Link to Economist story on Ivorian justice

This week in The Economist, I write about the Ivorian government’s decision to begin exhuming the bodies of victims of the 2010-11 post-election crisis.


Report: Uneven justice could hurt stability in Ivory Coast

Cross posted from The Christian Science Monitor.

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo attends a confirmation of charges hearing in his pre-trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague in February. Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity committed during the 2011 civil war sparked by his refusal to accept the election victory of rival Alassane Ouattara.

Michael Kooren/Reuters


Impunity for supporters of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara alleged to have committed human rights abuses after the 2010 election here threatens the country’s already fragile stability,Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week.

President Ouattara came to power in 2011, following a disputed election in November 2010. Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, despite international recognition of Ouattara’s victory. Violence between Mr. Gbagbo and Ouattara’s supporters over the next five months claimed more than 3,000 lives.

Although the government concedes that its own supporters committed human rights violations, none have been charged almost two years after the end of the conflict. By contrast, the government has charged more than 150 Gbagbo supporters in connection with crimes from that period, including kidnapping and murder. Gbagbo himself is in The Hague facing a war crimes prosecution before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“The numbers speak for themselves,” says Param-Preet Singh, author of the New York-based human rights organization’s report.

“Without swift and determined action, Ouattara’s government is in danger of continuing the country’s principal ‘tragedy’: impunity for those connected to power,” the report states.

Ouattara promised impartial justice when he came to office, but some say a focus on economic growth and public safety have taken priority over healing a divided population.

“I worry that [the Ouattara administration is] losing critical legitimacy by not pursuing a more evenhanded approach to justice and accountability,” says Scott Straus, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and expert on West African politics. They have “privileged economic growth and attempts to reestablish security.”

Mass graves

The report’s release came on a day that provided a chilling reminder of Ivory Coast’s bloody recent history. Yesterday the Ministry of Justice commenced a months-long process of exhumations of victims from the post-election crisis, with investigators beginning to explore the first of at least dozens of mass graves throughout the country.

Ouattara supporters implicated in the report include members of the national army, the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), who have been linked to a string of more recent abuses as well. These charges include arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, extortion, and torture, and mostly targeted Ivorians of ethnic groups perceived as supportive of the former president. There was a spike in these crimes after a wave of attacks on Ivorian military installations last summer.

In the past month, there have been three fresh attacks in the country’s west, which has a porous border with Liberia that has frequently served as a launch pad for assaults by Gbabgo loyalists.

Political trust

Mr. Ouattara has presided over a strong economic recovery since the conflict but has struggled to win over a deeply divided population. He was elected in the 2010 runoff with just 54 percent of the vote, and many Ivorians harbor suspicions about his origins, as he comes from the country’s immigrant-rich north.

Mr. Ouattara inherited a government rife with corruption and nepotism, Mr. Straus says. However, he adds, “I don’t think Ouattara has inspired confidence in the population that government is in their interest — is in the interest of rebuilding political trust and ruling for the majority of the people.”

The HRW report contains a series of concrete recommendations that Ms. Singh says would allow the Ivorian government to show “that its commitment is not just in words but in action.” Some of those recommendations aim at strengthening prosecutorial independence, establishing stronger witness protections, and improving coordination between the ICC and Ivorian investigators.

Singh also urges the international community to take a more proactive stance. While some countries have pressured Ouattara’s government privately, she calls for more to speak out publically and to offer further support to Ivory Coast’s beleaguered justice system.

The risks of not acting, she warns, are grave—and reflected in Ivory Coast’s immediate past.

“When we interviewed civil society across the political spectrum, the message that came to us time and again was that if there isn’t impartial justice—if impunity for one side of the conflict continues—that will essentially sow the seeds of conflict in the future,” Singh says.

Ivory Coast was plagued for more than a decade by off-and-on civil conflict. In 2002, a mutiny by soldiers in the north split the country in two and led to hundreds of deaths in interethnic violence. Referring to those events, Singh says, “You have the same authors in many cases committing the same crimes.”

Africa plans for a new industrial revolution

Cross posted from GlobalPost.

20130401 africa labor rights
Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara (L) greets participants on March 25, 2013 during the meeting of the finance and economy ministers and the African Union Development Planning in Abidjan. The theme of the sixth AU-ECA joint annual meetings was “industrialization for an emerging Africa.” (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Europe’s Industrial Revolution spurred unprecedented technological and economic progress. It also inflicted a tremendous human cost. Millions of workers toiled in dangerous conditions. The same would hold true some two centuries later in East Asia, where explosive industrial growth was coupled with sweatshops and child labor.

Now African leaders are plotting their own era of mass industrialization. In the Ivorian capital Abidjan this week, delegates from across the continent and beyond gathered for a six-day conference themed, “Industrialization for an EmergingAfrica.” A high-powered panel of speakers declared Africa primed to take off as the new “workbench of the world.”

“Industrialization cannot be considered a luxury but a necessity for the continent’s development,” said Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the new head of the African Union Commission.

Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), declared Africa primed for a “structural transformation,” with industrialization and value-added activities supplanting agriculture and raw commodities exports as the cornerstone of the continent’s economic activity.

The lofty rhetoric masked a distinct lack of specific proposals for achieving such goals. But the conference reflected a growing consensus among African leaders and observers that to sustain its high levels of growth beyond commodities booms, industrialization must be prioritized—and the sooner the better.

For Africa’s workers, the prospect of sweeping industrialization carries promise and peril. On a continent that has simultaneously recorded some of the world’s highest rates of growth and unemployment, labor-intensive industry could bring millions of new jobs for Africa’s bulging youth population. But labor rights activists raise concerns about what exactly those jobs will look like.

Imani Countess, the African Regional Program Director at the Solidarity Center, an international labor rights organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO, noted the downward pressure on wages and working conditions in Africa’s most industrialized country, South Africa.

Manufacturers, she said, are telling the South African government, “If you want to be able to employ the large numbers of people who are unemployed, then you have to allow a differentiation. You have to allow for, for example, textile manufacturers to set up a different standard that isn’t in line with South Africa’s national labor standards.”

Governments and unions that insist on higher wages and better working conditions risk being passed over in favor of cheaper industrial hubs. Indeed, Africa’s greatest potential appeal to manufacturers is its supply of inexpensive labor.

“These multi-national corporations—they look at where they will be competitive and where they can have cost advantage,” said Kandeh K. Yumkella, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). “Our people must make an effort to lower the cost of doing business, reduce bureaucracy, invest in other enablers.”

Those realities place labor advocates like Countess in a tough spot. She readily acknowledges that wide-scale industrialization is the only way to lift millions of African out of poverty. She insists, however, that companies can both hire and provide adequate working conditions.

“The argument that companies put forward is such a false one,” Countess argued, citing the benefits of a better-motivated workforce, increased productivity, and a positive public image. “Because the kinds of investment that we’re talking about on the part of manufacturers and global corporations isn’t one that negatively impacts their bottom line.”

Chris Elias, President of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, added that industrialization need not visit the same human toll on Africa that it has elsewhere. In realms like occupational safety, manufacturers now have extensive experience to draw on. He also pointed to the proactive stance many African employers have taken in the last two decades against HIV/AIDS to educate their employees.

Still, the future of labor rights will depend largely on the oversight of individual governments and international organizations. Asked by GlobalPost at a press conference whether the issue had been broached in Abidjan or would be at future gatherings, Lopes of the ECA only replied that the delegates “didn’t discuss labor rights as such,” although they did emphasize equitable growth. An African Union conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in April will address labor issues.

Despite the challenges ahead, Countess is confident that African trade unions are poised to fight for their interests. Unions in the agricultural and mining sectors have notched several notable victories in recent years. In Liberia, for example, the union at the Firestone rubber plantation won a series of concessions in its last round of collective bargaining, including a more than doubling of salaries and a ban on child labor.

“I think that if you were to look behind this meeting and look behind the push toward industrialization, you would find the very heavy footprint of trade unions,” Countess said.