Cote d’Ivoire – quo vadis?

Cote d’Ivoire’s post electoral crisis has been a dramatic moving picture, with events in the past three weeks threatening to undo the economic and political progress that has been made. After a decade of civil war, strife and promises of democracy Cote d’Ivoire (CDI) finally held presidential elections on the 31 October. This was followed by a second round, or electoral run-off, between the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and the runner-up Allassaine Ouattarra on the 28 November. Gbagbo lost to Ouattarra, 46% to 54%. The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the West African bloc ECOWAS have all recognised the electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the election and have called on Gbagbo to step down. Despite this, Gbagbo has not yielded, and instead has tried to contest the results unsuccessfully, and has resorted to clinging to power. In addition to an old rivalry between the two candidates, Gbagbo has a history as a political strongman in his country, and has in the past resorted to various tactics to keep power. This has included intimidating former rivals, playing the ethnicity card, and now using a combination of political maneuvering and blatant violence to stay on as President. In the early days after the results were announced, he attacked the credibility of the Ivorian Electoral Council and he sealed off the country’s borders temporarily. He also has allegedly censored the local media. Recent reports state that he has hired two American lobbyists who worked for the Clinton administration to represent him in the US. He has also threatened to expel UN peacekeepers from the country.

Gbagbo does not act with political maturity, and has lost any hope for a legacy as a true statesman, but his strongman tactics have kept him in power thus far.

Even if another civil war does not ensue, the damage has been done economically. In September the World Bank granted US $465 million in funding for the next four years to Cote d’Ivoire.

His power lies in the support he has from the armed forces. Ouattarra on the other hand is not considered to be a strongman, having served in government and in the International Monetary Fund as an economist. Ouattarra’s Prime Minister, Guilliame Soro, former leader of the rebel forces and former Prime Minister under Gbagbo, has also acted with considerable political maturity, by calling for the democratic process and outcomes to be respected. Only recently has Soro called for the international community to act with force if Gbagbo continues to ignore calls to step down.

In the early days following the run-off, analysts predicted that if Gbagbo could relinquish power gracefully Cote d’Ivoire would enter an era of greater political and economic stability. It was also predicted that if he clung to power, violence would ensue, which has happened. At the time of publishing this the UN has stated that 173 people have been killed in the past week. The UN has been vocal and has provided peacekeepers to secure the hotel where Ouatarra has set up government. Various international organizations and countries have condemned Gbagbo’s refusal to step down, from the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, to the IMF and the World Bank. Sanctions have been placed against CDI, financial sanctions against Gbagbo and his wife, as well as 11 individuals who form part of Gbagbo’s inner circle, and CDI has been expelled from ECOWAS. The International Criminal Court is monitoring the situation in CDI as well. But there has been no change in power yet. To call the situation a political stalemate is trite. Peaceful protestors and supporters of Ouattarra are being intimidated and killed. Even if another civil war does not ensue, the damage has been done economically. In September the World Bank granted US $465 million in funding for the next four years to Cote d’Ivoire. This has now been frozen. A few international investors have ceased local operations and foreigners have been urged to leave. Even if the situation can be reversed, restoring investor confidence, (which is necessary for many of the infrastructural projects taking place in Cote d’Ivoire), will be a difficult task.

However the possibility of reversing or even mitigating the political situation, using the current measures, is not guaranteed. The efficacy of targeted sanctions as a means of coercion in international relations, is at best, dubious, and at worst, ludicrous. One need only look at Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea and even Kenya to realize that there are ways to survive targeted sanctions at the expense of a country’s economic growth and development. On the other hand, an intervention, whether it is dubbed military or humanitarian, would bring a dramatic surge in instability and possibly undermine Ouattara’s government in the long term. One need only consider Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. But there is a way forward. Instead of “speaking softly, and carrying a big stick” (to quote Teddy Roosevelt), perhaps the international community should, metaphorically speaking, speak more loudly, and wave a few heavy sticks around. In other words, neutralise the threat of armed conflict by the Ivorian army or even the rebel forces by reinforcing the UN peacekeeping force and supplementing it with ECOMOG forces. This, in combination with isolating Gbagbo by weakening his inner circle, could be more productive than simply implementing targeted sanctions alone.

No matter the measures decided upon by the international community, it is evident that stability now hinges on how Gbagbo can be handled, if indeed he can be persuaded to step down. It also depends on the UN mandate, and whether the regional opposition to Gbagbo can be maintained. Also key to ensuring a peaceful outcome is the army: if they can be persuaded to stop supporting Gbagbo, and to isolate him, then mediation to ensure that the rightful winner of the elections can govern democratically will be successful. Sadly though, even if a positive outcome can be navigated in this malaise, there is a considerable amount of damage to repair in the months to come.

  • This is a fantastic opportunity for the UN and AU/ECOWAS to firmly enforce their rhetoric on undemocratic principles. If they step in with a joint task force as you envisioned, this mess can at least be saved. However, if they try and equivocate some sort of unity government like Zimbabwe, I’m not sure if either Gbagbo or Ouattarra would stand for it. The catch in that though is the AU’s firm anti-coup stance, which would mean a sticky political situation for AU leaders if Ouattarra decides to take matters into his own hands. That being said, how he would do it without control of the army is anyone’s guess. Not that the region isn’t swimming with rebel groups looking for a slice of power.

  • Auz

    Apparently the US and France have started looking into expanding the UN force. Trouble is, will Gbagbo interpret this as a threat, or will he start to play a more calculated game? He is terribly short-sighted, he should have relinquished power, canvassed hard ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, and attempted to build a legacy as an elder statesman. Instead he relied on strongman tactics, but he failed to anticipate the regional and international response. As for Ouattara, he needs to continue being perceived as the mature one in this situation. If he calls on the rebels, then its game over, all the foreigners will leave, and it’ll be messier than Kenya was three years ago. Throughout the year there have been reports of rebel and military rearmament in CDI, both sides have not disarmed as part of the peace agreement, which is why the longer this impasse continues, the higher the probability of another armed conflict/civil war. On the powersharing angle, both Raila Odinga and Morgan Tsvangarai have publicly said that Cote d’Ivoire should not consider it – and if anyone should know what its like to have an election stolen from them, its those two. The int’l community needs to show a strong presence, through appropriate channels (UN/ECOWAS), however Nigeria’s President Jonathan needs to act decisively with the support of his country and the rest of ECOWAS, hence my point that stability also depends on whether regional opposition to Gbagbo can be maintained. Whilst I appreciate the IGO rhetoric condemning the situation, rhetoric doesn’t change a situation, and it certainly hasn’t made Gbagbo cower (heck, it never made Milosovic/Hussein/Myanmar junta/the Zimbabwean JOC/Li’l Kim cower). Its time for the rhetoric to be complemented with more peacekeepers. However, this leads to the age-old question of sovereignty versus intervention, but then I would argue for a case-by-case examination (and in this case, there is a legitimate argument for intervention should the violence escalate), but that’s an argument/article for another day…