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In Africa, Hunting for Elusive Peace

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
Updated: July 31, 2007


Cote d’Ivoire lit a symbolic “flame of peace” (BBC) this month in Bouake, its second-largest city. Fueling the flame were weapons used in the country’s civil war (Mail & Guardian). Meant to embody the nation’s reunification, the ceremony instead emphasizes the fragile nature of peace in Cote d’Ivoire. The event was scheduled to take place in June, but it was delayed by an assassination attempt on the prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro (Economist).

A failed 2002 coup (AlertNet) divided Cote d’Ivoire between north and south and sparked a rebellion against the government. The March peace deal between Soro and President Laurent Gbagbo follows a series of failed efforts led by international mediators. The new deal sets an aggressive timetable for disarming rebels and organizing elections. Many see signs of hope in the deal’s “homegrown” nature, but an International Crisis Group report calls it “more a deal between two sides looking for an escape route that protects their own interests than a compromise which guarantees lasting peace.”

Still, the peace agreement in Cote d'Ivoire stands in contrast to a number of troubled peace efforts in Africa. Internally resolving conflicts in Darfur and Somalia appears implausible, but international brokers are stymied. Current mediation efforts have become fractured, unlike successful international initiatives that brought peace to Sierra Leone and Southern Sudan. While the United Nations moves forward with a draft resolution authorizing a hybrid peacekeeping force (AP) in Darfur, several regional actors are pursuing competing agendas for peace negotiations. A United Nations/African Union-led conference scheduled for early August in Tanzania aims to unite Darfur’s fragmented rebel groups around a common position. Most experts agree the UN/AU initiative offers the best opportunity for progress, but as this Backgrounder discusses, the barriers to a negotiated settlement are substantial. “This is a group [of rebels] that makes the Somalis look well organized,” (CSMonitor) says Harvard's Alex de Waal.

Prospects also seem grim for peace in Somalia, where there is no international presence at a much-delayed national reconciliation conference. Gunfire and mortar explosions (Garowe Online) on the streets of Mogadishu threaten to derail (WashPost) the nearly one thousand delegates from a plethora of clans and subclans from discussing revenue sharing and representation. The security situation is so dire that aid workers can’t even enter (NPR) the country. Most observers think the conference has little hope for success, especially because the factions perpetrating violence refuse to attend. The boycott by opposition groups “places a hard limit on the amount of stability the conference will be able to produce,” writes Daveed Gartenstein-Ross on Counterterrorism Blog. Somalia’s transitional federal government (TFG), a body created by the United Nations, has little support among the general population and looks unlikely to strengthen its position now. Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that the United States should use its “dwindling leverage” to push for the TFG to create an inclusive reconciliation process and to build an international approach to Somalia that goes beyond counterterrorism concerns.

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