- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

For decades, Ivory Coast has been, as described by the Associated Press, "West Africa's calmest and most prosperous country," a paradise by the sea that drew investors, tourists and retirees by the thousands.
Our literacy rate is twice Africa's average and our people practice diverse religions freely. Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer and the world's third-largest coffee producer. Today, however, we are deeply concerned about our future as a successful, forward-looking nation.
Our once-heralded system of political, economic and social enlightenment faces its most serious threat from three months of rebellion.
The rebels want to replace our democratically elected President, Laurent Gbagbo, through violent and unconstitutional means.
Mr. Gbagbo was elected in October 2000, the first truly democratically elected leader in our nation's history.
While all parties were permitted to be full participants in the electoral process, it was only after a man who dedicated his adult life to improving the Ivorian society was elected that the opponents have decided to attempt to reverse the course of history.
On September 19, 2001, a group of internally led and well-armed rebel forces, supported and funded by external terrorist and militant elements, launched an attack on the country with the sole purpose of overthrowing the duly elected government.
To avoid bloodshed, the government sought assistance from neighboring countries in the West African subregion under the guidance of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The ECOWAS leaders met in Ghana with members of my government and representatives of the rebel leaders. At this meeting, it was agreed that the president of Togo be appointed to mediate discussions between the rebels and members of the legitimate government. The members of my country's government have, at every stage, made themselves available at meetings in Togo. A schedule was agreed for a ceasefire and return to normalcy. This process has so far failed, as the rebels, joined by mercenaries from Liberia, Sierra Leone and other neighboring countries, have constantly refused to honor the terms of any agreements reached for a ceasefire.
As of today, hundreds have been killed and some 25,000 people have fled our country. Farmers cannot harvest their crops and dare not take them to markets that have become battle zones.
Economic growth has shrunk to a third of previous projections. Thus, the rebels are causing drastic economic hardship throughout Western Africa, as Ivory Coast accounts for 40 percent of the GDP of the eight Francophone countries in the region.
On a continent already beset by economic problems, foreign-supported political instability in Ivory Coast could have grave regional consequences. Mr. Gbagbo's administration is doing what it can with the support of ECOWAS. They are assembling a West African force to replace French troops which plan to pull out.
Establishing and maintaining progressive democracy in Africa has its challenges. We have little precedent on which to fall back, and even less company with which to move forward. But the world, perhaps especially the West, must be made aware that it has a major stake in the fate of Ivory Coast. Indeed, America has long recognized its need to protect embattled democracies around the globe. The "Truman Doctrine" articulated in 1947 puts forth: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."
President Bush met recently with Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, in part to press for political and economic reforms in Kenya, measures that Mr. Gbagbo has already been implementing. Ivory Coast offers a bulwark against the kind of fundamentalist fanaticism that spawned the recent attacks in Kenya and Bali. The United States, France and the entire European Union must pressure our neighbors to the north and west to prevent their citizens from aiding and abetting these rebels.
Ivory Coast's national anthem speaks of our beautiful nation as the land of hospitality and fraternity. We welcome our neighbors to work and visit our nation. We need the attention of the world to encourage our neighbors to become part of the solution to this problem, not a source of it.
In a world in which country after country is teetering on the edge of social, economic, and political disorder, our friends in the West must act quickly to preserve the beachhead of freedom that Ivory Coast represents.

Pascal D. Kokora is Ivory Coast's ambassador to the United States.

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