Côte d'Ivoire Conflict History
The Republic of Côte d’Ivoire achieved independence in August 1960, after 67 years of French colonial rule. Its first president was Félix Houphouët-Boigny, an Ivorian who had previously held several posts in the French government. Houphouët kept virtually complete control over Côte d’Ivoire until his death in 1993, and his party, the PDCI-RDA, was, until 1990, the mainstay of a one-party system. Whilst the first two decades of Houphouët’s rule were characterised largely by stability and economic growth – dubbed the ‘Ivorian miracle’ - the 1980s saw severe economic difficulties and growing political pressures, leading to the country’s first multi-party elections – and the appointment of its first prime minister, Alassane Dramane Ouattara – in 1990.
Following Houphouët’s death in 1993, Henri Konan Bédié, the speaker of parliament, outmanoeuvred Ouattara and assumed the presidency. Bédié introduced a policy of “ivoirité”, which included a new electoral code that distinguished between citizens of “pure” Ivorian origin and those of “mixed heritage”. This policy sowed the seeds of a north-south divide, as many northerners (including, allegedly, Ouattara) had foreign parentage, making them inferior to the more ‘pure’ southerners. Bédié won a 1995 election that was boycotted by the country’s two main opposition parties – the Ivorian Popular Front (Front populair ivorien, FPI), headed by Laurent Gbagbo; and the Rally of the Republicans (Rassemblement des Républicains, RDR), led by Ouattara. Bédié’s rule, characterised by authoritarianism and economic failure, was ended by a bloodless coup on 24 December 1999; General Robert Guéï became leader of the new junta.
Whilst democratic elections were scheduled for October 2000, the Supreme Court announced that many presidential candidates, including Ouattara and Bédié, would be barred from running. Outtara was excluded on the grounds of “his doubtful nationality” under the ivorité policy; Bédié was barred for his inability to prove “his mental and physical fitness” to run. Only 37% of the electorate voted, and Guéï declared himself the winner, despite preliminary results favouring Gbagbo. After massive protests by Gbagbo’s FPI supporters, Guéї fled to Benin and Gbagbo was declared president. Gbagbo continued Bédié’s ivoirité policies, favouring largely-southern, ‘pure’ FPI supporters at the expense of the largely-northern, ‘mixed heritage’ supporters of the RDR.
On 19 September 2002, a group of around 700 soldiers attempted a coup d’état, attacking the cities of Abidjan, Bouaké and Korhogo. Ex-junta leader Guéï and interior minister Emile Boga Doudou were killed in the initial hours of the coup, in circumstances which remain unclear. The coup failed, and degenerated into a war between government forces and breakaway army troops calling themselves the Mouvement Patriotique de la Côte d’Ivoire (MPCI). The latter seized towns in the northern regions, and were prevented from moving south to Abidjan only by the intervention of French troops, ostensibly acting to protect French and U.S. citizens. On 17 October 2002 the MPCI unilaterally signed a ceasefire, dividing the country into two: the loyalist south and the rebel north.
However, the following months saw continued violence, and the proliferation of both rebel and government-affiliated armed groups who claimed not to be bound by the terms of the ceasefire. A number of regional and trans-border groups – notably from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso – also became involved. Ivorian exiles living in Burkina Faso received support from Ouagadougou, allowing them to prolong their campaign against Gbagbo. Gbagbo, for his part, offered military support to Liberian and Sierra Leonean rebel groups in return for their assistance in fighting Ivorian rebels. Negotiations took place throughout late-2002 and early-2003, but without success. An accord between the government and the rebels (consolidated as the Forces Nouvelles (FN), under Guillaume Soro) was eventually signed in Paris during January 2003 summit. The accord was designed both to end the immediate violence and to address the underlying political and ethnic tensions that stemmed from the policies of ivoirité.
Implementing the Paris agreement, Gbagbo appointed a ‘government of national unity’, including key posts for MPCI representatives. A comprehensive ceasefire (including provisions on disarmament) was signed in May 2003, and an end to the military conflict was declared on 4 July. However, political and ethnic tensions remained, as rebel groups fluctuated between supporting and opposing the unity government. Violence continued throughout 2003 and 2004, with high numbers of both military and civilian casualties. The west of the country was particularly badly affected, as government forces, rebel groups and opportunists from neighbouring states clashed; estimates from the period suggested that thousands of civilians were killed, and up to a million displaced.
Some hope was restored with the 30 July 2004 signing of the “Accra III” agreement, which re-committed the various parties to the unity government. However, this hope was short-lived: October 2004 saw political impasse on a number of issues, particularly rebel disarmament, and in November 2004 this deteriorated into widespread violence between government, rebel and peacekeeping forces. Sporadic violence would continue for several years, even as a constant cycle of negotiations sought to restore the unity government, re-start stalled disarmament programmes, and ensure the restoration of fully democratic processes.
As a result of continued tensions and the failure of disarmament, elections scheduled for late 2005 were postponed, and Gbagbo’s presidential term extended, until end 2006, in a move backed by the AU and UN. In December 2005 Charles Konan Banny was appointed as interim PM by African mediators; his cross-faction appeal was viewed as a positive step toward the restoration of government. Elections were again postponed in 2006 as the FN continued to resist disarmament in light of continued violence by pro-government militias. The AU, UN and ECOWAS agreed to a further extension of Gbagbo’s term, but recommended increases to PM Banny’s powers to limit Gbagbo's influence; this was met with resistance by Gbagbo and his supporters.
Despite continued tensions, in March 2007 a peace deal was struck between Gbagbo and FN leader Soro, which saw Soro appointed PM and a number of opposition politicians appointed to the cabinet. The following months saw a number of positive steps, including de-militarisation and disarmament, political amnesties, and moves towards new presidential elections. However, rows continued over voter registration and alleged government interference with the electoral roll. Elections were pushed back throughout 2007, 2008 and 2009, with the first round eventually taking place on 31 October 2010, some five years late. The peaceful election produced no clear winner, with Gbagbo and Ouattara receiving 38% and 32% of the vote, respectively.
The run-off election, held on 28 November 2010, precipitated a major political crisis and renewed violence. The electoral commission announced 2 December that Ouattara had won the election with 54% of the vote; this ruling was overturned 3 December by the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council, quashing the results from several (pro-Ouattara) northern areas on grounds of alleged electoral fraud. Both candidates claimed victory, held inauguration ceremonies and appointed cabinets. The ensuing violence saw at least 296 killed; UN estimates suggested a further 31,000 had fled to Liberia.
This latest crisis is ongoing as of January 2011. Ouattara has been widely recognised by the international community (including the UN, EU, AU and ECOWAS) as the legitimate victor, and Gbagbo has been under considerable pressure to concede defeat and yield the presidency. The political impasse has revived deeper cultural and ethnic tensions, and it remains to be seen whether resolution of the political crisis will be enough to stem the recent tide of violence.