The Ivory Coast holds the rotating presidency in December in the United Nations Security Council at a pivotal point in its membership in the world body. The West African country was elected to its current term in the Council just as the last peacekeeping troops left in 2017, ending the UN’s presence there after a civil war that devastated the country for 15 years.
Ivory Coast’s substantial progress toward peace and prosperity since the end of the war — or as the country calls it, the “crisis” — gives it the opportunity, its ambassador to the UN said, to help other nations in conflict learn from the example of the Ivory Coast. (As a Francophone country, it calls itself Côte d’Ivoire.)
For our monthly Security Council Presidency column, PassBlue interviewed the Ivorian ambassador, Kacou Houadja Léon Adom, about his career and his country’s priorities in the Council this month. Adom also spoke to reporters at the UN on Dec. 3.
After the sudden death in April of the previous Ivorian ambassador to the UN, Bernard Tanoh-Boutchoué, Ambassador Adom talked about his transition from Berlin, where he had been based, to New York; why the Council should add an African country as a permanent member; and what the Ivory Coast can teach other nations about its recent postwar experience.
Speaking in French, Adom told reporters that the Ivory Coast’s foremost goal in the Council is the promotion of peace. And one lesson his country can impart, he said, is that when a peacekeeping mission is installed in your country it is important to ensure excellent relations between the host country and the UN.
In addition to the country’s two open debates, as noted below, the Council agenda for the month includes meetings on South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan and Syria. It is “highly likely” that Yemen will be discussed, Adom said, given that delegations of the warring parties have begun to arrive for a UN-led meeting this week near Stockholm.
As to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s elections scheduled for Dec. 23, Adom said, “If there were some difficulties, the Security Council would seize itself on the matter” despite the Christmas holiday, he added wistfully.
No topics on women’s rights or gender equality are scheduled in the Council.
Ivory Coast’s Ambassador to the UN: Kacou Houadja Léon Adom, 68, from Abengourou
Ambassador to UN Since: July 2018
Languages: English, French, Spanish and Japanese
Education: Abidjan University, (M.A., English); National School of Administration of Ivory Coast, degree in diplomacy; National School of Public Administration, Paris; National School of Public Administration, Quebec City, Canada.
His story, briefly: Adom was born in Abengourou, an agricultural city near the Ghana border, about 130 miles northeast of Abidjan, the economic capital of the Ivory Coast. Besides studying international diplomacy, Adom also worked for foreign governments and international organizations in New Zealand and Australia.
From 2008 to his arrival at the UN, he was ambassador to Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungry and Romania, with residence in Berlin, having previously been ambassador and cabinet director in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. From 1997 to 2005, he was ambassador to Israel and, concurrently from 1998, to Turkey.
Adom said that his sudden transition as ambassador to the UN has gone smoothly, considering the circumstances of arriving after Tanoh-Boutchoué’s death. “I’ve been able to fill in for the sudden loss of my friend and colleague,” Adom said. “With help from my colleagues, I’m delivering very well, that’s what they tell me.”
How do you like living in New York City? It’s a very impressive city. It’s a big city, everybody seems very busy, everyone’s running; this is what makes it interesting. Abidjan is very very hot all year long and people sometimes feel tired, but it’s also a crowded city, compared to the average city in Africa. The weather here in New York is better; the best weather is in Berlin, where I lived for almost eight years. I haven’t been to Harlem yet to eat Ivoirian food, but I’ve already ordered from a restaurant there, and it was very tasty.
What do you miss the most about the Ivory Coast? I miss my parents, in Abidjan.
Closest allies on the Security Council: All Council members are our allies because we need them to pass resolutions. We’re more used to talking to the French because we speak the same language and share a cultural heritage. Being our neighbors, we’re close to Equatorial Guinea [another elected member]. Maybe the Africans are closest to us.
How do you work through the differences on the Council? We all have one denomination: striving for peace. Russia and the US don’t agree sometimes: that is quite normal. Same as in your family: this can happen. We are a big family in the Security Council, the world family. Therefore, sometimes we don’t agree, but most of the time we agree to do what the world is expecting from us. Disagreements are quite exceptional.
Ivory Coast’s priorities for the presidency and the special debates: I used to say my priority was the Security Council, we’re talking about peace, which is a religion in my country. This is exactly what we intend to do: striving to keep peace all over the world. With no peace, there’s no development; without dialogue, we have war. Our priority with other colleagues is to have peace all over the world. I want to think that my colleagues feel the same way. The Security Council’s role is to see that peace and security prevail on our planet.
We will have two main events apart from the ordinary issues of the Council: a presidential debate [presided over by President Alassane Ouattara] on Dec. 5 on post-crisis reconstruction, which is related to us sharing our experience. We have had success in every field, especially in economics, due to our growth since the end of the crisis. We had annual average growth of 9 percent, from 2011-2016, then 8 percent for 2017; our focus is to achieve 7.5 to 7.8 percent.
We also have to satisfy the basic needs of our population in health, education and daily life [the country’s maternal death rate, for example, is exceedingly high: 645/100,000]. The Dec. 5 debate will be followed by a ministerial debate on Dec. 6, on interrelations among state, regional and international players.
We also want to table two to three resolutions: one on financing African peacekeeping operations on the continent to have sustainable and predictable financing for such things as the G5 Sahel force and Amisom [the African Union peacekeeping operation in Somalia]. The second resolution is to help promote the UN secretary-general’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative. The third resolution will be on the rule of law in peacekeeping operations.
How does the Ivory Coast distinguish itself as an African member of the Council? We do not want to distinguish because we are all tackling the same problems. So we try to abide by the principle of democracy and peace and security through dialogue. What we have to offer is the success story of how we managed to get on from the crisis.
What does the Ivory Coast seek for Security Council reform? We want Africa to be a permanent member by reforming the Security Council; it’s a question of negotiation. By 2050, the population of Africa will double or even triple, and Africa’s population will account for 40 percent of the world population. We are putting an emphasis on this and talking with those with whom we have to negotiate.
Do you have a deadline on getting a permanent Council seat for Africa? We don’t have a deadline in negotiation, otherwise you will be disappointed and feel very sad. You have to be hopeful. I don’t think the permanent-five members [Britain, China, France, Russia and US] are against seeing an African country being part of the Security Council. It’s a question of negotiation, and we are making progress.
Would the Ivory Coast like to be a permanent member? It’s not necessary, we are not the biggest country in Africa. We don’t see ourselves as fighting to become a permanent member.
Head of State: President Alassane Ouattara
Foreign Affairs Minister: Marcel Amon Tanoh
Type of Government: Presidential republic
Year Ivory Coast Joined the UN: 1960
Years in the Security Council: 1964-65, 1990-91 and 2018-19
Closest Allies on the Council: France, Britain, Equatorial Guinea, other African nations
Population: 23.7 million
Memberships in Regional Groups: African Union, African Development Bank Group, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Organization of Francophonie
Adult Literacy Rate: 44% (2014)
Maternal Death Rate: 645/100,000 (2015); by comparison, the US rate is 26.4/100,000 (2017)
GDP per Capita: $1,700; by comparison: EU, $33,700; US, $59,500; world, $10,700
Emissions: (tons of CO2/per capita and year): 0.5; EU, 6.9; US, 17.0; world, 4.8
Total Contributions to Regular UN Budget: $242, 000 (rounded for 2018, or 1 cent=$0.01 per capita)
Total Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Budget: $74,000 (2018)
Electric Power Consumption (1,000 kWh/per capita and year): 0.3; by comparison: EU, 5.9; US, 12.9; world, 3.1
Dulcie Leimbach interviewed Ambassador Adom for the article and Franz Baumann contributed some of the statistics.
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.