Ivory Coast: April 29, 2003

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: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to the Security Council for $85 million in aid for Ivory Coast, to help 2.8 million civilians affected by the war. The UN estimates that there are 750,000 internally displaced people within the Ivory Coast, while an estimated 400,000 people have been forced to flee to five neighboring countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Liberia and Ghana. This was the UN's third appeal to donors for humanitarian assistance to the Ivory Coast. It had earlier sought a total of $22 million, of which only $9 million had been provided (mainly as food aid).

Annan claimed that another $47 million would be required to sustain the ECOFORCE peacekeeping troops for the next six months. Five foreign ministers from the Economic Community of West African States are on a tour begging pledges to bolster the force. During the ministerial delegation's first stop in Washington on the 28th, the United States pledged $4 million in addition to the $5 million it has already given to ECOWAS. 

The council resolution drafted by France nearly four weeks ago that proposed a U.N. operation with 255 military and civilian staff has been stalled by U.S. objections to it's projected one-year cost of $27 million. The US sent the measure back to the U.N. peacekeeping department for budget trimming. Coincidentally, the peacekeeping planners are led by Frenchman Jean-Marie Guehenno and yet both U.S. and French diplomats insist the dispute has nothing to do with France's fight against U.N. approval for the invasion of Iraq. A legitimate American gripe might be that U.N. missions are typically ineffective and that only a fraction of each dollar gets up to the frontline, after all the leeches have had their turn siphoning off funds to line their private bank accounts.

ECOWAS wants to expand the current 1,200-strong peacekeeping force to 3,200 troops and the French already have up to 4,000 troops in-country. However, French General Emmanuel Beth has his troops arrayed behind the ECOFORCE outposts and has used the Sanssandra River to define the cease-fire line. Pro-government sources have noted that MPIGO rebels have crossed the Sanssandra several times and the French have done nothing but complain about government use of Mi-24 gunships (which some see as a case of 'sour grapes', since the Ivorians never bought the Puma gunships France offered them).

The French, never one to worry about local or even global public opinion when they can obfuscate the blame later on, have already alienated the southern Ivorians (remember the chanting demonstrators a few months ago lauding America and denigrating the French?). Whether true or not, the southern Ivorians' perception is that the French willingly aid the northern Islamic-oriented rebels and deliberately hamstring the Gbagbo government.

So are the French incapable or unwilling to solve the problems in the Ivory Coast? To a certain extent, they are incapable of solving the problem with the forces currently in-country. To shut down the rebels would require more political will-power and assets than they care to commit at this time, particularly for a population they probably perceive as a bunch of ingrates. 

Furthermore, one has to consider France's goals for the region: to stabilize the area enough so that they can exert enough political control to have cheap access to the Ivory Coast's cocoa and - eventually - oil assets. However, they don't want to expend a lot of political or financial capital to achieve these goals.

As far as financing the ECOFORCE operations in their own African 'back yard', a perfect French strategy is to keep the rebels in check and let America, via the UN, foot the bill. If France does nothing, they can spin their role out on the world's stage as valiant martyrs. If America holds fast and demands that the French actually be responsible for the problems they allowed to fester, then America will look like the bad guy. - Adam Geibel



 

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