7 April 2005
After days of talks in Pretoria with President Thabo Mbeki, Ivory Coast’s civil war adversaries have agreed to cease hostilities and begin working towards elections in October. The deal represents a victory for Mbeki, whose mediation skills have been widely praised.
The talks, which began on Sunday and ended on Wednesday, brought together the five main protagonists to the conflict: President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, New Forces rebel leader Guillaume Soro, and Ivory Coast’s main opposition politicians, former president Henri Konan Bedie and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara.
On Wednesday, the five leaders signed what has been dubbed the Tshwane Agreement, agreeing to continue the peace process and resolve some of the outstanding issues of the Linas-Marcoussis, Accra II and III agreements.
“It’s important for us to overcome this crisis because it is about our country and it is time to take this question into our own hands”, Gbagbo told journalists after the signing. “Elections must take place, and it is a challenge. I will do whatever I can, and hope delegates will also play their part.”
The leaders agreed to start disarming militia throughout the country, and to begin the process of demobilising and reintegrating the national armed forces and members of the New Forces.
Gbagbo also reaffirmed the authority of Prime Minister Diarra to enable him to accomplish his mission in accordance with the Linas-Marcoussis agreement.
Mbeki said the parties had also agreed to amendments to the composition, organisation and functioning of the Independent Electoral Commission, “to enjoy the support of all parties in Ivory Coast and inspire confidence”.
Mbeki added that the leaders had asked him to appeal to the United Nations for help in organising the October elections.
On the issue of article 35 of Ivory Coast’s Constitution, dealing with who is eligible to contest the presidency, Mbeki said he would consult on the matter with African Union chair Olusegun Obasanjo and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and report to the Ivory Coast leadership within a week.
The signatories also agreed to extend the principle of financing political parties to those parties not represented in Ivory Coast’s parliament, due to the “political context that prevailed in the past”.
A country divided
Conflict erupted in the Ivory Coast in 2002 when New Forces rebels staged an uprising against Gbagbo, effectively splitting the country into a Muslim-dominated rebel north and Christian government-held south.
Since then, both sides have agreed to cease hostilities on a number of occasions, but mutual distrust has continued to undermine peace, with neither side willing, until now, to compromise on a number of demands.
In November 2004, an 18-month truce was shattered when Gbagbo’s forces attacked the rebel north, plunging the country into renewed crisis.
Praise for Mbeki
Since December, Mbeki – appointed by the African Union to mediate in the crisis – has travelled to Ivory Coast a number of times to meet with the leaders – including Diarra, Gbagbo and Soro.
Following Wednesday’s signing, the parties praised Mbeki for the manner of his intervention, with Gbagbo saying that Mbeki had mediated “with clarity and humility”.
“We have had a lot of mediators before and people would impose on us solutions to our problem”, Gbagbo said.
Former president Bedie said that in Mbeki, Ivory Coast had a mediator “with a point of reference and solutions to the crisis”.
On Wednesday night, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier also saluted the success of Mbeki’s mediation.