Magazine article New Internationalist

Shattered Dreams and New Hopes: While Africa's Rock of Stability Collapsed into the Chaos of Conflict, a New Hope for African Unity Was Born. Desmond Davies Reports on a Mixed Year [Chronicle 2002]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Shattered Dreams and New Hopes: While Africa's Rock of Stability Collapsed into the Chaos of Conflict, a New Hope for African Unity Was Born. Desmond Davies Reports on a Mixed Year [Chronicle 2002]

Article excerpt

19 SEPTEMBER 2002. The Ivorian dream, which was nurtured by the late President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was shattered. On that day, rebellious members of the Ivorian army decided to mutiny in protest against the Government's plans to demobilize 700 soldiers. Since then, Cote d'Ivoire, which has been a remarkable rock of economic and political stability in a very unstable West African region, has been torn apart. Rebel soldiers hold the northern part of the country while the Government of President Laurent Gbagbo holds sway in the south.

By the end of 2002, attempts by the 15-nation regional grouping, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to mediate in the former French colony had proved fruitless. There were plans to send in an ECOWAS peacekeeping force, but that too was fraught with all sorts of political complications. Nigeria, the West African superpower, said it would not contribute troops to the force having had its fingers badly burned during similar military expeditions in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

The longer the impasse between the Government and the various rebel factions is allowed to go on, the less likely it is that the conflict will come to a swift end. Experience in Sierra Leone and Liberia has shown just that. To complicate matters further, some of the exrebel fighters in Sierra Leone and Liberia have already moved on to the new theatre of war in West Africa, which is awash with small arms.

The Ivorian soldiers may have used demobilization as the pretext for their action. But the problem is even more deep-seated than that. The famed political and economic success of Cote d'Ivoire attracted Africans from neighbouring countries. This has meant that out of a population of 16 million, 6.4 million are foreign Africans. These will be greatly affected by Cote d'Ivoire's current conflict, sparked off partly by a perceived lack of development in the north and by the presence of foreign Africans in the country.

It will be very difficult for the region to cope with the movement of such a large mass of people. In early December, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, urged neighbouring countries not to close their borders on refugees. Given the volatility of West Africa, and the presence of so many armed men roaming the region, it is understandable that countries such as Liberia are worried. The conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, for many African leaders, has come at the wrong time. In July - in Durban, South Africa - amid great fanfare and with renewed hope for Africa, the continent's leaders launched the African Union (AU) to replace the 39-year-old Addis Ababa-based Organization of African Unity. The AU is meant to take Africa to a different level of development. It is meant to be stronger than the OAU, which many African leaders thought had served its purpose: that of ridding Africa of colonialism and apartheid.

Indeed, the launch of the AU was full of symbolism - the more so because it was born in South Africa, so recently liberated from white rule. The OAU may have been seen at times to be rather ineffective, but for many Africans - especially South Africans - it was synonymous with the liberation of the continent.

The AU is a departure from the past arrangement. Unlike the OAU, the AU is stressing compliance with the decisions of the new organization. Significantly, sovereignty, upon which the OAU placed great store, is no longer sacrosanct. The AU has the mandate to intervene in a member country if it steps out of line. Added to this is the African Peer Review Mechanism, which has been established for leaders to police themselves.

But this was not put into much use in 2002. For instance, Zimbabwe, which undoubtedly presents a case for both AU intervention and a censure of President Robert Mugabe, has contrived to escape both. Indeed, in 2002 President Mugabe was re-elected for another six years amid much controversy.

Mugabe has been able to persuade African leaders that his crusade against an unfair land-distribution system is a just cause. …

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