Many people in Côte d’Ivoire’s northwestern region of Denguele are unconvinced that the latest peace plan will eliminate the roots of the 2002 rebellion - marginalisation of northerners. They are also reserving judgment about rebel leader turned prime minister Guillaume Soro and his continued dedication to the cause.
“We can’t really say yet where Soro stands,” said Kone Mory Jah-Trey, 42, of the local radio station in the regional capital, Odienne. “We’re watching and waiting. He has said time and again that the crisis of Côte d’Ivoire is one of identity and that’s why rebels took up arms. Up to now, we don't think he's changed. But if he deviates from the cause, that would be regrettable for all of us because he was our hope.”
“Utter deception” is how 35-year-old entrepreneur Yaya Doumbia would see a Soro change of tack. “But regardless of whether Soro changes or not, if the problem of identity is not resolved, the situation will remain the same. If this problem is not solved this will blow up again sooner or later - no question about it.”
The International Crisis Group, in a report on 27 June said that for Soro much depended on the process of furnishing identity papers for undocumented Ivorians, which government officials said would begin in early July. “Soro’s and his camp’s political credibility, for northerners in particular, depend heavily on the success of the identification process.”
Recognition of up to three million Ivorians who do not have identity papers and so cannot vote has been a principal demand of the rebels. The Ouagadougou peace accord signed by Soro and President Laurent Gbagbo called for simplifying the process for demonstrating Ivorian citizenship and obtaining identity and voter cards.
Officials tried to launch the identification process in 2006 under one of many failed peace deals, but violent protests by Gbagbo supporters shut it down. The identification issue is touchy for Gbagbo’s ruling Ivorian Popular Front party, which could be hurt by the addition of northerners to electoral lists.
Speculation is rife about a possible deal between Soro and Gbagbo that would have allowed them to put aside deep differences and join forces in a transitional government. Part of the speculation among observers, Crisis Group said in its report, is that Gbagbo is allowing the identification process to proceed, and in return he will be able essentially to control the election process.
“If Gbagbo’s camp thinks, for one reason or another, that a proper identification process in accordance with the Ouagadougou accord doesn’t constitute a threat to his re-election, the operation has a real chance of being fully carried out," Crisis Group said. "Otherwise, the operation could be manipulated.” The organisation also warned of the possible selective delivery of voter cards or, “in the worst case”, renewed violent disruption of the identification process in areas suspected to be favourable to the opposition.
People in Odienne also wonder about the sudden entente between Soro and Gbagbo.
“We can’t say yet what this accord will bring,” radio director Kone told IRIN. “Perhaps it’s good just for those who signed it. We’ve seen countless other accords with the involvement of the international community; none of them worked. Suddenly we hear that the Ouagadougou accord, between two people [Soro and Gbagbo] and witnessed by [Burkina Faso president] Blaise Compaore, has succeeded in bringing peace.”
Odienne entrepreneur Doumbia doubts that the identification and voter registration process can be carried out properly in time for elections set for early 2008. “Today in the north, too many people still do not have identity papers. There hasn’t been a proper count for election lists. They’re talking about the first quarter of 2008 - how can that happen when all this has not been done?”
The identification process is usually associated with elections, but northerners say their frustration goes far beyond electoral lists.
Getting at the problem of discrimination would mean: the Ivorian authorities ceasing to doubt northerners’ origins just because they have names that exist in countries to the north; and northerners' ability to obtain identity papers as easily as people from other regions, according to residents of Odienne and nearby towns.
Many told IRIN discrimination had intensified since the rebellion. “Just because you come from the north, the authorities automatically condemn you and brand you a rebel,” said Tuo Legnimin, a teacher in the town of Madinani. “This sickens us.”
Kone said: “The authorities tell you you’re not an `Ivoirian’, just because you have a name that exists in neighbouring countries. I can’t go to Guinea and declare myself a Guinean; I can’t go to Mali and declare myself a Malian. So who am I? It's disgraceful.”
“Why us?" he said. "We ask ourselves, what did we do that was so bad to deserve this fate in Côte d’Ivoire? None of us asked to be born here.”
Crisis Group said in its report: “Identification of Ivorians on the basis of law and not last name or region of origin is the first step in the fight against practices of discrimination and exclusion.”
Doumbia said he feared politicians were trivialising what was a deep and real problem:
“I know people who would put up with 20 more years of misery if this is not solved. No one will tell you a rebellion is a good thing. But when you see that the fight is for you, for your children, for your grandchildren, you have to be part of the fight. If Soro thinks today that the problem is solved, that’s his opinion and his alone. For now, we are watching.”
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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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