For nearly 30 years after its independence from France in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire presented a rare example of growth and stability in the often-troubled region of West Africa. Now, after 15 years of economic downturn and three years of political turmoil, Côte d’Ivoire is in the midst of a full-fledged crisis. A new phase of the crisis began in September 2002 when a mutiny erupted in the administrative capital of Abidjan, while rebels in the north seized the cities of Bouaké and Korhogo. They eventually took control of the entire northern part of the country and have the potential, if unsatisfied by political progress, to someday march on Abidjan. France, the former colonial power, sent reinforcements for the 600 French troops already present in the country under a permanent defense agreement to help protect western African populations and to monitor a cease-fire between the rebels and the government.
In January 2003, the French government organized peace talks between the Ivorian government, the rebel groups and all political parties, resulting in the Marcoussis Agreements. These agreements call for a “reconciliation government” that would include rebels under the leadership of a new prime minister and for the settlement of long-standing issues including access to Ivorian nationality, rules of eligibility and land ownership. The implementation of these agreements, unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1464, ran into trouble when President Laurent Gbagbo, once back in Abidjan, seemed to renege on his part of the agreement.
At the time of this writing, the situation is still extremely uncertain. In the last weeks, significant progress, including the formation of a government that includes ministers from the rebels ranks, co-exists with signs of persistent tensions. One thing is clear; the stakes for regional stability are high. Côte D?Ivoire has long served as a hub for West African economies and as a pillar of political stability. Its collapse would have dramatic consequences for neighboring populations and for political order in the region.