Back to Magazine

Holding course in troubled waters

As the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire drags on, the plight of many civilians is worsening. In the midst of the uncertainty, the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire is active throughout the country.

Since the crisis erupted on 19 September 2002, Côte d’Ivoire has been split in two: the government-controlled south and the rebel-held north. A demilitarized zone, dubbed the ‘confidence zone’, acts as a buffer. Various mediation efforts and the signing of peace accords (Linas-Marcoussis in January 2003 and Pretoria in April 2005) have so far failed to break the deadlock. Entrenched differences, compounded by a lack of trust between the parties, prevented presidential and legislative elections from taking place by the constitutional deadline: the end of October 2005. In an attempt to find a way out of the crisis, the international community adopted UN Security Council resolution 1633, extending the Ivorian president’s term of office for one year and appointing a new prime minister with broader powers to lead the country to presidential elections by October 2006.

To find out more about what the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire is doing in the context of continuing tension and about the challenges it is facing, Red Cross Red Crescent spoke to its president, Monique Coulibaly.

Your first term in office ended in August 2005. How would you assess it?
The conflict broke out five months after I was elected. There was virtually no initiation period, and before I had time to get familiar with all the work in hand, we found ourselves put to the test by the cruel reality of an armed conflict, obliged to provide humanitarian services without always having the human, material and financial resources necessary to respond to an emergency of this kind. But we had faith in ourselves and the determination of our volunteers.

The volume of assistance distributed, the diversity of our programmes in the field and our presence throughout the country attest to the broad reach and acceptance of the National Society. Moreover, our capacities have been enhanced in every domain, with the result that our staff is better trained and our material and logistics resources have improved.

The general assembly in August 2005 elected me to a second term at the helm of the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire, which I interpret as a positive assessment of our achievements in an extremely difficult socio-political environment. However, we still have a long way to go.

What are the main difficulties that you encountered during this period?
Bringing our finances back on track and re-establishing cooperation with all our Movement partners and with international organizations. We have now done this. Our finances are healthier, as the audit reports have confirmed. What we still sorely lack are the means to generate our own funds, so that in the longer term we can cover 80 per cent of our running costs. Unfortunately, the emergency meant we could not focus more on this priority.

What are the main problems and needs of the civilian population after more than three years of crisis, and how is the Côte d’Ivoire Red Cross responding to them?
The problems are essentially access to primary health care and sanitation, the return of displaced people to their homes, and the restoration of social harmony. To respond to these needs, the Red Cross is developing a number of projects in cooperation with its partners.

Health centres for displaced people in Abidjan, village health posts in the west of the country and centres for voluntary AIDS testing are some of the facilities the National Society is providing. A project offering socio-economic support to communities divided by the conflict in four communes across the country aims to foster social cohesion during the post-crisis rehabilitation period.

Since the events of 19 September 2002, the country has effectively been split in two. Despite this, the National Society has managed to preserve its unity. How?
The training of its volunteers and large-scale public awareness campaigns have helped to preserve the National Society’s unity and sense of common purpose. There are two major factors: first, our commitment to assisting all victims, with no discrimination of any kind — a victim has no ‘face’ and no ‘name’; and second, the way the Movement’s unity of thought and action has translated into a true Red Cross culture in which the fundamental principles form the basis of our action.

Your volunteers often have to pass through roadblocks to get to people in need of assistance. How smoothly does this go?
Our volunteers have encountered no major difficulties. The security rules put into effect by the ICRC during the crisis have facilitated our movements on both sides of the buffer zone. By notifying the forces in question of where we are going and what we are transporting, we have been able to avoid any trouble and to remain free of suspicion.

What support does the National Society receive from its Movement partners?
The ICRC’s support is essentially operational, i.e., linked to needs arising from the conflict. It consists mainly of organizational support to the National Society (training, communication, equipment, staff, etc.) and assistance to the victims.

The International Federation provided substantial support during the first months of the crisis, and the French and Netherlands Red Cross and the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to help us with community development. Our priority, which is also that of our Movement partners, is to be involved in the vast programme of post-crisis rehabilitation, mainly in the former rebel-held zones.

For the future, what are you expectations of Movement partners?
More commitment and more support at the organizational level. The flame of hope that we have rekindled since September 2002 must not go out.

You have been elected for a second term. What are the challenges ahead?
The main challenge is to improve and increase our own sources of funding. Aside from the aid we receive from our Movement partners, we want to be able to take full charge of the running and supervision of our local branches, for it is in the capacities of its local branches that the level of development of a National Society can truly be measured. This is why I will concentrate on broadening our support to local committees.

Monique Coulibaly has been president of the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire for the past four years.
©Carlo Piccinini / ICRC









‘Respect the red cross emblem!’ Drawing by a street child from Abidjan for an illustration competition about international humanitarian law in 2004.








The ICRC in Côte d’Ivoire

With a staff of 216 people, including 38 expatriates, the ICRC in Côte d’Ivoire is active in the following fields:
• Visiting people detained in connection with the armed conflict.
• Restoring contact between family members.
• Distributing food and other essentials.
• Supporting public health and sanitation services.
In addition, and in response to the recent resurgence of armed clashes, the ICRC has reminded the parties of their obligation to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law and to allow personnel of the ICRC and the Red
Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire to work in complete safety
Distribution of kitchen and hygiene sets in the western region of Man by ICRC and Côte d’Ivoire Red Cross volunteers, October 2005.


Interview by Carlo Piccinini
Carlo Piccinini is ICRC communication delegate in Côte d’Ivoire.


Contact Us