"Sustainable peace in Côte d'Ivoire depends on strengthening social cohesion and national reconciliation"

15 Oct 2019

"Sustainable peace in Côte d'Ivoire depends on strengthening social cohesion and national reconciliation"

After serving with the United Nations for forty years during a career spanning development and international cooperation, humanitarian coordination, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding, M'Baye Babacar Cissé is now enjoying his retirement. Full of his customary energy, he agreed to share some of the professional and human experiences that have defined his career and his perspective on the role of the United Nations in a constantly changing world. Interview.

You spent several in Côte d'Ivoire as Resident Coordinator of the United Nations - what is your personal feeling about the role of the United Nations in this country?

I came to Côte d’Ivoire as Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (DSRSG) for the Peacekeeping Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) in October 2013. At the same time, I was also the Resident Coordinator of the UN System (RC), Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) and UNDP Resident Representative in Côte d'Ivoire (prior to the delinking process that took place in January 2019). These different roles and functions allowed me to be actively engaged as well as a privileged witness to the work of the United Nations in Côte d'Ivoire.

Without a doubt, the UN played an essential role in ending the crisis and consolidating peace. Today, the contribution of UNOCI, and the transfer of residual activities to the Ivorian Government and the UN Country Team at the end of UNOCI's mandate, are cited as an example of good practice in the transition processes from 'peacekeeping' to 'peacebuilding. ' -  I am proud to have been involved in both of these stages.

Your work became even more important after the end of the mandate of the UNOCI mission. How would you judge the transition from a peacekeeping mission to a peacebuilding process?

The departure of UNOCI was a challenge for the Government, but also for the United Nations System and other development partners. To define a coherent response, we conducted a joint assessment of residual challenges, and, within the UN, identified a number of key UNOCI activities requiring consolidation, which were subsequently transferred to UN agencies. Critical areas included social cohesion and national reconciliation, the fight against gender-based violence, the rule of law, human rights and transitional justice, and community security.

These four areas of intervention are at the core of the Peacebuilding Support Program (PACoP), which is ongoing and is expected to come to an end in December 2020. Today, we can say the transition will be considered a success with the end of the PACoP, which has benefited from strong national ownership.

Due to its economic importance, Côte d'Ivoire remains a major player in the sub-region, as evidenced by the share of its GDP to the UEMOA and the logistics hub that is the harbor of Abidjan. Moreover, with nationals of the sub-region making up more than a quarter of its population, remittances from Côte d’Ivoire represent a major source of funding for several of its West African neighbors, including Burkina Faso and Mali. Thus, a successful process of transition and peace consolidation in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as its continued economic growth, are  essential for the entire sub-region; conversely, in view of the current situation in the Sahel, a resurgence of instability in Côte d’Ivoire could lead to a significant economic and social decline in case of resurgence of the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire.

In your opinion, how can the United Nations concretely help Cote d'Ivoire to further consolidate peace and prevent renewed violence, especially in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections?

Sustainable peace in Côte d'Ivoire depends on strengthening social cohesion and national reconciliation. These are long-term challenges, especially in countries emerging from deep crises. Continued support from the United Nations and other development partners in this area remains critical, especially in the run-up to the presidential elections of 2020. But we know that all Ivorians understand the high stakes involved in maintaining peace and stability.

Côte d'Ivoire is in a sub-Region with major security challenges - is regional security co-operation be the only response to address these challenges?

A closer look at the sub-region suggests that crises have been usually rooted in the most unstable border areas (Northern Mali, the Lake Chad Basin, the Burkina Faso / Mali / Niger border) taking advantage of the absence of state and ease of organizing the retreat following an attack. The crisis has only begun to spread within countries following instability in these border areas.

Without regional security cooperation, including the pooling of military and civilian intelligence, it will be challenging to effectively address with these crises. Cooperation is all the more necessary because of the vastness of the territories concerned - this is particularly the case in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, but also the region around Lake Chad, particularly northern Cameroon and Nigeria, given its proximity to other crisis areas (Somalia, CAR ...). None of the States of the sub-region can manage these new threats on their own, due to their complexity, their geographic vastness and their cross-border nature.

I believe that tackling security challenges requires regional cooperation that takes into account the cross-border dimension

Moreover, these threats exacerbate conflicts among communities that straddle one or more borders, and some community leaders encourage a cross-border alliances in the pursuit of resources and power. This situation, which is observed in some Sahel countries, is a threat to states authority and social cohesion. There is a need for regional cooperation in terms of security, but also in terms of local development. Without this strong regional cooperation, security efforts could take precedence over development , a scenario that we are  beginning to see in some cases and could eventually lead citizens to question the legitimacy of the state.
From this perspective, I believe that tackling security challenges requires regional cooperation that takes into account the cross-border dimension, but also alleviates structural constraints of the defense and security forces of neighboring countries (such as limited human and material resources) to avoid  ‘contagion’.   With the crisis in Mali and Libya, all countries in the sub-region, including Côte d'Ivoire, are facing security challenges. Since the terrorist threat transcends borders, sub-regional cooperation is imperative. But, as we often point out, the answer to this crisis cannot only be military. It is also necessary to tackle the root causes through inclusive sustainable development. Youth employment must be central to the transformation processes of our countries.

In your various roles at the UN, you have worked extensively on development and governance issues. Do not you think that "development" has been neglected at the expense of "security" in the sub-region?

I do not think it can be said that development has been neglected to the detriment of security. Had the problems of governance and development been resolved, we might not see security problems of this magnitude.

In fact, there are serious governance problems that prevent some countries in the sub-region from getting out of underdevelopment and increase their fragility. Poor governance is often accompanied by rising corruption, weak rule of law and transparency, whose negative effects on income inequality and access to public services are now visible.  The preponderant role of money in political processes has the potential to undermine the deepening of the ongoing democratization process in Africa. The negative impact of climate change on the sustainable livelihoods of communities is also important, as evidenced by the drying up of Lake Chad, whose area has decreased from 25,000 km2 to about 3,000 km2 at present.

If we limit ourselves to the G5-Sahel countries, the human development situation is worrying (Niger ranks 189th out of 189, Chad 186th, Burkina Faso 183rd, Mali 182nd, and Mauritania 152nd). The average share of GDP per capita in this group of countries is only about 37% of Africa's as a whole. Finally, this part of the continent remains characterized by one of the strongest demographic growth rates in the world, with a fertility rate exceeding 5 children per woman. These trends observed in the G5 Sahel countries also apply to the North of Nigeria and Cameroon, which are as well at the heart of the crisis.

The low level of human development particularly affects young people. In the G5 Sahel countries alone, about 1.7 million young people enter the labor market each year, and less than 10% of them find employment in the formal sector because of limited employment opportunities and the lack of skills or profiles that match the needs of the market. This situation exposes these young people to insecurity that sometimes pushes them towards violent extremism and criminality or towards migration.

Countries are thus stuck in a vicious circle, with governance problems that hinder development, which in turn limits opportunities, increases frustration, disrupts social cohesion, and therefore provides a fertile ground for insecurity. In order to prevent current threats to state authority, the current dynamic must be urgently reversed, especially since most of these countries have natural resources that can support inclusive and sustainable development. I believe that this requires a long-term vision and a structural transformation strategy supported by industrialization and well-chosen economic diversification.

From this perspective, particular attention should be paid to the development of human capital by promoting quality education, which can lead to employment. An emphasis should be placed on local governance in the context of effective decentralization and more effective provision of basic social services. I remain convinced, however, that the prerequisites for this positive dynamic lie in reinforcing governance in all its forms and accelerating the demographic transition. These issues have been widely debated in recent decades at the various World Summits (International Conference on Population and Development, World Summit on Social Development, World Conference on Women, World Food Summit ...), which led to the Millennium Declaration. All African countries have endorsed their resolutions, and should therefore take steps to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities, as stipulated in the African Union Agenda 2063.

As a Senegalese and as a member of the United Nations, you are very familiar with Africa and, above all, with West Africa. What message would you like to convey on the eve of your departure to the Ivorians, leaders [of this region] and actors and partners so that the prosperity of the peoples of the region becomes a reality?

I must begin by saying that we often focus on our weaknesses and failures, but the United Nations has accomplished a great deal in terms of peace and security.

We would certainly have experienced more conflicts around the world had it not been for the key role played by the UN and the Security Council. In terms of development, which is the field in which I have been worked for almost 40 years, I must say that we have a lot of achievements. The great summits convened by the United Nations that I have just mentioned have played a key role. It is true that we have not been able to reduce inequalities or eradicate poverty in many regions and in Africa in particular. But diseases have been eradicated, education has become widespread, access to drinking water has improved dramatically, climate issues and the gender dimension are better taken into account in the development processes.

One aspect that is not often mentioned is the extensive capacity building in which the United Nations played a central role in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Policy Framework Papers of the IMF and the World Bank were usually developed by experts from these institutions and not by Africans themselves. The same is true of sectoral strategies and national development plans. Today all these development policy and strategy documents are developed by national governments. The countries of our sub-region face many challenges, but they have also embarked on courageous reforms that are a necessary condition of sustainable growth. Growth must also be better distributed to reduce inequalities and eradicate poverty. Governance remains a major challenge within this context and should not be reduced to slogans.

With a constantly changing world and high quality human resource needs, I think it is important to prioritize the development of human capital in Africa. Not coincidentally, this was one of the major themes of the first International Conference on the Emergence of Africa organized in 2015 by Côte d'Ivoire with the support of UNDP. Finally, public administration must not be politicized, because it leads to the exclusion of competent managers, it affects the institutional memory of our administrations and their performance. We must also give priority to collective leadership, as Asian people have done so well.

M’Baye Babacar Cissé was Assistant Secretary-General and UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire. Formerly, he was Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for the UN Operations in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) until the mission’s closure in June 2017. Mr. Cissé’s vast experience spans four decades in development, international cooperation, humanitarian coordination, conflict prevention, peace consolidation and inter-agency coordination, at both strategic and operational levels. He was previously Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Africa in New York, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Burkina Faso, and UNDP Country Director in the DR Congo and has held a number of senior positions at the UNDP Headquarters. He has been a lead contributor to the process of UN reform, and to the development and implementation of regional initiatives on climate change and environment, democratic and economic governance and policies promoting women’s empowerment and political participation. Most recently, Mr. Cissé coordinated the first two International Conferences on the Emergence of Africa (CIEA) and co-led the study on Sustainable Development and the Emergence of Africa presented at the COP 21.

This article is published in the UNOWAS Magazine N9 -> Download here