New World Radio

Cross Cultural Voices: Interview with Chris Fomunyoh, Regional Director for West, Central, and East Africa at the National Democratic Institute in Washington, D.C.

October 14, 2000

Interviewer: Cross cultural voices is one of ECDC's to foster and extend existing partnerships between new African refugees and African Americans and other members of the wider community. We do believe that greater understanding, respect and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage that make up our community are vital for religious and racial harmony in this country. On our radio shows we conduct interviews and panel discussions with refugees, service providers, and members of the wider community. We also feature African artists and their efforts to build cross - cultural bridges in this country.


Interviewer: Welcome back to Cross Cultural Voices, my name is (Sale inaudible). For the last forty years the West African nation of Cote d'Ivoire enjoyed a too good to be true political tranquility, economic stability and standard of living comparable to none in the region. The great Ivorian prosperity attracted both large businesses worldwide and individuals from the neighboring countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and others. The country seemed once at peace with their economic growth and large numbers of foreign nationals. However, the military took over reigns of power and this economic powerhouse of West Africa. Cote d'Ivoire the dream has never looked more mortal. When we come back, I will talk to my guest about the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, and the impact on its neighbors who make up nearly twenty percent of the total population of this prosperous nation.

We will also examine the impact of Cote d'Ivoire's crisis and refugee situation on neighboring countries like Guinea, Ghana, Liberia and of course Sierra Leone. Stay tuned, we'll be right back, don't go away


My guest this afternoon is regional director for West, Central and East Africa at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington, D.C., Christopher Fomunyoh. (CF)

Professor Fomunyoh has been involved in emerging democracies in Africa for the last decade. As regional director for West, Central, and East Africa for the National Democratic Institute, he has organized and advised elections observer missions to national elections in several [African] countries including Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Chad, Madagascar, and most recently Nigeria. He has also designed country specific democracy support programs with civic organizations, political parties, and legislative bodies in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, the Gambia, Senegal and Togo. Christopher Fomunyoh, graduated from Yaounde University in Cameroon. He holds a degree in International Law from Harvard University, and a Ph.D in Political Science from Boston University. He is currently an adjunct professor of African Government at Georgetown University. Dr. Fomunyoh, welcome to Cross Cultural Voices.

CF: Thank you for having me, it's a pleasure to be here.

Interviewer: Please give us an update on what's happening in Cote d'Ivoire.

CF: As we speak the Ivorians are preparing for presidential elections that have been scheduled for October 22, we also know that nineteen candidates presented candidacies to run for president and only five were retained, among whom is General Guie, a general who came to power after the coup of December 1999. He also has four other competitors Mr. Laurent Gbagbo who is the leader of the Socialist Party of Cote d'Ivoire; Mr. Francis Woudie who is the leader of the Labor Party of Cote d'Ivoire, and two little known independent candidates.

Interviewer: What's the idea of excluding other contenders from this exercise?

CF: Well, that's one of the issues of contention with regards to the current transition in Cote d'Ivoire, and that's one which has got organizations such the one that I work for the National Democratic Institute, and other pro-democracy organizations worldwide very concerned about the fact that a lot of credible candidates who represent major political parties in Cote d'Ivoire have not been allowed to participate in this process. We think that it's very unfortunate that a country such as Cote d'Ivoire that has been known in the past to be stable as you said, economically viable and very receptive to other Africans from the sub region suddenly finds itself in a positions where the feelings of nationalism are running very high, and some would even say xenophobia, and a situation where a lot of people are beginning to wonder whether this country will continue to welcome other Africans. And that's translating itself into the political discourse right now, and the accusations that are being against some of the candidates whose candidacies were turned down.

Interviewer: Some of the accusations from earlier (inaudible) is that Mr. Alassane Ouattara a citizen of Cote d'Ivoire?

CF: Well, you do well to pick out the case of Mr. Alassane Ouattara because that's been in the news a lot lately, and that's one case that has polarized political discourse in Cote d'Ivoire going back to 1995. Mr. Alassane Ouattara for people who don't know him served as Prime Minister of Cote d'Ivoire and then became the Deputy General Manager of the International Monetary Fund here in Washington, before returning to Cote d'Ivoire August of 1999 to join the politics of his country and head one of the main opposition parties. The dispute has is that the opponents of Mr. Ouattara say that both of his parents were not Ivorian, and one of them may have come from Burkina Faso, and even in the past Mr. Ouattara used or benefited from the citizenship of Burkina Faso. And these are allegations that Mr. Ouattara and his supporters and members of his party deny very strongly. In fact according to them Mr. Allassane Ouattara had the most complete application file, and they were surprised that he got eliminated. But this poses a bigger problem for us as Africans and friends of Africa in the sense that a lot of the boundaries in Africa were artificially drawn during the Berlin Conference in the Nineteenth Century that you find families that live across national boundaries, groups that identify with their brethrens on the other side of the boarder who may happen to be in a different country or who became members of a different country at independence and this back and forth [movement between] of people makes it difficult to determine in very strict terms where ethnic boundaries end and where national boundaries begin. Its also difficult to say because the current constitution of Cote d'Ivoire, the constitution that was recently adopted as well as the electoral code stipulate that for candidates to run president, they must be Ivorians by birth, and everybody agrees with that. But the controversial provision [says that] even both parents must be Ivorian by birth. The criticism laid against this provision is that this current generation of political leaders in Africa was born for the most part prior to independence. Their parents were born at the beginning of the twentieth century at time when the countries we know have in Africa didn't exist. And know the big question is how can you prove that those grandparents were born in the territory that is now known as Cote d'Ivoire? And that's the big object of controversy. But I must also say that on top of Mr. Alassane Ouattara's candidacy, other candidates have been rejected for excuses that their supporters would not find acceptable. And these happen to be candidates representing credible political parties. For example the former Minister of Interior, Mr. Emile Constant Bombet, who was the designated candidate of the former ruling party the PDCI, has also seen his candidacy rejected. And I think for most people its difficult to have a credible election in Cote d'Ivoire when the candidates for the two main parties the PDCI and the RDR have not been allowed to run.

Interviewer: Well, Mr. Bombet has urged his supporter to boycott the elections.

CF: That's correct.

Interviewer: But, how about Ouattara's supporters? What other options do they have? Are they going to boycott the elections or are they going to go along with this kind of elections?

I do understand that even Mr. Alassane Ouattara's supporters and his party the RDR have called for a boycott, so we are moving towards an election that's being boycotted by the PDCI as well as the RDR. Our listeners may want to know that lately we've got reports that some members of the PDCI have endorsed the leader of military junta General Guie. But there is some dispute as to whether these were genuine endorsements or these were endorsements caused by the military.

Interviewer: You've been involved in emerging democracies in Africa for a long time, you've also observed the civil society in Cote d'Ivoire, what is your assessment of the strength or weakness of the civil society of Cote d'Ivoire at the moment in challenging the military government?

CF: Well, I should say that the Ivorian civil society organizations have worked extremely hard in the last decade to try to build credibility for themselves and to be able to get a seat at the table in terms of impacting or influencing the governance process. In 1992 when our organization [NDI] started working with Ivorian civil society organizations, these organizations for the most part were very young and were not [widely] accepted by the political actors. But as we got into 1999, all the political leaders in Cote d'Ivoire recognized that there was a role for civil society organizations, and we had organizations on the ground such as the Ivorian Human Rights League, women's organizations that were playing a pretty crucial role. Unfortunately, ever since the military coup and as we have seen in a lot of countries, civil society organizations have had a harder time being able to express themselves freely because of the presence of the military, and the threat that if they are critical of the military, some of the members could face repercussions. And we've seen a deterioration in the ability of the Ivorian civil society organizations to stand up to the military. Its unfortunate to see that even civil society organizations in Cote d'Ivoire have gotten caught up in the debate or the polarization of political discourse in the country because of the ethnic tensions that have been raised by the rejection of Alassane Ouattara's candidacy.

Interviewer: General Guie seems to resisting any international pressure. Last week or even a few days ago, African leaders talked to him, urged him, in fact to withdraw his candidacy for the president [presidency], and he completely ignored them. The United States has also attempted [to find] ways to send a message that what he is doing is not acceptable. Elections are scheduled for the 22nd of this month, where is all this leading Ivory Coast? Is General Guie aware of the fact that the international community can isolate him? Or let me ask this question, does the international community have the resolve to put meaningful pressure on General Guie?

CF: Let me say that in my opinion, what I have seen happen in Cote d'Ivoire in the last two weeks in terms of international opinion, and international pressure has been remarkable. And I would really want to commend the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the heads of states who met in Lome and then traveled to Abidjan on their own initiative to try to meet with General Guie and the Ivorian political leaders, and to advise them on how to manage the remaining part of the transition. And particularly to ask General Guie either not to present himself as a candidate or to allow all the other candidates to run.

I say it's a commendable effort because for many years now, a lot of us have been critical of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) for not standing up for what was right. And in the case of Cote d'Ivoire, this is where they came out very strongly with the urge to do the right thing. And I think the OAU needs to be commended for that. Its very unfortunate that General Guie hasn't bothered to get advice from his colleagues in the sub region with ECOWAS [(Economic Community of West African States)] in West Africa. He has completely ignored the OAU, and he is also thumping his nose at the European Union and the United States. I was also told from reliable sources that over the last weekend, the government media has been playing up the fact that Ivorians could do this all by themselves, and by some accounts even comparing Cote d'Ivoire to Iraq by saying they could survive being isolated by the international community the way Iraq has isolated itself. And I think that's very unfortunate because Ivorians, ordinary citizens in Cote d'Ivoire do not expect for their country to be isolated. They expect to have a better standard of life than people in Iraq may have. General Guie probably needs to realize that in today's age, in the twenty-first century, it is very detrimental to isolate a country such as Cote d'Ivoire, because Cote d'Ivoire is a country that is important in West Africa. It's a gateway to some of the land locked countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali. It's a country that has housed refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia and other crisis countries in the sub region. No one can afford to isolate Cote d'Ivoire without having the country hurt, or without having the sub region hurt. It would be fool hardy or strong headed to think General Guie could have Cote d'Ivoire all to himself.

Intermission: Music

Interviewer: Dr. Fomunyoh, you were just talking about the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, and how critical Cote d'Ivoire is to the region as a whole. You said it's a gateway to some land locked countries like Burkina Faso and Mali. That brings me to the issue of refugee crisis in the region. Cote d'Ivoire has so far about a 130, 000 refugees from Sierra Leone and 2,000 refugees from Liberia. Guinea the smallest country in Africa, area wise, has the largest concentration of African refugees about 450,000 refugees by last years count. Please talk briefly about the impact of this crisis on Cote d'Ivoire, and the neighboring countries vis a vis the refugee situation.

CF: I think the impact could really be huge, and that's one of the reasons why I and many others have been very concerned by some of the rhetoric that's being used by General Guie. You may have heard that on Thursday, General Guie brandished some kind of warning, some would say blackmail, to neighboring African countries and saying really to the international community that while we are getting all this criticism, and people should remember that they have some of their countrymen resident in their country, and if we have a crisis we will take care of those people first. That's horrible, and that's terrible and it should be criticized. And that's one of the things the international community should proactively put him on notice that if anything were to happen with people living legally in Cote d'Ivoire, that [it] would not be accepted by the international community. And other countries in the sub region should not be blackmailed shouldn't be keep them quite about Cote d'Ivoire, the path that it's currently being taken by Cote d'Ivoire. I think that's why Cote d'Ivoire needs to be democratic, because if Cote d'Ivoire is in a full blown crisis, if there is civil strife, then all of the refugees that came into Cote d'Ivoire from Liberia and Sierra Leone would have to flee the country again, then that whole sub region, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, even Guinea Bissau, and the Casamance are not far removed from a Cote d'Ivoire that could be in crisis.