Côte d’Ivoire: Is War the Only Option?
Côte d’Ivoire: Is War the Only Option?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Retour de Laurent Gbagbo en Côte d’Ivoire : une nouvelle occasion de réconciliation
Retour de Laurent Gbagbo en Côte d’Ivoire : une nouvelle occasion de réconciliation
Report 171 / Africa 4 minutes

Côte d’Ivoire: Is War the Only Option?

Côte d’Ivoire is on the verge of a new civil war. This tragedy can only be avoided if Africans and the wider international community stand firm behind the democratically elected president, Alassane Ouattara, and he launches an initiative for reconciliation and a transitional government of national unity.

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Executive Summary

Côte d’Ivoire is on the verge of a new civil war between the army loyal to the defiant Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the November 2010 presidential election, and the “Forces nouvelles” (FN), the ex-insurgency now supporting the 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. The result is a serious threat to peace, security and stability in all West Africa. The African community should not be influenced by the support that Gbagbo enjoys from a part of the population that has been frightened by the ultra-nationalist propaganda and threats of chaos of a militant minority. It must act decisively, not least to defend the principle of democratic elections, but key countries show signs of dangerous disunity. Any proposal to endorse Gbagbo’s presidency, even temporarily, would be a mistake. His departure is needed to halt a return to war.

The November election was intended as the culmination of a painstaking peace process that began after the September 2002 rebellion and was endorsed by many agreements, the latest being the Ouagadougou Political Agree­ment (OPA) of March 2007. Gbagbo, like all other candidates, took part in the election on the basis of a series of compromises reached on all aspects of organisation and security.

There is no doubt Ouattara won the run-off. The candidate of the Union of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (Rassemblement des Houphouétistes pour la démocratie et la paix, RHDP) had a greater than 350,000-vote margin over Gbagbo’s The Presidential Majority (La majorité présidentielle, LMP) in a credible election certified by the UN, as provided for in the agreement Gbagbo himself signed in 2005 and that several UN Security Council resolutions confirmed. In an attempt to reverse the result, however, the Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court but entirely controlled by the Gbagbo camp – claimed to have discovered widespread violence and fraud – largely imaginary – in seven departments of the northern and central regions where Gbagbo had received less than 10 per cent of the votes in the first round. It thus cancelled more than 660,000 second-round votes, enough to raise his total from 45.5 per cent to 51.4 per cent.

To secure its hold on power, the regime has accompanied brazen manipulation of state institutions with a strategy of terror designed to brutally stifle any challenge from the coalition supporting Ouattara. According to the UN, the human toll already exceeds 300 dead, in addition to dozens of rapes and an unknown number of abductions and disappearances by security forces.

Gbagbo’s power grab was clearly premeditated. He declared a curfew on the eve of the run-off, a forerunner of the lockdown on Abidjan, the centre of power; recalled from the northern and central regions for no reason before the voting ended 1,500 soldiers whom he had deployed by decree to maintain electoral security; and obstructed the work of the independent electoral commission (Commission électorale indépendante, CEI). Having campaigned on the slogan “we win or we win”, he and his inner circle had no intention of relinquishing the presidency, regardless of the vote count. Driven by a political mysticism that blends nationalist discourse, virility and religiosity, Gbagbo is relying primarily on blackmail and targeted violence against civilians perceived as Ouattara supporters to remain president, even if his authority is unlikely to extend beyond the country’s southern third.

The international community needs to realise that the illegitimate president is prepared to fight to the end, even if it means throwing Côte d’Ivoire into anarchy and economic disaster. If he succeeds, he will take with him all hope of good neighbourly relations, stability and economic progress in West Africa. Apart from the need to respect the will of Ivorians, the stakes include the security and well being of millions in the region and whether peaceful, democratic transfer of power is to be safeguarded on a continent where eleven elections are scheduled in 2011. Neither Gbagbo’s obsession with power nor Ouattara’s presidential ambition can justify the potential costs. But while the one made a decision that was accompanied by a campaign of terror he knew would bring his country to the brink of civil war, the other won a fair election with the support of a political and social coalition that is more representative of the country’s diversity.

The African Union (AU) panel of five heads of state – representing each region of the continent – seeks a peaceful solution to the crisis but is in dangerous disagreement. The AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN have all recognised Ouattara as president-elect and asked Gbagbo to leave. South Africa, supported by Angola, however, has put forward power-sharing proposals that are dangerous because they contradict the original African consensus. Their positions on a crisis whose complexity they appear not to have fully grasped are compromising their credibility on the continent and beyond and undermining trust between ECOWAS and the AU. Gbagbo is the undisputed sole architect of Côte d’Ivoire’s desperate situation. That and the need to achieve the installation of Ouattara must be the fundamental starting points of the search for a successful strategy and implementing tactics.

The most likely scenario in the coming months is armed conflict involving massive violence against civilians, Ivorian and foreign alike, that could provoke unilateral military intervention by neighbours, starting with Burkina Faso. It is ECOWAS territory, not southern Africa, that faces a serious threat. The regional organisation must reclaim the responsibility for political and military management of the crisis, with unequivocal AU and UN support. Meanwhile, Ouattara should take the initiative to launch a dialogue between RHDP and LMP (but without the irreconcilable Gbagbo), with a view to achieving a reconciliation agreement and a transitional unity government that he would head as the democratically elected president.

Dakar/Brussels, 3 March 2011

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