Over the weekend Cote D’Ivoire moved ever closer to civil war or “guerre civile” and the French papers are only ones monitoring the situation in anything close to the magnitude it deserves. Let us not forgot that last November Cote D’Ivoire finally held its presidential election. Originally scheduled for 2005, the election had been postponed while the Ivorian Civil War raged on. A peace agreement with the rebel New Forces was signed in March 2007. The election was scheduled for 2009 and then postponed again. Finally, the first round of voting occurred in October 2010. The first round was inconclusive. The second round, held in November, resulted in Alassane Ouattara winning a narrow victory as recognized by the independent electoral commission. The incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo, whose support base is in the south of the country, disputed the results and has since refused to step down.
Recent developments include Ouattara rejecting AU mediator Jose Brito because he apparently has personal and political connections with the president. Meanwhile in Abidjan Gbagbo gathers thousands of supporters around Republic Square, where he has barricaded himself. Fighting already rages in neighborhoods around Abidjan. And Le Monde reports hundreds of mercenaries pillaging, raping and killing in the west of the country. The UN says that more than 460 people have been killed since the election and more than a million are displaced.
Gbagbo only barely lost the election and his supporters control most of the country’s infrastructure – such as the Ivorian Electricity Company. And while sanctions imposed by the UN are certainly damaging the economy, Gbagbo essentially nationalized the cocoa industry (Blood Chocolate anyone?) While revenues are down – customs duties at the port are reportedly down 96 percent – Gbagbo gets off the hook by pointing the finger back at the UN, France, and the US.
An unnamed diplomat made this prediction in mid-march: “If he [Gbagbo] makes it through the month of March, I think he could be here for 20 years.”
Gbagbo is reading from the “How to Hold On to Power” chapter in the Official Dictators Handbook. Taking cues from Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Gbagbo is standing strong and playing the game. He is gathering and arming his supporters for the eventual clash and expertly redirecting anger about the ruined economy from himself to those imposing the sanctions. Lastly, he is being patient, waiting for the opportune moment to act.
While the UN moved rapidly and decisively (for good or not, who knows) in the Libya case Cote D’Ivoire sits and waits for a resolution banning the use of heavy weapons against civilians to be debated sometime this week. Early this month Gbagbo supporters fired machine guns into a crowds of unarmed protesting women in the capital. And this week the UN might hear a resolution on the matter?.
But to be honest, I am not convinced there is really much the international community can do for Cote D’Ivoire. Short of militarily supporting Ouattara when the time comes, when the guerre civile breaks out for real, what can be done? Have we dug ourselves into a pit by intervening in Libya? Are we reinforcing the notion that certain situations (call it a responsibility to protect if you will) warrant violation of sovereignty and international meddling in internal affairs? If so, and I’d agree there are situations where sitting by and watching is simply not human, but where is that line?
(and je m'excuse for the links - half of them are to Le Monde and thus en francais)