Dispatches from the Field: Côte d’Ivoire and Transitions from Peacekeeping to Non-Mission Settings
Security Council members arrived in Abidjan on Thursday evening (14 February). The next morning (15 February), they held meetings with Foreign Minister Marcel Amon-Tanoh at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan at the presidential palace to take stock of Côte d’Ivoire’s ongoing transition from peacekeeping to peace consolidation since the departure in 2017 of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). This was followed by a roundtable discussion with representatives of the UN’s Ivorian and Liberian country teams to consider the experiences and best practices on the transitions of UN peacekeeping operations to non-mission peacebuilding settings in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.
Meetings with Ivorian Government:
Foreign Minister Amon-Tanoh and Vice President Kablan stressed the progress that Côte d’Ivoire has made in restoring stability since the post-electoral crisis of 2011. In this regard, they both commended the contribution of UNOCI, and highlighted the strong performance of the country’s economy. Describing policies they considered important to this success, they both drew attention to the government’s disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme. According to Amon-Tanoh, implementing this programme required good communication with ex-combatants about the process, and providing either training for opportunities to return to civilian life or professionalised military training, if they wished to remain in the military. He further highlighted how the government had financed 72% of the costs of the DDR, which was critical for completing the process in just 3 years, something that would not have been possible if Côte d’Ivoire had depended on external funding; according to Amon-Tanoh and Kablan, the government’s financing was also a reflection of national leadership and commitment, as DDR had been a priority of President Alassane Ouattara.
Both emphasised the government’s priority to advance socio-economic development, and to ensure that the country’s strong growth is felt among the population more broadly. Among other points, they referred to efforts to advance reconciliation, including through national reconciliation commissions and the recent amnesty granted to approximately 800 people convicted of crimes related to the crisis, including former first lady Simone Gbagbo. Kablan highlighted the importance of partnerships, not only with UNOCI but also regional and subregional organisations.
Amon-Tanoh and Kablan sought to provide reassurances about the government’s ability to organise successful presidential elections in 2020 amidst political tensions, which in October 2018 led to seven deaths tied to the regional and municipal elections and have become a growing source of concern. This included highlighting the political dialogue that began in January between the government and the opposition on the composition of the electoral commission, which the African Court of Human and People’s Rights determined in 2016 lacked the necessary independence and impartiality. Amon-Tanoh, who focused much of his opening remarks on the issue, suggested quite strongly that some of the concerns were being overstated. Kablan stressed that Côte d’Ivoire could overcome the political tensions because the population had experienced war and did not want a repeat of conflict. There was also some discussion during the exchange with Council members on migration issues, tied to Côte d’Ivoire’s large foreign-born population.
Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea, as Council president and co-lead of the mission with Côte d’Ivoire, commended Côte d’Ivoire’s “success story” during the meetings. He highlighted the need to continue strengthening the national reconciliation dialogue and promoting security sector reform, and the desire to see Côte d’Ivoire remain a model of stability to the region while affirming his confidence in its ability to manage the 2020 presidential election. In general, members commended Côte d’Ivoire for its progress and economic performance, while mostly posing questions on the experience and lessons of its transition. Members further inquired about continuing challenges and future priorities, and asked about the measures being taken by Côte d’Ivoire to deal with the terrorism threat in West Africa, with mention made of the situations in Mali and Burkina Faso. Both Amon-Tanoh and Kablan stressed the importance of their cooperation with neighboring countries and international partners, especially through information exchanges to prevent terrorist attacks.
For the roundtable discussion, the UN resident coordinators to Côte d’Ivoire, Babacar Cisse, and Liberia, Yacoub El Hillo, gave presentations on the experiences from the transitions during and since the closures of UNOCI and of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Cisse described the planning that UNOCI conducted with the government, the UN country team and international partners. This involved identifying residual challenges and tasks to be continued following the mission’s departure; allocating responsibilities; and determining the funding requirements. Overall, this joint analysis identified an estimated $500 million in needs for the period 2017–2019. The UN country team would cover $50 million of these costs to take on responsibilities in areas such as support to social cohesion and national reconciliation, rule of law, transitional justice, and human rights, among others. Cisse highlighted that the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) had been critical to providing this funding for the country team, being its major donor.
Describing the transition planning in Liberia, El Hillo noted the benefit of monitoring the transition in Côte d’Ivoire, realising that Liberia had much less by way of infrastructure and government capacities. He acknowledged the Council’s role in mandating that the UN develop a peacebuilding plan for Liberia when it renewed UNMIL’s mandate for a final 15-month period in December 2016. This was followed by a mapping exercise conducted by the UN to see whether the UN country team could provide the support expected of it in the peacebuilding plan. A comprehensive review of the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Liberia office was also performed. Both assessments revealed that the country team and UNDP lacked the required capacities, which led to what he called a “total re-calibration” of the UN country team. El Hillo also highlighted the importance of the PBF, which was critical for starting up a multi-partner trust fund for residual tasks.
El Hillo spoke about efforts to strengthen the Resident Coordinator’s Office, which included establishing a political, peace and development unit, so as to be able to respond to political challenges that the country continues to face. He stressed that strengthening the political capacities of resident coordinators’ offices would be imperative for other upcoming transitions, such as those projected for Haiti, Darfur and Guinea-Bissau. Among other lessons that could be drawn from Liberia’s experience, he noted the importance of establishing measures for financial predictability, especially due to the significant reduction in available funding following a mission’s transition to a country team setting, where agencies depend on voluntary funds. Funding challenges and uncertainty during such transitions was a point also made by Cisse.
El Hillo further noted the significance of the “Liberia One” conference organised at the end of March 2018, to mark UNMIL’s closure. He maintained that the event not only demonstrated the international community’s commitment to Liberia financially, but also served as a political signal to alleviate Liberians’ concerns that UNMIL’s closure meant that the international community would be abandoning Liberia. Among other best practices, El Hillo said that to reduce fragmentation the country team’s presence was consolidated into one building, which had the benefit of saving $1 million in annual costs, since the agencies had previously been scattered in 14 locations. El Hillo further noted that the UN country team, the AU and ECOWAS are also co-located in the same building, in responding to a Council member’s question about the extent of UN cooperation with ECOWAS and the AU. He described the effective working relationship with the Peacebuilding Commission, which is now the main forum to convene the international community on Liberia.
Updating members about the current situation in Liberia, El Hillo said that the new government of President George Weah was working to build on the gains achieved by the previous administration. But he emphasised that despite its progress, Liberia was still very fragile, outlining conditions of political, social, economic and security fragility, including the fact that it has not yet fully addressed the root causes of the war, including over issues of land, reconciliation and accountability. El Hillo suggested that Council members should not look at Liberia through a ‘”lens of celebration” but through a “lens of prevention” because the situation is so fragile. Cisse also noted that the root causes of Côte d’Ivoire’s conflict that remain unresolved include land issues.
The Council travelled to Guinea-Bissau where they already had meetings last night (15 February) with the Prime Minister, the diplomatic community and UNIOGBIS. Today it will conclude its visiting mission with a series of meetings with Bissau-Guinean stakeholders, as the country prepares for legislative elections on 10 March which have already been delayed twice last year amidst a protracted political crisis.