Thursday, March 20, 2008

Humpty Dumpty: Gbagbo promises Ivorian election by June; questions remain about demilitarization

So, how do you put a country back together after civil war? Does one wait for the militaries to hand in their weapons? Or, does one rush to the polls to attempt to forge out a new government that people from both sides can rally around?

As part of the peace deal signed in March 2007 in Ouagadougou, fighters on both sides of the conflict will be disarmed; a new unified national army will be created; most importantly, identity documents will be distributed, which will determine citizenship (an issue that lead to the civil war); finally, the Ouagadougou agreement stipulates that and elections will be held.

Political leaders such as President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel Guilllame Soro, who is now the Prime Minister, would like to hold elections at the end of June, a timeline Gbagbo reiterated after meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is acting as a mediator.

However, Reuters reports, that the country’s disarmament and military demobilization process is far behind schedule and this likely to impede the country’s political reunification. Opposition politicians Henri Konan Bedie from the south and Allassane Ouattara from the north worry that the two leaders will use the delayed disarmament as an excuse to further postpone the elections (and remain in power), argues Selay M.K in the citizen journalism site Agora Vox.

Question: Isn’t it also true that the two leaders have refused to disarm their militias to keep the other side(s) honest? The issue here is that elections have been scheduled in the past and have been postponed after previous peace deals fell apart.

Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the government’s election plan “very ambitious.” However, a diplomat speaking anonymously told IRIN the June election deadline may be ambitious, but leaders set it to insure elections will be held during 2008.

With northerner Guillame Soro as Prime Minister, federal authority is slowly, but surely reinstalling itself in the former rebel-zone northern part of the country. This process has been hampered because many rebels would like to keep their parallel command structures intact in case the country devolves into conflict again, IRIN reported.

Other issues remain. In an October 2007 report, the UN Secretary General admitted the population is still visibly scarred by the civil war and many issues, such as land ownership, have not been resolved. Under this backdrop, the United Nations has pressed ahead on creating identity documents so people can vote. The Secretary General will release a report regarding election preparations before April 15.

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