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Fresh peace hopes as top banker designated interim prime minister

[Cote d'Ivoire] Charles Konan Banny former governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), now interim prime minister by African Union appointment. [Date picture taken: 12/05/2005]
Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny (above) is wrestling for power with President Laurent Gbagbo (BCEAO)

The designation by African mediators of Charles Konan Banny, governor of West Africa’s central bank, as interim prime minister of war-divided Cote d’Ivoire won strong endorsement from parties to the conflict on Monday, raising a new glimmer of hope for peace.

Under a UN resolution, the French-educated Ivorian banker will have less than 11 months to disarm the West African nation divided by more than three years of war, and lead it to elections.

But his designation on Sunday by three of Africa’s most prominent leaders came weeks behind schedule due to bickering among opposing factions over who should step into the political vacuum and take the key role as head of a transitional government and the military.

“The prime minister for the transition period that is scheduled to end in October 2006 is Mr Charles Konan Banny,” said a brief statement signed by Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Mamadou Tandja of Niger.

Banny, who is 63 and based in Dakar, the headquarters of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), will have to steer his way between rebels who seized the north of the country in September 2002, and President Laurent Gbagbo, who controls the south.

Obasanjo, also chairman of the AU, stood at President Gbagbo’s side as the statement was read out in the main Ivorian city of Abidjan, where the Nigerian and South African presidents whisked in and out in a day for the third - but for the first time successful - such bid in a month to impose a UN peace plan.

Under Resolution 1633, the new prime minister will have the crucial job of organising disarmament, resolving the volatile issue of who is entitled to citizenship and holding elections before the October 2006 deadline.

Elections were supposed to have been held last 30 October but the UN declared this impossible because of a lack of preparations and the failure of both the rebels or loyalist militias in the government south to hand in weapons.

To avert a constitutional crisis, the Security Council stepped in to recommend that Gbagbo remain in office another 12 months but hand over most of his power to a new transitional prime minister “acceptable to all.”

Broadly welcomed

The appointment of Banny, who is generally seen as being independent-minded, was broadly welcomed, including by the New Forces rebels who had previously said that they would accept no one other than their own leader, Guillaume Soro.

“We don’t have a problem with it,” New Forces spokesman Sidiki Konate told IRIN. “The presidents [Mbeki, Obasanjo and Tandja] will make sure that the prime minister works within the norms and that he has full authority over his cabinet.”


UN peacekeepers sought for divided Cote d'Ivoire...
IRIN-West Africa
Country Map - Cote d'lvoire pdf version at [<a href="" target="_blank"></a>] ...
Monday, May 12, 2003
UN wants 6,240 peacekeepers to disarm combatants
Country Map - Cote d'lvoire pdf version at [<a href="" target="_blank"></a>] ...
Cote d'Ivoire is divided between a rebel-held north and government controlled south

Asked if the rebels considered Banny capable of reuniting the country and organising polls, Konate said: “He is an Ivorian. If he has goodwill and gets good support, there is no reason to doubt his capabilities.”

Banny replaces Seydou Diarra, who was respected by the loyalists and the armed and unarmed opposition alike, but who had failed to wrestle from Gbagbo powers accorded him under the three-year-old Marcoussis peace deal. Instead the president continued to handle most of the affairs of state.

Resolution 1633 adopted in October states that the transitional premier will have “full power over the cabinet”. The international community has promised to beef up his authority through a specially appointed working group to monitor and report back on progress.

“The international working group set up under UN Security Council resolution 1633 will follow the application of this decision and will report to the three presidents [Mbeki, Obasanjo and Tandja],” continued the statement.

Banny: Independently minded

Banny has been the governor of the BCEAO since 1990, and as one of Cote d’Ivoire’s most eminent citizens was considered a front-runner for the prime ministerial job. His name appeared on the original list of 16 candidates with Gbagbo’s backing.

One of his main attractions, according to some opposition leaders, is his strong management experience and perceived distance from the day-to-day mudslinging of Ivorian politics.

“Banny is the man who won the most consensus of all candidates because he is not too marked [politically]. He has a lot of managing experience and we need somebody like that,” Anaky Kobenan of the small opposition party Movement of the Forces of the Future (MFA) told IRIN.

Banny hails from the political capital Yamoussoukro - a stronghold of the former ruling part, the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI). When word leaked out from his brother that Banny had presidential aspirations as an independent candidate, some PDCI members considered the move as a possible attempt to weaken the party and its chairman, former president Henri Konan Bedie.

Nonetheless, PDCI secretary-general Alphonse Djedje Mady told IRIN the party welcomed Banny’s selection.

“He was the one that was chosen, so everybody should help him succeed in his mission. Nobody should sabotage him, because he works for the good of Cote d'Ivoire,” he said.

[Cote d'Ivoire] Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra on his way to meet IMF officials in Washington in September 2004.

Seydou Diarra, le Premier ministre sortant, pourrait être reconduit dans ses fonctions
Frank Mamadou
[Cote d'Ivoire] Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra on his way to meet IMF officials in Washington in September 2004...
Friday, October 1, 2004
Qui sera le prochain Premier ministre de la Côte d'Ivoire ?...
[Cote d'Ivoire] Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra on his way to meet IMF officials in Washington in September 2004...
Out-going prime minister Seydou Diarra

The main Rally of the Republicans (RDR) opposition party said it hoped that the appointment would clear the way for elections.

“We hope that all the difficulties encountered with the implementation of previous peace deals can be overcome, so that the country can quickly go towards free, fair and transparent elections,” RDR spokesman Cisse Bacongo told IRIN.

No-nonsense diplomacy

Only 10 days ago, a previous visit to Cote d’Ivoire by Obasanjo, Mbeki, who headed a yearlong mediation bid, and Tandja, head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), failed to produce a consensus over a new prime minister.

But this time, Obasanjo’s no-nonsense style of diplomacy resolved the matter.

“We weren’t allowed to say anything, everybody just had to shut up,” Kobenan said after meeting with the mediators. “The political class wasn’t able to agree, so the mediators made the choice.”

Diplomats hope Banny’s international standing and good relations with Gbagbo and Ivorian opposition leaders will help him in his duties.

A Catholic married with four children, Banny studied economics and commerce in Paris but spent most of his professional career in West Africa, including a stint with the now defunct cocoa marketing board, Caistab, in Cote d’Ivoire; before being hired by the BCEAO in 1976.

At BCEAO’s head office in the Senegalese capital, officials told IRIN that the vice-governors would step into Banny’s shoes but that details on the bank’s future organisation had yet to be finalised.

Good news for kids?

Humanitarian workers hope the new prime minister will step in to organise a three-year backlog of exams for hundreds of thousands of students living in the rebel-held north who have been unable to sit annual school examinations since the country was split in September 2002.

[Cote d'Ivoire] Children at a UN/NGO sponsored school hold up tablets to their teacher while learning math.

Schools across the north have closed since war broke out in September 2002
[Cote d'Ivoire] Children at a UN/NGO sponsored school hold up tablets to their teacher while learning math...
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Rebels to organise children’s exams after three-year break
[Cote d'Ivoire] Children at a UN/NGO sponsored school hold up tablets to their teacher while learning math...
Functioning schools in the rebel north are largely dependent on NGO assistance

Unless children take and pass end of year exams, they are unable to move up the school system or progress from primary to secondary education. If secondary school entry exams are not taken before a child is 15, they are considered too old and thrown out of the education system.

Rebel zones were cut off from central government funding for state services at the beginning of the war. Since then most basic services such as schools and healthcare have been propped up by international NGOs.

Some 500,000 people remain displaced by the Ivorian crisis, according to UN estimates, and International Monetary Fund data shows that unemployment and poverty is on the rise, as is child malnutrition, particularly in the poorer rebel-north.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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