Unlike government authority, the deadly Ebola virus is not confined by national boundaries. As those living in the border regions of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire well know, only a concerted and joined-up effort by governments and health agencies across the region can tackle this contagion.
But the virus is only the most recent affliction affecting those in these remote border areas. Over the past two years there has been mounting tension and violence in the border regions of Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia; many have died or been injured, their daily lives disrupted.
A new report by the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University and the peacebuilding NGO Conciliation Resources takes a look at the source of this mounting insecurity, its impact on people and on diplomatic relations between governments in the region and it asks what can be done at a regional level to tackle this cross-border violence.
Cross-border Violence as an External Stress: Policy Responses to Cross-border Dynamics on the Border between Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, highlights the need to address refugee flows and asserts that security measures alone cannot tackle the underlying causes of the tensions.
Trigger for the violence
The 2010 political violence that erupted in Côte d’Ivoire, after incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the general election is the source of much of the ongoing violence. Over 200,000 Ivorians fled to Liberia. Although mechanisms have been set up for their return, their communities in Côte d’Ivoire are suspicious of them, and reintegration is a challenge.
Many communities believe that those who fled are Gbagbo supporters and responsible for the wave of attacks. Gbagbo is currently on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. There are also claims that Liberian territory is being used as training ground for mobilising and arming those loyal to Gbagbo, and that ex-combatants who did not benefit from Liberia’s DDR process, especially in the south-east, are aiding these attacks.
The uncoordinated DDR process in Cote d’Ivoire, coupled with the slow and ineffective reconciliation process, is created mistrust and not enough room for divided communities to work together and set an agenda for peace and development.
Mis-management of border crossings and corrupt practices of border and security officials is also contributing to the tensions.
Challenges ahead – rebuilding trust and reconciliation
Attacks on border communities prompted Côte d’Ivoire to close its borders to Liberia in 2012. Although they reopened in 2013, mistrust between communities on both sides of the border is rife and many people face huge difficulties in crossing between the two countries, not least due to corrupt practices and mismanagement at border posts. Communities living on either side of the border are connected by ethnicity and depend on cross-border trade, but the violence and insecurity obstructs their freedom and livelihoods.
The report examines policy responses in this area. It looks at how a lack of political will and commitment by the Liberian and Ivorian Governments to work together to resolve the tensions hinders any progress on the ground. It also argues for a more proactive and comprehensive reconciliation initiative in Cote d’Ivoire as a long-term solution to the insecurities in the country.
The report also advocates urgent and more coordinated action to manage refugee flows, engage local communities in ways to strengthen social and political cohesion and improve oversight and accountability for border security from a more regional perspective.