Congressional Hearing: "Prospects for Peace in Ivory Coast"

Reported by: Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 14, 2003

The U.S. House Committee on International Relations convened a special session on the crises in the Ivory Coast. Chaired by Africa Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce, a Republican from California, the session was held on Wednesday, February 12, 2003, under the banner, "Prospects for Peace in Ivory Coast".

In his opening remarks, Mr. Royce noted that the Ivory Coast had once been a "pillar of political stability in West Africa, now proven vulnerable, falling prey to the type of war that devastated Sierra Leone..." He also warned that the "Ivory Coast is a disaster in the making."

Expressing a concern about the rebels' tactics of fighting their way to the negotiating table (referring to the recent accord signed by the opposing parties in Linas- Marcoussis, near Paris), he urged caution in supporting the agreement. "Marcoussis should be supported within reason", he said.

The first panelist to address the session was Walter H. Kansteiner, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. From a prepared statement, he told the committee that the "U.S. supports the Cote d' Ivoire Peace Accord", also referring to the Macoussis Accord actively supported by France, ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), and endorsed by the United Nations.

Mr. Kansteiner also told the committee that the accord provides "a format for addressing some of the key contentious issues - citizenship, land ownership, and eligibility for the presidency, which Ivorians have debated for some time."

However, he voiced a quick note of caution when he said the implementation "will not be easy because important elements among President Gbagbo's supporters have reacted negatively to the proposed participation of rebels in the government."

He also spoke about the international peacekeeping force under the auspices of ECOWAS, and the French forces and that the United States is aiding the deployment "both with $1.5 million in contractor and logistics support, primarily in the areas of transportation and communication, and equipment from our regional storage depot in Freetown. Sierra Leone." This, Mr. Kansteiner said, included trucks, jeeps and other vehicles, generators and communication equipment.

Asked by Chairman Royce what the motivations of the fighters were, Secretary Kansteiner said they varied; mainly ethnic and regional.

Reiterating his point that democracy cannot (must not) be won from the barrel of a gun, Royce again asked if France was totally committed to see democracy prevail. Mr. Kansteiner answered, yes.

Representative Donald Payne, a senior member of the subcommittee asked if the United States had expressed any interest in the ongoing crises or if everything was been left up to France. To which the secretary responded that the U.S. was "very engaged", though not "high profiled". He also emphasized the "defense pact" that exists between the two countries (France and Ivory Coast) and assured the committee that France was expected to adequately respond to the crises.

Mr. Payne warned that it was particularly important that the U.S. be consistent in its policies of advocating democracy and frowned on friendly outlook toward rebels in general. He gave an example of how the U.S. hurriedly embraced a rebel uprising in Venezuela, only to be embarrassed that the attempt to take over was abortive.

The next speaker was Dr. Timothy Docking, an African Affairs Specialist with the United States Institute of Peace. He described West Africa as the "poorest region" on earth where 12 of the 22 least developed countries are found. He described the many problems confronting the region as: "weak governance, collapsed states, the growing presence of mafias, gun and drug runners, international meddlers (like Libyan President Mohamar Kaddafi) and a surfeit of young, well-armed men, who lie in wait to prey on weak and exposed people and their decaying governments.

"The political instability and violent conflict we currently find in the Ivory Coast has numerous socio-economic causes that are important to understand: the politicizing of religious and ethnic differences by opportunistic Ivorian politicians; the absence of a democratic history and the lack of economic diversification of the nation's agricultural-based economy which makes the economy particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations for commodities (especially cacao, coffee and palm oil)", he continued.

Dr. Docking theorized that the Ivorian crises could not be examined in isolation; "We must also appreciate the regional context of the current troubles", he said. He linked these problems with the Liberian civil crisis beginning in 1989 and spread to Sierra Leone in 1991 and to Guinea in 2000. He blamed the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso for their complicity in this conflict.

But he praised others in the region for their positive roles in dealing with the crises. He lauded the efforts of ECOWAS, under the chairmanship of Mohamed Ibn Chambas. He also praised the Togolese President Eyadema who led a series of talks between the opposing sides. Commendable also, he said was the role played by Senegalese President Wade, and the countries of Ghana and Benin.

He urged U.S. policy makers to adopt the same approach in dealing with the Sierra Leonean crisis where the U.S. gave unflinching support to U.N. and British forces. He thought it "wise and prudent" that the U.S. follows the model of supporting "a former European colonial power in repressing the uprising and solving the crisis. "The U.S. must rhetorically, financially and diplomatically back the French-brokered accords..." he said.

The last speaker was Dr. Jeanne Maddox Toungara, Associate Professor of History at Harvard University. She thought it was compelling to examine the ethnography and history of the Ivory Coast, including "nearly seventy years of French colonialism, three decades of one-party rule under a benevolent dictator, and, alas, its fledging steps toward multiparty democracy during the last ten years." She also said: "The current disturbances emerge from the failures of leadership to engage fully the difficult task of nation building in the aftermath of colonial rule that merged over sixty-odd ethnic groups into a single country..."

In order for the U.S. to participate in the search for sustainable and lasting peace in the Ivory Coast, Dr. Toungara emphasized the following recommendations outlined:

It was clear in her presentation that Professor Toungara was of the opinion that most of the blame lay at the feet of President Laurent Gbagbo. She was emphatic when she said: "President Gbagbo has proven time and again that he is unreliable and incapable of promoting national unity. He should not be given any opportunity to obfuscate, distract, or ignore the demands of leadership. The U. S. must be clear and persistent and refuse to compromise on the basic principles of democracy and human rights".

Liberia's Charles Taylor's Alleged Involvement Echoed

Although this hearing focused on the Ivorian crises, a sub theme emerged early and was persistently echoed by every speaker as well as the congressional dignitaries: the alleged involvement of Liberian President Charles Taylor as a destructive force both presently in the Ivory Coast as well as the entire African sub region.

Chairman Ed Royce, in his opening statement quickly pounced on the notion of Mr. Taylor's chicanery and criminal adventurism in the West African region. He said: "This Subcommittee has long condemned President Charles Taylor of Liberia. His regime abuses Liberians. He bears responsibility for the death and destruction in Sierra Leone, for which I'm hoping he is indicted. For those not aware, that was the conflict in which Taylor-backed rebels cut off the hands and feet of little boys and girls. Taylor's regime today, I am convinced, is backing rebel forces in Ivory Coast. That the peace pact makes no provision for checking the role of foreign governments stoking this fire - it's treated as a non-issue - is a serious flaw. We deceive ourselves by ignoring the role played by Charles Taylor and Burkina Faso President Blaise Campaore..."

Assistant Secretary Kansteiner followed that same trend of thought in his presentation, under the subheading "Laying Down Markers to Neighboring States". This is what he said about Charles Taylor and his partner in crime, Blaise Compaore: "we have made clear to all of Coe d'Ivoire's neighbors that we cannot tolerate interference to further destabilize the country. We, and others, have made this point with particular emphasis to President Compaore of Burkina Faso and President Charles Taylor of Liberia. While both presidents deny any connection with or support for the rebels, circumstantial evidence suggests that there is ample reason to remain concerned and vigilant...

"Liberians are certainly fighting with both rebel groups in the west, along the Liberian border. While President Taylor insists he opposes the conflict in Cot d'Ivoire, there is no doubt that there is an extensive movement across the Liberian/Ivorian border. Liberians are bringing looted items back home and mercenaries easily cross into Cote d'Ivoire...

"We are looking very carefully at Cote d'Ivoire's borders, and are maintaining a high level of diplomatic activity to ensure that others are also paying close attention to President Taylor's and President Compaore's behavior."

Dr. Timothy Docking, an African Affairs specialist at the United States Institute of Peace left no doubt in our minds what he thought about the Taylor regime In Liberia. He said: "Since the late 1990's, American foreign policy toward West Africa has been dominated by efforts to contain and isolate the Taylor regime in Liberia. This goal has contributed to the imposition of UN sanctions including an arms embargo and travel restrictions aimed at Taylor and his cabal...

"But by the administration's own admission, sanctions have proven leaky and difficult to enforce: Taylor continues to repress his political opposition and the free press; and, as I've described above, Liberian forces are currently fighting in the Ivory Coast.

"The Failure to isolate and contain the Taylor regime presents the United States and the international community with a serious problem that must be addressed. We have seen from past activities that the Taylor regime seeks to spread instability beyond its borders and then to loot in the wake of violent conflict. Along West Africa's porous and often vulnerable borders this insidious strategy has at times worked and is being repeated again in Western Ivory Coast."

Our readers will agree that these are powerful words spoken by highly placed officials of a very powerful government. I do not think these people are in the business of creating dramatic fiction. These are highly respected policy and lawmakers. An African parable goes: "Where there is smoke, there is fire." Hopefully it won't be too long before the Liberian people are rescued from the grips of this master criminal posing as a leader.

It was a very sobering experience sitting in the halls of the U.S. Congress and listening to this chaos being developed and orchestrated by ‘our people against our people'. The inquiring mind wants to know what devious tendencies drive the likes of Foday Sankoh, Blaise Compaore and Charles Taylor. The situation in the Ivory Coast has not yet reached irreparable damage. Hopefully the international community will join efforts to deliver the people of the Ivory Coast before their beautiful country becomes the land of the ‘living dead', a lawless society in conflict with itself, like Liberia.