The Washington File
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African Expert Guardedly Optimistic About Cote d'Ivoire Reconciliation

NDI's Fomunyoh moderated multi-party peace and reconciliation conference

August 21, 2003

By Charles W. Corey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington — African affairs specialist Christopher Fomunyoh is guardedly optimistic about peace and reconciliation efforts now under way in Cote d'Ivoire.

Fomunyoh, who was born in Cameroon, made that point to the Washington File after returning from a July 13-18 conference outside Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, entitled "The Amelioration of Skills on Compromise and Consensus for Political Stability." He attended the conference as one of four moderators and presenters of the event that was co-sponsored by the Ivorian Ministry of National Reconciliation and the public affairs section of the U.S. embassy in Abidjan.

It was "quite uplifting" to see representatives from Cote d'Ivoire's eight political parties and rebel groups gather at the conference -- the first of its kind — said Fomunyoh, the regional director for Africa at the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

In an August 20 interview with the Washington File, Fomunyoh said the historic event marked "the first time that the leaders of all of the Ivorian political parties, including the warring factions that signed the Marcoussis Accord, came together to discuss the way forward in terms of peace and reconciliation. That by itself, I think, was an accomplishment, in the context of a country that is only very slowly emerging from armed conflict."

"In terms of expectations and accomplishments," Fomunyoh called it "quite uplifting to see all of these parties talk to each other and begin to build some consensus on the need for genuine reconciliation."

In the early days of the workshop, Fomunyoh recalled, "it was very difficult; there were still a lot of hard feelings" among the various participants. "But as we went along, they began to see themselves as champions for genuine reconciliation — even within their respective political parties. I think that was really commendable."

Once that attitude emerged, Fomunyoh said, "You could see the atmosphere evolve in a positive direction with each passing day. By the end of the seminar, the participants were making recommendations" and genuinely sought to sustain the momentum generated during the event.

Asked for some examples of warming relations, Fomunyoh said, "At the beginning discussions were very tense. You got the sense that the participants were having difficulty having civil exchanges or exchanging ideas in a civil manner. You could sense the tension in the various working groups; that there was still a lot of suspicion and tension and hard feelings. But as we neared the end of the week, we had instances where people would make statements and then, on their own, ask to revise the statements they just made, restating the same thing in a more positive light. That was very telling.

"For example, someone would stand up and make a very harsh statement that would attack those from another party or group. Then a minute or two later, they would stand up and say 'I would like to take back what I just said. I would like to state it differently.'"

The National Democratic Institute (NDI), Fomunyoh noted, has done a lot of work in supporting political development and reconciliation in Cote d'Ivoire, working with all of the country's political parties and civil society organizations.

As one of four presenters at the conference, Fomunyoh said he focused on the role that political parties play in building coalitions for reconciliation and intra-party dialogue.

Fomunyoh stressed that political parties play a "very instrumental" role in trying to bring about political reconciliation. "Now that Cote d'Ivoire is working towards democratization and political parties have formed and are participating in the governance process, inevitably, every leader of the country, whether in the executive branch or legislative branch, will have emerged from political parties.

"If the spirit of dialogue and reconciliation and peace prevail within each of the parties," he speculated, "then that would influence the attitudes that these respective leaders would take into national discussion about bringing an end to the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire."

Asked about the role the rebels played at the workshop, Fomunyoh said, "The rebels were invited to the talks, even though they have not formally transformed the rebel movement into a political party. There was a recognition that because they were signatories to the peace accord negotiated in France that they had a say in terms of being able to bring about reconciliation — especially in the part of the country that is under their control. And so they were invited under this umbrella coalition of new forces. Their participation was quite remarkable. I got a sense that they too left the workshop feeling the need for peace, reconciliation and democratic governance in their country."

Assessing the overall outcome of the seminar, Fomunyoh said the participants agreed to set up a follow-up committee ... so they could not only enlarge and broaden-out the discussion about peace and reconciliation to the leadership of their respective political parties but also to the public at large.

"My sense is that if that committee — the one made up of representatives of each of the political parties and the rebel movement — keeps working, then that committee could be the springboard for a broader effort at national reconciliation."

Commenting on a proposed peace caravan, which emerged as an option from the workshop, Fomunyoh said such action "would have a lot of significance because the armed conflict in Cote d'Ivoire has broken up the country into two very distinct territories — the northern part of the country under rebel control and the southern part including Abidjan — under government control.

"The notion that representatives of all of the political parties, including the rebels, could tour the country and have town hall meetings and speak to ordinary citizens about peace and reconciliation would have a huge psychological impact."

Fomunyoh concluded that there is reason to hope for a positive outcome in CA?te d'Ivoire. "There is an understanding in Cote d'Ivoire — and it came out in the seminar as well — that bad governance or political power that excludes some segments of society from participating in the governance process, inevitably leads to conflict and that the best way to avoid conflict is to embrace democratic governance and create channels for broad-based political participation. That is a general trend that would not only apply to Cote d'Ivoire but to other African countries that are currently making the transition from one-party states and military rule to functioning democracies."

"Compared to Sierra Leone or Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire was once viewed as a politically stable country," he said. "So the Ivorians never really expected that some day their country would be immersed in the kind of conflict that has taken place during the past two years. It was kind of a rude awakening for a lot of Ivorians.

"It is only now that some of them are coming to the realization that you can never take peace and stability for granted and that you have to actively work to maintain or nurture it."

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