Africa, Europe, Headlines

POLITICS-EU/ACP: ‘Gradual’ Resumption of Aid to Ivory Coast Imminent

Brian Kenety

BRUSSELS, May 30 2001 (IPS) - The European Commission is proposing a ‘gradual and measured’ resumption of aid payments to Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), suspended since 1999, in light of positive signs the country is becoming more open and democratic.

The European Union (EU) had suspended aid over reported human rights violations during the west African nation’s transition to democracy, in particular the exclusion of opposition political parties during presidential and legislative elections.

“This proposal to resume aid is the logical consequence of recent democratic progress in the Ivory Coast, especially the organisation of open and transparent municipal elections on March 25, 2001,” said EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson in a statement.

The proposal, which is awaiting approval from EU governments, would enable “substantial disbursements” to the Ivory Coast in a matter of weeks.

Under the Cotonou Agreement, which governs trade and aid relations between the 15 EU member states and 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, the EU has the right to demand consultations if there is evidence that ‘essential elements’ of the pact relating to human rights, democracy and good governance have not been respected.

Clashes in the aftermath of last year’s presidential and legislative elections claimed over 190 lives countrywide, according to official estimates, while the main opposition Union of Republicans (RDR) party of the exiled former prime minister, Alassane Outtara says more than 300 of its supporters were killed in poll-related violence.

The March municipal elections were seen as the first real electoral test since the military coup in 1999. The RDR gained control of more than 60 councils, or nearly one-third of the total and almost twice as many as the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo Monday granted an RDR delegation headed by secretary- general Henriette Dagari Diabate a four-hour audience, within a framework of reconciliatory overtures initiated by the government this year. He was scheduled to hold similar meetings with opposition parties this week.

In a roundtable briefing Tuesday, Nielson told journalists formal consultations with the Ivory Coast, which started in January this year, were drawing to a close.

“The well-organised municipal elections and the participation of the opposition parties and everything relating to that was a major step in the right direction. And this has been almost decisive as a show of willingness and ability to reintroduce democratic principles in the political life of the Ivory Coast,” he said.

“Our assessment is that we have seen, on a number of the issues, progress, steps taken by the authorities, which make it possible to have a gradual restart of co-operation,” said Nielson.

However, there are still a number of points that the EU will monitor carefully, he said. These include the national reconciliation process, dialogue between political parties, and the neutrality of the judiciary “and especially, the investigations concerning violations of human rights that took place in 2000”, he said.

In the mid-1990s EU aid to the Ivory Coast totalled about 100 million euros (90 million US dollars) annually, but since the partial freeze in 1998, it has been running some 10 million euros per year. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors also suspended budgetary aid in 1998 over concerns of fraud and mismanagement on the part of the government.

Nielson stressed that “a carefully calibrated handling of the process” would continue, but that he expected the Commission’s move to resume aid, focusing on the social sectors, and support to institutions and the private sector, would send an important signal to other donors.

“This decision is also important for the Ivory Coast, because it has consequences for decisions taken by the IMF and the World Bank concerning their economic support to that country,” said the EU’s top development official.

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