Looming civil war in Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast is on the verge of a new civil war between the army loyal to a defiant Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the November 2010 presidential election, and the ex-insurgent group Forces Nouvelles, which is now supporting the internationally recognized winner, Alassane Ouattara.
The vote should have ended eight years of crisis, but Gbagbo staged a constitutional coup and resorted to violence to keep power.
According to the United Nations, the human toll exceeds 365 dead with dozens of rapes and an unknown number of abductions and disappearances by security forces. The result is a serious threat to peace, security and stability in West Africa.
The November election was intended to be the culmination of a painstaking peace process that began after the September 2002 rebellion and was endorsed by many agreements. Gbagbo, like all other candidates, took part in the election on the basis of a series of compromises, including those on organization and security. He had agreed to the U.N. certification role in 2005, which was backed up by several U.N. Security Council resolutions.
With more than a 350,000-vote margin over Gbagbo, there is no doubt that Ouattara won the runoff. In an attempt to reverse the result, the Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court, which is controlled by the Gbagbo camp – claimed to have discovered widespread violence and fraud in seven departments that voted overwhelmingly for Ouattara. It thus canceled more than 660,000 votes, enough to raise his total from 45.5 per cent to 51.4 per cent.
Gbagbo’s refusal to accept his electoral defeat despite widespread international condemnations precipitated this latest bloody crisis, with Ouattara now receiving the military backing of the former rebellion.
Chances are slim for a political solution without sustained pressure on Gbagbo – from Africa and internationally – and a credible threat of military intervention by the regional organization ECOWAS.
Civilian protection is now an urgent task that should be taken seriously by the U.N. peacekeeping mission, with the strong support of the Security Council and major powers.
Without it, civil war is all but certain.
Comfort Ero is the Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group.