Ivory Coast – Ghana’s Green-Eyed Neighbor

imageIn the forty years preceding 2009, Ghana and its Western neighbor Côte d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast) had a kind of gentleman’s agreement regarding their maritime borders.

The two neighboring countries recognized and respected a median line (referred to legally as a customary equidistance line) that demarcated each state’s territorial sea boundaries.

The maps taught in Ivorian public schools and used by government officials going back to the 1970s reflected this tacit agreement. The same was true in Ghana.

In fact Ivory Coast’s Ministry for Mines and Energy in the 90s and early 2000s circulated maps that depicted the exact location of the equidistance line, and as recently as 2005 and 2006 were drawing concessions with foreign oil explorers based on this mutual understanding.

Then, in a rare stroke of luck, Ghana hit the jackpot in 2007 when significant deposits of oil was discovered within its territorial sea borders. Suddenly, green with envy, Ivory Coast started nagging that it never really had an agreement with Ghana about where and how to demarcate the shared maritime border. The Ivorians conveniently proposed a new line that cut into areas where Ghana’s concessionaires had found the rich liquid gold.

In other words after 10s of millions of dollars were spent on exploration and billions of dollars worth of concessions had been signed, Côte d’Ivoire laid claim to territory that it had long accepted belonged to Ghana.

So what did Ghana do? The usually timid Ghanaians took the matter to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea — a perfectly prudent move considering it had a significant financial stake in the matter.

In court, the Ivorians denounced every map it had ever produced that showed the equidistance line as both parties understood it to be. They claimed none of those were from official government sources. They even asserted that the maps produced by the ministry of mines and energy were produced by an unaffiliated government contractor.

They distanced themselves from majority owned-oil company Petroci – a company that by law was answerable only to the government of Côte d’Ivoire that also had produced maps showing the true demarcation line. Petroci doesn’t speak for us, the Ivorian legal officials argued.

Then, in a Matlock-like moment, Ghana pulled out a “continental shelf claims data” submitted by Côte d’Ivoire to United Nations? An official document that countries routinely submit to the UN, the data showed Côte d’Ivoire only made concession claims on its side of the customary equidistance boundary — another strong indication the Ivorians knew and had accepted that the portion of the sea it now laid claim did not belong to them.

What about this, Mr. Ivory Coast? What sayeth thee, Ghana’s lawyers asked.

The response from Côte d’Ivoire’s lawyer was essentially this: There are many reasons why our country has kept its mouth shut over the years. One primary reason is Ivory Coast is a peaceful nation that likes to get along with its neighbors. We didn’t want any conflict so we let the Ghanaians do what they wanted.

Also, the Ivorian lawyer continued: we are concerned about possible harm to our environment from Ghana’s drilling.

Peaceful nation? Environmental concerns?

Are we talking about the same Ivory Coast that has been through several bloody civil wars just in the last 13 years? Five years ago more than 3000 people were killed from post-election violence alone.

Is it the same Ivory Coast that slaughtered dozens of Ghanaians living in their country after their soccer team lost to Ghana?

And regarding harm to the environmental, the Ivorian legal representatives neglected to inform the court that on their side of the equidistance line, wherever it is they believed it to be, they were also drilling furiously for oil . In fact they were seeking a portion of Ghana’s sea territory to do exactly what they claimed could cause environment harm; drill the ocean for oil.

Meanwhile, on land, Ivory Coast has one of the highest deforestation rates in West Africa. To be frank Ivory Coast cares about its environment as much as ISIS cares for Christian pilgrims.

Anyway, I digress.

The bottom line here is this: Ivory Coast is a bully and a sore loser, and Ghanaians need to make sure this time they don’t capitulate to their greedy tactics.

It is time for Ghanaians to put their timidity aside. They need to rally around the government to fiercely defend the national interests. No one else can do it for them.

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