Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire — “The situation today in Bouake and Ivory Coast as a whole, is one that calls for joy in anticipation of a possible definitive return to our homes in Bouake and our research center at M’be,” declared Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, Director General of ‘WARDA –The Africa Rice Center’ after his recent visit to the WARDA Campus. “There are very positive signs that we are approaching the end of the crisis.”
The positive signs include the announcement by the American Baptist School that it would reopen in Bouake in the Fall of 2004 and the proposed extension and expansion of the UN peace-keeping mission in Ivory Coast.
“WARDA investments in Bouake and M’be remain safe and continue to be protected and maintained by our staff and Security personnel,” reported Dr Shellemiah Keya, WARDA Director of Research, who accompanied Dr Nwanze on this trip. “The visit proved to be very beneficial in terms of assessing the feasibility of WARDA’s return to Bouake.”
Dr Keya mentioned that access to and from Bouake was much easier with less control of movement, shops and supermarkets were open, the popular restaurants known as ‘maquis’ were full and even late in the evenings, people walked freely on the roads.
He recounted with excitement that the Campus looked impeccable thanks to the 50 WARDA staff who had been deployed there last year to carry out maintenance and field work, supported by about 60 temporary laborers. Several WARDA researchers have also begun to make regular visits to the Campus from Bamako in connection with their research activities.
“We saw 25 hectares of seed multiplication fields on the Campus, some of which will soon be ready for harvesting,” Dr Keya said. This will help WARDA meet requests from its partners for seed, particularly for the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), not only from West Africa, but also from Central and East Africa.
Drs Nwanze and Keya visited Bouake and M’be as part of the regular monitoring trips carried out by the WARDA Management to the Campus since the Center’s ‘Progressive return plan’ was unveiled last year.
The plan includes regular maintenance of WARDA’s research facilities and the conduct of a minimum set of experiments. Decision on the official full-fledged return would be determined only after the disarmament of forces and the establishment of law and order in Bouake.
When the political crisis erupted in Ivory Coast 16 months ago in September 2002, WARDA had to evacuate its international and regional staff from Bouake, 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.
The temporary relocation of the bulk of research staff to Bamako in January 2003 enabled WARDA’s research momentum to be maintained. 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.
Over the last couple of months, the peace process in Ivory Coast, that was initiated early last year, has been back on track. During this visit, the WARDA delegation met with the representatives from the United Nations force and the local authorities, all of whom assured that the protection of WARDA’s facilities will continue to remain a high priority during the transition period.
Deeply touched by their strong faith in the Center and by the staff dedication, Dr Nwanze exclaimed, “Our staff are to be commended for their resilience and ability to turn adversity into opportunity. In the midst of all the tension, our Board-approved new vision and strategy were embodied in our 2003-2012 Strategic Plan, which came off the press in December 2003! ”