Democracy vs. Demagoguery; U.S. Support for Cote d'Ivoire Critical

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Byline: Sarata Ottro Zirignon-Toure, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Many in Africa have welcomed President Bush's promise to make democracy the lodestar of U.S. foreign policy. For too long we have suffered under self-appointed strongmen. Africans of the 21st century expect to be ruled by laws rather than by the whims of men, under governments freely elected at regular intervals. And we have made epic sacrifices to earn that right. That's why we salute Mr. Bush's commitment to our cause, and ask him to back it with concrete actions.

Nowhere in Africa does Washington's commitment to democracy face a greater test right now than in Cote d'Ivoire, whose ongoing political crisis pits democracy and the rule of law against the politics of violence. And this in a country widely recognized, until recently, as the cornerstone of stability in a region critical to U.S. long-term energy needs, but awash with weapons and increasingly targeted by terrorists.

The best hope for avoiding a catastrophe in West Africa today rests on the Declaration of End of War Agreement, signed in Pretoria, South Africa, recently between the government of President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebel forces that currently hold half the country at gunpoint. But the history of failed truces suggests that the successful implementation of the latest cease-fire agreement - a triumph of African diplomacy and the tireless efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki - requires active support from the United States. And such engagement has thus far been sadly lacking.

The conflict pits Cote d'Ivoire's democratically elected government against a self-appointed rebel force led by army mutineers. Previous internationally mandated peace accords designed to disarm the rebels and bring them into the political process have failed because the rebels have refused to honor their commitment to disarm. That may be a product of the fact that the peace process has inadvertently rewarded them for pursuing the path of violence.

Mr. Mbeki's peace effort seeks to avoid the failures of the past by putting unconditional rebel disarmament and demobilization at the forefront of the process, due to commence within the week. The international community must observe this process with the closest of vigilance, and be ready to deploy neutral peacekeeping troops to oversee rebel disarmament should the cease-fire falter.

A second crucial aspect of the Pretoria agreement is its referral of a dispute over eligibility for the presidency to Mr. …