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 Sunday, 26 January, 2003, 08:25 GMT
Ivory Coast's fork in the road
Pro peace deal supporters in Paris
Some celebrated the deal but others were angry

By the time President Laurent Gbagbo spoke for the first time after accepting a deal with rebels, thousands of people had taken to the streets of Paris and Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan.

President Gbagbo remains in power
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President Gbagbo's supporters are angry with the French, accusing them of imposing a deal on their former colony.

It was bad enough that President Gbagbo had agreed, under pressure, to share power with the rebels. What made it worse was the rebels were claiming to have been given the defence and interior ministries in the 10-seat government.

It was always going to be this way. Four months of war, and the polarisation it has brought, meant no matter what the deal someone would be deeply angry at it.

There were smaller demonstrations in the rebel stronghold Bouake, by those who felt they had been sold out because the president had not stepped down.

The deal had been worked out in nine days of talks between Ivory Coast's main political parties and the rebels in Paris.

These were talks arranged and facilitated by the French to try to end four months of war in Ivory Coast - a conflict which has left more than a thousand people dead.

Others will have a problem with the deal too. Privately it will worry some of the West African presidents who turned up to work out how to make the deal work.

Open in new window : Ivory Coast
Click here for pictures of the conflict

In an unstable part of the world the international community has rewarded men who took up arms against their country with posts running that country.

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, told me there was no other way.

Coup and counter-coup

"You had a country which was fast becoming really divided and one had to take steps to get them to reconcile and to bring them together, re-establish democratic rule and strengthen democratic institutions; and this is what we intend to do," he said.

The rebel leader Roger Banki was at the talks representing the MPIGO movement in the west of Ivory Coast.

He says their cause was just, but he admits taking up arms is not the right way to take up power:

"The tools were not right. It's never good to take guns, we didn't want to take guns at the beginning, the weapons were forced on us. It was the only way."

Jacques Chirac and Laurent Gbagbo
France was the driving force behind the talks
There are two problems to be faced in West Africa, ending the endemic coup and counter coup of the sub-region, and encouraging solid democracy to reduce the temptation.

The rebels argue that the election of Laurent Gbagbo was flawed. Only he and President Guei who had seized power in a coup in December 1999 were allowed to stand in the election.

Alassane Ouattara was denied the right to stand, because laws had been changed to make him not Ivorian enough. He had previously been a prime minster in the country.

The choice in 2000 was between a man who seized power in a coup and one who did not.

All is well that ends well. This is the beginning of another chapter but it should end well.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
The South African president, and head of the African Union, Thabo Mbeki, also believes it is a chance to start building a strong democracy in Ivory Coast.

He is one of the architects of what is supposed to be a new way in Africa. African solutions to African problems, with nations policing their neighbours to promote democracy and prevent wars or coups.

"It's been a very difficult situation for Ivory Coast since the end of 1999, with the coup by Guei," he told me outside the conference centre in Paris.

Democracy growing

"There have been many challenging questions that have been raised, but all is well that ends well. This is the beginning of another chapter but it should end well. I think all of us as Africans have learned some important lessons."

One of Ivory Coast's immediate neighbours is Ghana.

There have been four coups there, two staged by its last leader Jerry Rawlings. It is by no means perfect, but democracy is growing.

President John Kufuor hopes the Ivory Coast deal will help to stabilise the region.

"What is happening is very positive and we all support it. We want peace and stability for Ivory Coast and the sub-region of West Africa," he said.

Ivory Coast used to be the stable economic powerhouse in a troubled region. The peace deal could be the first step back to the old ways, or one more step down the road to ruin.

The demonstrations by those opposed to the deal are the first test of how much a deeply divided people want to start rebuilding.

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25 Jan 03 | Africa
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