Ivory Coast’s security nightmare today could be Ghana’s tomorrow
In 1989 Liberia suffered a very devastating civil war. So violent was the war that by 1996 it had killed 200,000 of the 2.4 million people living in the country. About 750,000 people fled the war and became refugees in neighboring countries. Internally between 1 and 1.2 million people were displaced, creating a complex humanitarian emergency in the country.
During the Liberian civil war Côte d'lvoire or (Ivory Coast) played several key roles in fueling the conflict. First, it was from Côte d'lvoire that Charles Taylor invaded Liberia on 24 December 1989. Second, Ivorian politicians and businessmen colluded with and supported Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to wage his war of aggression against Samuel Doe and the Liberian state by illegally providing weapons to Taylor. Third Ivorian officials also allowed Ivorian territory to be used by Taylor to export timber, diamond and other products illegally taken from Liberia.
William Reno author of 'Liberia and Sierra Leone: Competition for patronage in resource-rich economies' observed that 'in the logging industry, for example, Taylor invited investment from a Liberian timber association located across the border in San Pedro, Côte d'Ivoire. The five members of this association paid 'taxes' in the order of a quarter million dollars each during 1991-92. They also took over state-like functions, visibly directing 'tax' payments to local officials, financing NPFL operations, and providing local utilities. These operations, which included participation from Ivorian officials across the border, tapped into a lucrative transit trade in timber exports and arms imports'.
Registering their displeasure about the involvement in the Liberian civil war by the Ivorian elites, New Democrat, a daily newspaper in Liberia wrote in 1995 that 'for over five years, Ivorian politicians and businessmen have rejoiced at Liberia's nightmare'. Ivorian politicians and businessmen did not only look the other way while their neighbor was being destabilized, they also physically collaborated with Taylor and other rebel groups, supplying them with weapons and allowing them and their criminal associates and networks to export their illegally acquired minerals, timber and other economic goods through Ivory Coast.
The support Taylor received from Ivory Coast and his subsequent successes in capturing large part of Liberia enabled him to sponsor the creation of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone, a rebel group whose atrocities against the civilian population has not been matched anywhere in West Africa.
However little did the Ivorian politicians and businessmen know that Liberia's security nightmare which they helped to create and profited from would one day come to haunt and hurt their country. It all began when some of the weapons the Ivorian elites helped to ship to the rebels started finding its way back into Ivory Coast. Sold on the black market, the weapons were used to commit crimes and set the stage for the crisis in Ivory Coast. La Voie, a daily newspaper in Abidjan wrote in 1995 that the negative consequence of the weapons Ivorian officials allowed into Liberia 'is the rise of crime rates thanks to the weapons we are supplying to Liberian rebels, and which are in turn sold on the Ivorian black market by these very same Liberians'.
In September 2012 Ivory Coast accused Ghana of allowing loyalists of former president Laurent Gbagbo living on its soil to overthrow the government in Abidjan. Cherif Moussa, Ivorian Army spokesman was quoted by Associate Press as saying "Our positions in Noe [the Ivorian town bordering Ghana] were attacked by gunmen coming from Ghana. In reaction, our men killed four attackers and five of them were arrested." The allegations were collaborated by a leaked UN Report in October 2012 which found that Ivorian dissidents living in Ghana have established a "strategic command" with the aim to overthrow Quattara's government. Similar allegations were made by Ivory Coast against Liberia in June 2012 after seven UN Peacekeepers were killed on the Ivorian side of Liberia-Ivorian border. Ivory Coast threatened to invade Liberia with Defense Minister Koffi Koffi saying: "These people came from the other [Liberian] side of the border. They are militias and mercenaries. We must go to the other [Liberian] side of the border to establish a security zone. We will clean up and secure the zone. This will be done, of course, with the agreement of the two countries."
However, whether the allegations of abetment of crime are true or false this is not the time for Liberia to pay back Ivory Coast for the thoughtlessness of her leaders, neither should the past sins of Ivorian politicians and businessmen provide any justification for Ghana to allow her territory to be used by dissidents to destabilize Ivory Coast as has been alleged by the UN.
As a matter of fact the continued insecurity in Ivory Coast has political, economic, diplomatic and security implications for Ghana. For example there is a higher possibility that if the insecurity in Ivory Coast worsens and if the dissidents are allowed to operate from Ghana the violence could spillover into Ghana which will put life and economic activities (including oil production) in the border area in danger. It could also harm diplomatic and bilateral trade relations between Ghana and Ivory Coast. Cooperation on a number of traditional security and non traditional security threats including weapons proliferation, terrorism, piracy, climate change, food security and other transnational threats could be harmed. Most importantly it could put on hold efforts to amicably resolve the dispute over oil and gas resources along the Ghana-Ivorian border. Ghana's image abroad as peace-loving and democratic country could also be damaged badly. The instability also has the potential to sow the seed of mistrust and suspicion between the governments in Accra and Abidjan, a situation which could harm regional integration efforts.
President John Mahama's statement in the UN in which he promised not to allow Ghana to be used as a technology to destabilize Ivory Coast is assuring. Also welcoming is the denial by Ghana's Foreign Ministry that Ghana is not supporting any group to destabilize her neighbor. These comments indicate that the government of Ghana recognizes that Ghana stands to benefit strategically from a stabled Ivory Coast than a crisis ridden neighbor.
However, the Ghanaian government must go beyond promises, pledges, assurances and denials. Accra must demonstrate that it has the intent, capability and willingness to deal with any individual or group whether Ivorian or Ghanaian who might want to exploit the Ivorian situation to their advantage. Put differently the officials of Ghana must translate their words into action by, as a matter of urgency and of necessity, swiftly deal with any Gbagbo backed elements in Ghana who might want to use the hospitality of Ghana to foment trouble in Côte d'lvoire. Every effort must be made by the Ghanaian government to deny those elements any resources: human, munitions, financial and intelligence which could enable them to carry out their diabolical plans. This will send a clear and convincing message to the Ivorian government that Accra is not in cahoots with Gbagbo supporters living in Ghana.
In this regard more aggressive screening of the Ivorian refugees living in Ghana is needed to offer protection to genuine asylum seekers while flushing out criminals hiding inside their midst. Border patrols on the Ghana side of the border should be intensified to reduce any infiltration by people hell bent on toppling the government in Abidjan. If needs be the government of Ghana should consider moving some of the ten thousand and six hundred active land forces of the Ghana Armed Forces to the regions immediately bordering Côte d'lvoire to secure the border from any infiltration by the dissidents.
Intelligence (particularly human and technological intelligence) has a major role to play to neutralize any planned effort by dissidents to establish the so called 'strategic command' in Ghana. The various security and intelligence services in Ghana including military intelligence, Bureau of National Investigations should collaborate among themselves and with their Ivorian counterparts to deny the dissidents any operational capability in Ghana.
Serious cooperation and lines of communication should be established between the political leadership in both countries to discuss ways of finding lasting solution to the Ivorian crisis. Ghana must also work closely with regional leaders and with the government in Ivory Coast to share information about activities of Ivorians living in Ghana. Also Ghana and the leadership in West Africa must encourage Quattara to have genuine reconciliation involving all the people in the country. This could bring lasting peace to Ivory Coast.
While the above are being done, President Mahama must demand full report from the security and intelligence officials whose actions and inactions might have led to the UN indictment which has greatly brought embarrassment to the country. The report should explain what the security and intelligence officials knew about the subversive activities of the 'mercenaries' and how they acted or did not act to foil the activities of the 'mercenaries' before UN indicted the country. The president should take action against officials whose negligence and failures not only led the Ivorian authorities to close their side of the border but also caused the UN to indict the country.
The appropriate Parliamentary Select Committee(s) with oversight responsibility for the institutions charged with ensuring Ghana's security, sovereignty and territorial integrity must do their work. Answers must be demanded from the Minister of Interior, the head of National Security Council, and the National Security Coordinator regarding the alleged use of Ghana's soil for subversive activities by enemies of a foreign government.
Ghana must assure her neighbor both in words and in deeds that Ghana can be trusted when it comes to promoting peace, security and stability in their country. This is particularly important because of the economic and security impact that instability and insecurity in Ivory Coast is likely to have on Ghana.
This notwithstanding, the government of Ghana must abide by its international obligation to provide security, food and shelter to those Ivorians in Ghana who are genuine refugees and who want to seek asylum because their life might be in danger if they return.
By Lord Aikins Adusei
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Lord Aikins Adusei and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.