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At a mini-summit in Ivory Coast, political leaders ended in disagreement after failing to reach a consensus on preparations for elections. Also, mediation does not seem to be serving its purpose. Yveline Deverin argues that: “To be a mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis is, in effect, to validate one’s own diplomatic credentials, to raise the profile of oneself and one’s country, and to show oneself a champion of political correctness and of democracy. What is validated here is the function of the mediator, not the success of the mediation.”

For a mediation to “work” requires a common will for peace and reconciliation. The role of the mediator is to convince those involved that the conflict must be halted and to give up part of their claims so as to move towards each other. For the mediation to be effective, there must be political will on the part of both protagonists and mediators.

However, there is a factual dissonance between this official will and particular interests - between the “politically correct” label and the “geopolitical interest” which the parties and mediators act out in reality.

Although 19 September 2002 marked the beginning of the crisis, the conditions surrounding the election of President Gbagbo were a preliminary phase.

During preparations for the elections, an initial mediator intervened without success. On 10 August 2000 in Yamoussoukro, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, at that time president of the Conseil de l’Entente (although remaining very discreet since then) had tried to persuade General Guei not to stand in the presidential elections: “Do what your conscience tells you is good for your country”. His initial undertaking amounted to agreeing not to become a candidate.

At this same meeting in Yamoussokro, Alpha Oumar Konare and Gnassingbe Eyadema had tried to ensure that no artificial exclusion would apply to any of the candidates. Before them, the Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade had expressed his active concern about the Ivory Coast situation.

Once battle had commenced, mediators succeeded each other without interruption, each passing to the others the baton of seeking an improbable peace. Some intervened at several stages in relation to different issues.

From 19 September 2002 to March 2006 the following participated at different points:

- the CEDEAO (Economic Community of West African States)
- the African Union
- France, former colonial power and privileged partner of the country with which it has defence agreements – a mediator which one could describe as “permanent”.
- Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal, in his role as President of CEDEAO (2002-2003)
- Eyadema Gnasingbe, President of Togo, as a senior member of the Presidents of the CEDEAO countries (remaining a mediator until his death)
- Alpha Oumar Konare, former President of Mali, in his role as President of the Commission of the African Union
- Amani Toumani Toure, known as ATT, President of Mail.
- John Kuofor, President of Ghana, in his role as President of CEDEAO (2003-2005)
- Omar Bongo, President of Gabon, as a senior member of the heads of African states
- Mamadou Tandja, President of Niger, in his role as President of CEDEAO from 2005
- Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria, in his role as President of the African Union from 2004 to 2006 ( a frequent mediator)
- Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal, in his role as President of the OIF (International Francophone Organisation)
- Thabo Mbeki, President of the South African Republic, designated as a mediator by the African Union on 7 November 2004
- Mohamed VI, King of Morocco who “almost” entered the fray in February 2005, but who withdrew precipitously following a diplomatic-political imbroglio
- Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Congo, in his role as newly-elected President of the African Union (2006).


The mediator is at once envoy, commissioner and referee, but a referee who blows the whistle only when he has the consent of both parties. It is worth recalling that, in the role of envoy, the mediator is taking a risk, as he is frequently the bearer of bad news and often held responsible for the content of the message he brings.

The continuation of the Ivory Coast crisis is due, not only to the fact that none of the protagonists has a vested interest in its resolution, but also because the various mediations have failed. It is not possible to bring together two parties without their mutual consent.

It is interesting to note that the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, has “lasted” longer at this game than others, but, like the others, he has been both rejected and recognised by the two parties in turn. Until August 2005, he appeared to be adulated in turn by one side and vilified by the other in equal measure, but from August his “mediation” became “stabilised” in favour of the ruling power and was thus totally discredited.

Before him, all the mediators underwent similar ups and downs: Eyadema of Togo was in turn denounced as a “rebel subversive” then as a “supporter of Gbagbo,” sometimes both in the same week!

To be a mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis is, in effect, to validate one’s own diplomatic credentials, to raise the profile of oneself and one’s country, and to show oneself a champion of political correctness and of democracy. What is validated here is the function of the mediator, not the success of the mediation.

Almost all the mediators found a personal interest in intervening: Mbeki wished people to forget the bad image left by his policy of inactivity against Aids. He tried to resurrect his tarnished image within the ANC (African National Congress) where his liberal management of his country is more and more heavily criticised.

Eyadema took advantage of his status as mediator to bring about, in the face of complete international indifference, a change to the Constitution, permitting him to become President for life. President Kuofor of Ghana, changed, thanks to the Ivory Coast crisis, his status as an unknown President to that of an internationally known President, appreciated for his efforts at mediation. He was re-elected easily in December 2004.

Omar Bongo was able to draw a veil over his internal problems, as was Tandja of Niger, whose administration was being heavily criticised for the food shortage which arose in the North of his country over the winter of 2005.

It is typical that those who withdrew very quickly from any involvement in mediation were those who had nothing personally to gain from it: Amani Toumani Toure (known as ATT) of Mali and Mathiew Kerekou of Benin, with stability in their own countries and having already gained plaudits for “good governance” to a degree. Moreover, many African countries or, rather, their elites, gained economic or geopolitical benefit from the situation.

From the beginning of the crisis, the different Ivory Coast parties requested the intervention of other countries, arguing that in the sub-region, “ the Ivory Coast is pivotal” that it represents “ 40% of the wealth of the WAMU (West-African Monetary Union) and that the collapse of the Ivory Coast would bring about, de facto, that of the whole of West Africa.

These political and geopolitical interests should not allow us to forget the economic interests that accompanied them. For instance, South African business interests in Ivory Coast have developed since the mediation role undertaken by their President.

For example, MTN, a South African business, became a majority shareholder in Telecal (mobile telephones, one of the three sectors which are still profitable in Ivory Coast). Sotra (the State public transport company) signed a contract to buy buses with a South-African company [Le jour, 20/10/2005, DNA 17/9/2005].

A huge market was taken over from the Ivory Coast electricity company (CIE). A South-African company was contracted to provide electric meters with prepayment cards [DNA 17/9/2005]. Similar arrangements were instituted in less visible, but more widespread markets.

Le Nouveau Reveil of 13 August 2005 notes: “For some time, South African wine has been well represented in our supermarkets…” and “Now that the South-African President has been called to play a mediation role, a systematic presence of South-African businesses is developing” and “with Gbagbo, Mbeki is well placed to undermine the economic hegemony of France in Ivory Coast.”

The paper notes: “Despite the significantly increased risk in Ivory Coast because of the state of war, a striking penetration of South-African business into our country’s economic fabric is noticeable.”

We should guard against any naivete or anthropomorphism in geopolitical analysis. “A State has no friends, it only has interests” as General de Gaulle lucidly remarked.

Mediation/intervention attempts by France are in a paradoxical position. Intervening to block the advance of the rebels on Abidjan, it seemed good that the attempts had as their objective the evacuation of the children from the American Baptist school in Bouake (25 September 2002), thus stemming any American attempt to intervene in its sphere of influence.

The evacuation of “foreign” nationals followed the next day and was accomplished by 27 September. This operation necessitated the establishment of the “ligne de confiance” [trust line] which split the Ivory Coast in two. Its perpetuation was justified by the notion that it would prevent the resumption of hostilities through contact between combatants.

“Foreigners” in Korhogo were evacuated on Sunday 29 September by the American army [announcement by the Ministry of Defence, 4 October 2002). This last little-known point reveals an evident exchange of favours, permitting France to let the United States intervene in a “humanitarian role”, without letting it evacuate the children from the Baptist school, which would have been perceived as France’s incapacity to guarantee the security of “foreigners” in its former colony.

From the evidence, France intervened at an early stage to protect its position, above all. Afterwards, its mediation interventions (Marcoussis in particular and the Licorne intervention force which often carried out local mediation) can be understood in the context of France’s absolute need for a pacified, and if possible, a well-disposed Ivory Coast.


The first demands of the rebels were very precise and concerned three points:

- the law relating to rural land
- the nationality code and
- the repeal of article 35

Very quickly, discussions were turned aside, to disarmament (a favourite theme which recurs regularly), the elections and the issue of the referendum (giving authorisation to the change in article 35). The attention and energy of the mediator were thus diverted from the fundamental problems at the root of the crisis.

At the time of the peace agreement on 4 July 2003, the emphasis was placed on matters relating to the gathering of combatants and on an inventory of military material on both sides, rather than on a response to the causes of the crisis.

Discussions ran into difficulties on the order of events: disarmament or legislative reform. The rebels demanded reforms as a prerequisite for any disarmament, the “loyalists” demanded the opposite. And this without any discussion of the content of the reforms!

It was only on 9 July 2004 that article 26 of the law on rural land was changed, following the Marcoussis agreement (giving back to non-Ivory Coast heirs the right to inherit ownership of land acquired by their forebears).

The laws, whose modification was agreed at the time of the Marcoussis agreement, were never voted through. The debate turned abruptly to the manner in which they were to be passed, then to their form, which, given the potential for discussion about the formulation, led to months of sterile debate.

On the other hand, the rebels refused to disarm for security reasons (given the intensive armament undertaken by the government party). Disarmament therefore became the object of successive frustrations: disarmament at that point being not “disarmament of all those with arms” (to take up the expression of General Ouassenan Kone in March 2006) but only of the rebels. President Gbagbo demanded that the rebels alone disarmed, claiming (despite what everyone knew) that there were no armed militias (sic!). Then the discussion turned to suitable gathering places, then to finances, then to whether the militias and the rebels should be required to disarm simultaneously or consecutively etc.

Another practice in which President Gbagbo was a past master consisted in transferring the crisis onto the agreements resulting from mediation. In this way, attention was no longer focused on the mediator, but on the results of the mediation process. The point at issue then became, not the rebellion, but the mediation agreements.

The stereotypical example was the reaction which followed the Marcoussis/Kleber agreements (26 January 2003), which was accompanied by the first large-scale anti-French riots. But the same observation could be made for all the agreements, with points of violence against the agreements or the mediators, the most recent being the flare-up in January 2006 against the GTI (International Working Group) in relation to the delegates’ mandate which was about to expire.

The enemy became the mediator. The problem was no longer “to resolve the crisis” but “whose side is the mediator on?” The problem was no longer the crisis but the mediator. It is not a good idea to meddle in other people’s business [translated from French proverb “between the bark and the tree one should not put one’s finger”]. There is an understandable reticence on the part of governments of neighbouring countries to intervene militarily, as was shown by the extreme slowness in which the CEDEAO intervention force (consisting of troops from Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Benin and Togo) was set up.

Under the Accra I agreement of 29 September, it [the intervention force] was due to take over from France from October 2002 and the first troops, whose arrival was constantly reported, were not deployed until March 2003!

This reticence was reinforced by another tactic of which President Gbagbo was also a past master, making use of an appeal to patriotism – that of taking hostages from among the nationals of countries which were taking their turn at mediation, in order to put pressure on the mediation process. This was particularly evident in the case of French nationals (notably after Marcoussis in 2003 and November 2004) but nationals of Senegal, Mali and Nigeria had also to pay their tribute to the mediation role of their country, although this was less highlighted by the international press.

The mediator’s margin for manoeuvre is thus considerably curtailed.

* Yveline DEVERIN is a lecturer in Geography at the University of Toulouse-le-Mirail GRESOC-UTM SEDET-Paris VII. This article was kindly translated from French to English by Fiona Campbell.
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