither peace nor war' is a kind of insurance for the protagonists on both sides: they do not have to be accountable, neither within their own camps, nor at national or international levels. As terrible as it may seem, the situation serves as a kind of guarantor for impunity. There will only be time to reckon up the balance sheet once peace has returned.

A cogent example is found in a report by Amnesty International, which amongst other things uncovered in February 2003 the execution of policemen in Bouaké during the first few days of the rebellion. Its overriding concern is with the danger of impunity. The objective of the report is to demonstrate the danger of impunity through illustrating how the massacres of Yopogougon, executed by the police offices in the pay of the Ivorian Popular Front when Laurent Gbagbo seized power on the 26 October 2000, are at the root of the chain of violence, because of the impunity that surrounds them.

Amnesty International is congratulating itself because the international community has alluded to the possibilities of bringing the assumed instigators of the human rights violations committed by all the parties in the conflict to justice. It should however be clarified that even if the Côte d'Ivoire had signed the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it has not yet ratified it. Therefore, the ICC has no authority to pass judgement on these acts, unless the Security Council can get hold of the dossier under the terms of article 13(b) of the Statute of Rome relating to the creation of the ICC (Amnesty International, 2003). In the circumstances, it is thus understandable that the protagonists are in no hurry to see the situation normalised, which could permit the Côte d'Ivoire to ratify the Statutes of the ICC.

In any case, until October 2006 elections (postponed from October 2005) President Gbagbo is playing for time: he must hang on until that date because he is hoping to stay in power beyond the 30 October, the fateful date that would marks the end of his fifteen year reign.

Thus officially, in a very politically correct manner, he appears to be doing everything necessary for elections to take place on the 30 October. But in fact, everything is being done to prevent the elections being organised. External observers sometimes even have the impression that the protagonists may even be united in this perspective: no one seems to want elections, even if everyone is busy loudly proclaiming that they do. The 'ex-rebels' and the political parties with whom they are associated are not assured of winning them, and not only for reasons to do with the serious concerns about the conduct of the elections. Nor it is certain, by any means, that they would retain their unity if they did win, given that their unity is essentially based on opposition to Laurent Gbagbo. As for the President himself, we can quite understand why he is dragging his feet. Oumar Bongo (President of Gabon) in an interview with Jeune Afrique l'Intelligent in March 2005, first stated his ignorance about what can happen when the President's mandate expires and then added: 'Elections are needed so that there is a successor to Gbagbo.' But that's exactly the problem: Luarent Gbagbo does not want a successor!

We finally arrive at a paradoxical observation: each time the peace approaches, it is the work of the armed forces! We should not forget that the armed forces, though on different sides, are comrades in training, and live common everyday lives. They are not necessarily interested in seeing the war prolonged, if only because the controlled zones in peace time (which are not in competition with the rural militia and their holds on important traffic routes) may bring them more spoils than the hypothetical spoils of war; and because traffic passing through army check points is reduced because of the war. On several occasions, militia from the two camps have come to an agreement that points a way through to the end of the war. But each time, very quickly, the politicians have acted so that the tension is restored.

This was notably the case in July 2003 when the joint declaration of FANCI and FNCI seemed to be real 'peace strike' against the civil society perpetrators of the war. President's Gbagbo's repost was clear: 'Just because the soldiers have ended the war does not mean the war is over. I will make a statement to the nation the day I consider the moment has come when a page has definitely been turned.' (Agence France Presse, 10 July 2003) From August, the situation became tense again. On the 13 August, a report by the Secretary General of the UN expressed concern about 'confirmed information' about the rearmament of the national armed forces (FANCI) in the Côte d'Ivoire and about 'suspicions' of the rebels' rearmament. The entire Ivorian press was making noises about the resumption of the fighting (APF 23 August). Then there were attempted air strikes over Abidjan (L'Inter, 25 August 2003).

This same scenario has developed, each time the armed forces attempted peace. It is caricatured in the situation which preceded the bombardment of the northern zone in November 2004. Following the Accra III agreements, the FANCI and the FNCI met three times (on the 16 August in Raviat, the 30 August in Bouaké and the 6 October in Yamoussoukro) to organise disarmament and billeting which were meant to take effect from the 15 October. But on the 4 November, the President's planes began the bombardments of the northern zone! On the occasion of the first meeting, General Doué, who is the State's Chief of the Army, a loyalist, had issued a caution. 'General Doué blames the confrontations between FANCI and the "New Forces" on the politicians' was the headline of the daily, Soir Info in the edition of the 17 August 2004, which reported the words of the General: 'Fundamentally, we are victims of a process with which we are not associated. The politicians take no responsibility for what happens. But when it's a question of making peace, they turn on us'.

The situation is therefore durably stuck. The protagonists all have the opportunity of working to unblock it but have no interest in doing so. For not only is the crisis simply lucrative, it is also validating, and therefore it goes on. And so long as it lasts, the mediators will come together around the table at the head of the country.

Conclusion: 'We've had enough. Even the Bétés have had enough"

The 'Ivorian crisis' seems pointlessly destined to persist for some considerable time to come. Observers (GRIP - Groupe pour la Recherche et d'Intervention sur la Paix, International Crisis Group, and others) are unrelenting in their warnings about the unceasing threats that the conflict may resume. Only the ordinary population has an interest in returning to peace, but this group has no power to move things in that direction. In truth, the longer the problem persists, the more serious it will become. Because it is not enough for the crisis to simply come to an end. It would be pure self-delusion to imagine that one wave of the magic wand, and elections, however just and transparent, will bring about a durable peace. Because peace cannot simply be decreed, it must be lived.

The limits of this situation of perennial conflict lie within the limits of what the ordinary people are prepared to put up with. Sick of being pushed about since 2002 from city to city for meetings with the elites, and through endless 'agreements', ordinary Ivorians from both the north and the south are now protesting with the throbbing refrain: 'We have had enough'. Today, in 2006, the pitch has been raised yet another level: 'Even the Bétés have had enough' (President Gbagbo belongs to the Bété ethnic group). However the increasing internal rivalries on all sides and the vested interests of all parties leave little reason to hope for a rapid resolution of the crisis.

Little by little, the thinking is developing that this situation of 'neither peace nor war' is actually benefiting those who have the power to make it stop. 'That's to say, we are not yet out of the woods', was the bitter conclusion of the Dernières Nouvelles d'Abidjan 25/7/2005. 'The events and the succession of declarations this weekend alone indicate and demonstrate that the country is not yet out of the woods. And should we even dare to think, that worse still, the worst of all, may yet still be to come.' (Le Nouveau Réveil 23/8/2005) 'We are not yet out of the woods' has become the new popular refrain.

Yveline Dévérin is Lecturer in Geography, University of Toulouse-le-Mirail, France This article was translated from the original French version by Stephanie Kitchen. The translation was first published in the English edition of Pambazuka News. <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/>

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