Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire — With the peace process well under way in Ivory Coast and the unanimous declaration by all armed forces of the official end of the civil war on 4 July 2003, the staff of ‘WARDA-The Africa Rice Center’ are as jubilant as the rest of the country.
“We are now very optimistic of implementing our plan for a progressive and phased return to WARDA’s headquarters in M’be near Bouaké,” announced Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, Director General of WARDA. “Evidently, staff security will remain the topmost priority in our return plan and no action will be taken in haste to jeopardize that,” he added.
When the political crisis erupted in Ivory Coast 10 months ago in September 2002, WARDA had to evacuate its international and regional staff from Bouaké, which had become the epicenter of the crisis. Since then, WARDA Management has been operating from temporary headquarters in Abidjan, the economic capital of the country.
Most of WARDA’s scientists with support staff have been temporarily relocated to Bamako, Mali, where they are vigorously pursuing the Center’s important research agenda. The activities in WARDA’s regional research stations in Senegal and Nigeria as well as those of the networks coordinated by the Center have been unaffected by the Ivoirian crisis.
Joint Mission by WARDA Staff and Government Officials to Bouaké
WARDA’s “phased return plan” is based on the feedback from the recent mission to its Campus, jointly undertaken by representatives from WARDA and the Ministry of Research, Government of Ivory Coast, which is especially keen for the return of normalcy to Bouaké and the resumption of activities by WARDA at its headquarters.
The joint mission’s objective was to make a detailed assessment of the state of the Campus and research facilities as well as the living and security conditions in Bouaké, and give recommendations for a possible return of WARDA staff to Bouaké. Representatives from WARDA’s Management, Research, Operations and Security were included in the mission to make a comprehensive survey addressing major concerns.
During the crisis, the WARDA Management has been in constant touch with the Campus through its liaison office in Bouaké and several official visits have been made to Bouaké to retrieve computers, duplicate samples of germplasm stored in the genebank, office documents, research material, and personal effects of staff.
State of the WARDA Campus and Research Facilities: Although the Campus has remained intact throughout the crisis and no theft or destruction has taken place, the members of the joint mission reported that experimental fields, laboratories, gene bank, and offices have suffered greatly from disuse and lack of maintenance.
“There’s marked degradation of infrastructure and rusting of costly laboratory equipment, damage by rats and other pests, and invasion by weeds and shrubs in the experimental fields,” commented Dr Sitapha Diatta, WARDA Soil Physicist. Highlighting some of the research facilities that needed urgent attention for their maintenance, Dr Diatta said, “Although the genebank is functional, the new pre-fabricated seed store has been severely damaged by wind and in the seed sorting room, rats have attacked the bags of seed harvested last year from field trials.”
Living and Security Conditions of Bouaké: The delegation reported increased signs of normalcy in the city: reactivation of some of the administrative functions, reopening of shops, resumption of activities by a few private and parastatal companies, and reestablishment of nongovernmental organizations.
Reporting the meeting of the delegation with the Mayor of Bouaké, Michel Dube, WARDA Director of Finance and Administration, said, “We were fortunate to meet with the Mayor who has just returned to Bouaké. He was optimistic about Bouaké’s return to normalcy and informed us that a new Préfet has been appointed for Bouaké, which will facilitate the refunctioning of the local government.” Dube cautioned, however, that security in the city was still an issue that needed to be addressed.
Components of the Phased Return Plan
Based on the recommendations by the team members of the Joint Mission, WARDA has decided on a progressive return plan rather than a full-fledged one because of security and logistical reasons. The various stages of the return plan include:
Urgent dispatch of a maintenance crew, which will ensure a thorough overhauling of the Campus and research facilities
Conduct of a minimum set of research experiments under periodic supervision by scientists
Frequent staggered visits by members of the WARDA Management to ensure continuous presence and visibility on the Campus
Constant contact with representatives from UN, international agencies, and government for security in Bouaké
Decision on the official full-fledged return will be determined only after the disarmament of forces and the establishment of law and order in Bouaké
As part of this plan, a maintenance crew from WARDA has already been dispatched to the Campus and scientists have been asked to submit plans for minimum set of experiments that they would like to conduct on the Campus.
“We expect that the overhauling of the Campus will be expensive, but we are very happy at the pace of the peace process and we hope that this transitional period symbolizes the prelude to WARDA’s full-fledged return to its base,” stated Dr Nwanze.