COTE D'IVOIRE: Flood damage could slow identification process in north
Torrential rains in northwest Cote d'Ivoire have wiped out roads and bridges, leaving scores of trucks and cars stranded
DAKAR, 17 September 2007 (IRIN) - In northwest Côte d’Ivoire flooded roads and bridges could take the 'mobile' out of 'mobile tribunals', the long-overdue operation to provide identity papers for undocumented Ivorians, a step seen as indispensable to peace.
“Most roads around Odienne [the regional capital] are completely impassable,” Amidou Kourouma, the city’s acting mayor, told IRIN by phone. “They are so bad, even with 4x4s you have to deviate from the road and find a way through the bush.”
“It’s a complicated problem,” he said. “If there are no roads we could have some villages that are excluded.”
Exclusion of any community is precisely what the identification process is aimed to fix, as Côte d’Ivoire fights its way back from five years of unrest and economic decline, triggered by a rebellion calling in part for an end to discrimination against northerners.
After several failed launches, the identification process is scheduled to start on 25 September.
Teams of judges and legal experts will travel around the country to furnish those who do not have birth certificates with special documents that will serve for obtaining national ID and voter cards. A person seeking the documents must show up with at least one witness to attest to his or her birthplace.
The identification process is particularly important to residents of the northwestern Denguele region, who say they have long been cast as foreigners and discriminated against because they share names and ethnicities with communities of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso.
Odienne acting mayor Kourouma said local authorities had not yet received a breakdown of how many teams will be in the region and in how many places they would set up shop. Given the lack of road access to so many areas he thought it would be best to hold tribunals in a few central towns rather than in a larger number of towns and villages.
But that still left the problem of how villagers would get to them. Few vehicles
“People in many villages around here have serious problems with getting around,” 33-year-old Odienne resident Ibrahim Kone, president of a youth group, told IRIN. Even in the dry season in peace time, in many villages residents can go for a week without seeing a single vehicle. Most move between villages by motorbike or bicycle or on foot.
“In any case, the state of the roads will be a problem, that’s for sure,” Kone said of the upcoming identification programme.
Photo: Koffi Samuel
|Would-be travelers in northwest Cote d'Ivoire look on as a truck sits stranded on a flood-damaged road|
Odienne residents told IRIN the deterioration of roads is due to the combination of torrential rains - the heaviest seen in at least six years - and the utter lack of road maintenance. Area roads, most of which are dirt and gravel, have not been maintained since 2002, when the rebellion cut the north off from the government-held south.
The flooded roads are hurting business in the area, preventing vendors from travelling to markets. Road and bridge breakdowns have left busloads of women and children stuck in the mud for days, residents told IRIN. "I saw one pregnant woman who had been stuck on the roadside for three days," Kourouma said. Residents said it can take up to three hours to cover a distance of 30km.
Youth leader Kone and others contacted by IRIN said the problem will likely delay the identification process, but not block it. Kone said: “People here are ready for this. They desperately need it, as many of them have no ID papers.”
An official in the prime minister’s office, which is supervising the identification programme, said the mobile teams would manage.
“We’ve not foreseen this kind of problem,” communications director Alain Lobognon told IRIN when asked about the flood damage in the Denguele region. “But we’ll cope with the situation.”
For the legal teams, coping with the situation might mean bringing their own fuel. As of 17 September Odienne had gone for five days without diesel oil because the roads used for transporting it into the city were impassable.