Vive La Paix En Cote D'Ivoire!
When the late founding father of the Ivorian modern republican nation President Felix Houphouet-Boigny was telling his people during his long years in power that "la paix c'est pas seulement une mot mais c'est une comportement" (peace is not only a word, it is a behaviour) many may have dismissed his 'public lectures' on the values of peace as a despotic rantings of an old man unwilling to cede power. Today after tasting the absence of peace (war) for five harrowing years majority of Ivorians has come to grips with the import of Nana Boigny's peace pontifications.
Last Monday (30th July) Presidents Mbeki, Compaore, Toumani Toure, Nino Viera, Faure Gnasingbe, Yayi Boni assisted the Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Soro Kigbafori in the popular celebration of peace and end of war in Bouake. It was a colourful ocassion with sharp reconciliatory speeches: PM Soro posited that there was time for everything; a time to go to war and a time to make peace; a time to disagree and a time to agree. And President Gbagbo urging Ivorians to continue praying to God to guide and guard the peace process so that it would culminate in early general elections next year.
Among those whose presence was acknowledged to the wild ovation by the public who left no space unoccupied inside the Bouake Municipal Stadium was the wife of the late leader Houphoeut Boigny, Therese who lives in Bahamas. President Gbagbo, a veteran opposition figure turned elected president, had what it takes to send the audience to wild jubilation as he delivered his impromptu speech: "la guerre est terminer, la paix est la!", (the war is over, peace is here) he exclaimed confidently. The giant of a president was in his best oratorical element.
Declared a public holiday the day saw people in the cities who did not go to Bouake glued to the TV watching events live as they unfold. And others relaxing in the beaches and maquis having good times. Security was water tight with South African heavily-armed elite Commando brigade taking over Bouake Airport before the arrival of the Mandela successor.
After the anti-war speeches the flame de la paix, the peace flame was taken around the stadium. Right after that the two Army chiefs of staff (Generals Mangou and Bakayoko) delivered two symbolic AK 47 guns to their respective Commanders-in-chief -- the lanky Mangou to Gbagbo and the dimunitive Bakayoko to Soro. And the first and second citizens left the state box and proceeded to add the guns to the big crater where the armouries of warfare were loaded ready for incineration.
The two service chiefs had had a toght time cutting off the barrel of a huge tank inside the stadium with a Dohlmer cutting machine. The big barrel was yanked off demonstrating the 'putting down' of military differences and divides. It was a herculean task but emotionally accomplished.
The huge crater bearing within collated weapons of war was set ablaze with the aid of gasoline. One of the guns went off in explosion forcing those that set off the fire to beat a hasty retreat. No one was however hurt.
The total reconciliation and reunification of the Francophone country has had its huge price: thousands of innocent lives lost, millions of displaced people, orphans, widows and the handicaps. The road to the peace that was feted last Monday was a tortuous and tasking one. The Ivorian rebellion was very unique in the sense that those heading it were allegedly being teleguided by external forces whose interests in the cocoa-coffee-rich nation they had felt were threatened by the Gbagbo patriotic nationalistic policies.
From Lome to Linas-Marcossis (France) to Accra (1&2) to Pretoria to Abuja up to the UN headquarters in New York the rebellion and legitimate government sized each other up in moments of frustration and hopelessness. It took the peace initiative of Gbagbo himself tagged 'dialogue direct' in the Burkinable capital city for the final peace accord to be reached and signed with President Blaise Compaore playing a thankful mediating role.
Last Monday morning the heaven opened up as rain ushered the great day. It subsided with drizzles and dried up only to start drizzling again after the event was well over as the day wore off. The prayers Ivorians constantly addressed to God must have received the receptive ears of the Big Boss above!
President Umar Yar'Adua may have been too preoccupied with the legitimacy mess he was handed by the electoral magic pair of Obasanjo and Iwu. Or perhaps clearing the muddle left behind by his benefactor. But the truth remains self-evident that a diplomatic mistake has been unwittingly committed by not sending a representative to such a big ocassion in a nation that hosts thousands of Nigerians some of whom have lived here for decades in harmony with the system.
The conspicuous absence of the two powerful opposition figures here (Alassane Dramane Ouattara and Henry Konan Bedie) in the Bouake stadium, venue of the peace carnival did not make the event less important. But it did raise certain concerns in some quarters over their position as regards the ocassion.
Vive la paix en Cote D'Ivoire! Long live peace in Cote D'Ivoire! May the genuine peace which has just returned from exile after taking flight five odd years ago find accommodation in the hearts and minds of Ivorians. Vive la paix!