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Healing divisions, finding common ground in Côte d'Ivoire

In May 2011, following months of post-election violence, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu travelled to Côte d’Ivoire to encourage a process of national reconciliation and healing.

Abidjan, the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire and one of West Africa’s biggest cities, was eerily quiet when the Elders arrived. Following four months of post-election violence, UN troops patrolled the streets and most businesses and schools were still closed. Life has begun to return to normal but with an estimated 3,000 people killed and more than one million displaced, the process of healing will be long and difficult.

President Alassane Ouattara told Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu of his plans to establish a truth and reconciliation commission. The Elders welcomed the news but urged him not to rush the process, and ensure it is truly inclusive.

Women’s organisations are seeking a role in the peace process in Côte d’Ivoire and they received strong backing from the Elders. Civil society groups were glad of the opportunity to come together – many of them were unable to meet each other during the violence. The Elders encouraged these representatives to continue to meet regularly, rebuild their relationships and work together towards national reconciliation.

“I want to highlight the role that women should play in all stages of the country's healing and reconstruction,” Mary Robinson said.

The three Elders visited former president Laurent Gbagbo in the northern town of Korhogo, where he is under house arrest. At the time of the Elders’ visit he had not been seen publicly since his arrest on 11 April. Mr. Gbagbo told the Elders he is being well treated and that he wants the country to return to normal as soon as possible. Archbishop Tutu urged him to support reconciliation.

An estimated one million people in Côte d’Ivoire fled their homes during the fighting. At a church in Abidjan, the Elders listened to people who were still too frightened to return. They spoke of abandoned and orphaned children, divided families, destroyed homes and fears of revenge attacks. Archbishop Tutu led them in prayer for a safer future.

Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson met members of political parties loyal to former president Gbagbo, who were very nervous and fearful of reprisals. The Elders emphasised the duty of the new government to ensure the security of all Ivorians.

The Elders emphasised the need for reconciliation and healing. Kofi Annan encouraged the people to seek common ground, rather than define themselves by their differences. “Every Ivorian has a part to play”, he said. Desmond Tutu said: “We want to do everything we can to support those who want to bring peace to your land.”

The Elders met the new President Alassane Ouattara and members of his government. They also met former president Laurent Gbagbo who had not been seen publicly since his arrest three weeks earlier. The Elders welcomed the new government's plans to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, but warned that the process should not be rushed and must be inclusive and consultative.

Photos: Jeff Moore | The Elders

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