afrol News, 30 September - African Heads of State yesterday decided to send troops to Côte d'Ivoire if a new effort to negotiate in the crisis would not give results. Meanwhile, the so-called "attempted coup" on 19 September seams to develop into a civil war between the Ivorian north and south.
Ten African President and other representatives from a total of 14 West African countries yesterday met in Accra, the capital of neighbouring Ghana. The summit was arranged by the regional body ECOWAS, the Economic Community Of West African States. But also South African President Thabo Mbeki participated in the summit, finding the Ivorian crisis of utmost importance.
While the Ivorian government of President Laurent Gbagbo has insisted on a military solution to the crisis, the ECOWAS summit first wants to investigate the possibilities of negotiating a peace with the rebels. The rebels within a few weeks have soared from a group of approximately 750 mutinying soldiers into several thousands controlling the northernmost part of Côte d'Ivoire. This includes the important cities of Bouaké and Korhogo and the border with Burkina Faso.
According to an ECOWAS statement, the summit decided that the governments of Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Mali, Nigeria and Togo are to "establish contact with the assailants, make them immediately cease hostilities, bring back calm in the occupied areas and negotiate a general framework for solving the crisis."
The regional body however gave its support to the elected government of Côte d'Ivoire, saying it would not support regime change through toppling governments or using unconstitutional means (coup d'état). There was however need for mediation, the West African Heads of State concluded.
Only if mediation failed, ECOWAS would support the military efforts of the Ivorian government. Then, the regional body could deploy a peacekeeping force to contain the situation. Each member would be expected to contribute between 150 and 750 troops, according to Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, quoted by the BBC.
The French government is already providing logistical support to the Ivorian armed forces. The French direct military involvement however has been limited to evacuating French and other Western citizens from Korhogo and Bouaké, carefully avoiding clashes with rebel forces. US troops also participated in the evacuation and airlift of foreigners.
Meanwhile, ECOWAS also was pinpointing at Burkina Faso for its believed support to the rebels in northern Côte d'Ivoire. The ECOWAS communiqué called on Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso to ensure "good neighbourly relations" after the Ivorian government several times has alleged a Burkinabe involvement in the uprising.
After the coordinated mutiny or coup attempt in Abidjan, Bouaké and Korhogo on 19 September, loyal government troops quickly regained full control of the commercial capital Abidjan, located in the south. The rebels have however advanced in the northernmost parts of the country. Several towns and villages and the Burkinabe border are now under rebel control.
Reports further indicate that the rebels are welcomed by local residents, generally inn opposition to the government of President Gbagbo. The favourite to the Ivorian presidency in the Muslim north, Alassane Ouattara of the Republican Rally (RDR), had been barred from standing in the October 2000 presidential elections. Mr Ouattara and the RDR are however not suspected of being connected to the uprising.
The growing grievances between the north and the south of the country raise concerns the rebellion might develop into an outright civil war - as several international news agencies already label the situation. President Gbagbo's government has also been sliding into the vocabulary of war. This has included a censorship of the parts of the press likely to publish critical voices. Foreign broadcasters are jammed and oppositional newspapers are not appearing, the official explanation being the existing "state of war". Recently, the Ivorian government declared Bouaké and Korhogo "war zones".
The costs of the warfare seem immense. Most certainly, the slow reconciliation process, initiated after the political violence experienced in 1999-2001, has ended in failure. Political instability may continue for years to come. Also, the process of Côte d'Ivoire's financial normalisation has suffered an enormous setback. Investors' confidence in Côte d'Ivoire is severely shattered.