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Risk of Civil War in the Cote d'Ivoire as Gbagbo Refuses to Cede Power
January 21, 2011
By: Carlos Aramayo
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On November 28, 2010 the Ivorian presidential election runoff was held, four days later the Election Commission (CEI) declared Alassane Ouattara the winner with 54.1 percent of the vote. However, as the New York Times and France News 24 have reported, “a day after the country’s top elections officer proclaimed Mr. Ouattara the legitimate winner by a nearly nine-point margin, the head of the Constitutional Council, Paul Yao N'Dre a close ally of the incumbent president Gbagbo, declared  the results invalid and threw out vote totals from parts of the north — the stronghold of Mr. Ouattara — because of what he called “flagrant irregularities.” Following this action the Council concluded that without these votes Gbagbo was the winner with 51% percent of the remaining vote.

In response, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), composed of 15 countries in the region including Côte d'Ivoire, has condemned the declaration by the Ivorian Constitutional Council of Laurent Gbagbo as Ivorian President. In a statement, ECOWAS “condemns any attempt to usurp the popular will of the people of Ivory Coast and is calling on all leaders to accept the results declared by the Independent Electoral Commission.” The international community, including the United Nations and the African Union have also recognized Alassane Ouattara as the legitimate President-elect. Further, western governments have thrown their support behind ECOWAS who have been escalating the pressure on Gbagbo to step down.

Nevertheless, Gbagbo was sworn in as president on 4 December 2010. At the ceremony Gbagbo gave no indication he will step down despite growing international pressure when he declared that he, "will continue to work with all the countries of the world, but will never give up our sovereignty." Concurrently, Ouattara also took the oath of office though he remains stranded in a hotel surrounded by Gbagbo loyalist troops who refuse to let anyone in or out.

This standoff between factions has led to mounting tensions leading Gbagbo to ban foreign news organizations from broadcasting within the country and to order the closing of the country’s borders by the army. In addition, the Gbagbo government has "requested the immediate departure of the UN mission and the French forces supporting it". Furthermore according to the Guardian, the Gbagbo government has “arrested hundreds of demonstrators in an effort to intimidate the opposition.”

In response to such authoritarian behavior, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on January 19, 2011 to reinforce its mission in Cote d'Ivoire with 2,000 additional peacekeepers. The resolution authorizes the transfer of three attack helicopters from a U.N. mission in Liberia, demands freedom of movement for U.N. and French troops, and reiterates the mission's right to "use all necessary means" to carry out its mission and protect civilians. Furthermore “the members of the Security Council reiterated the readiness of the Security Council to impose measures, including targeted sanctions against persons who threaten the peace process, obstruct the work of UNOCI and other international actors, or commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as underlined in United Nations Security Council resolution 1946 (2010).”

According to John Campbell, Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, “this downward spiral in Cote d'Ivoire continues toward civil war or, at best, stalemate.” The New York Times has reported that the deadly standoff between the rival presidents appears to be broadening. “Armed forces associated with the Ouattara camp have clashed with Gbagbo’s forces on the streets of the nation’s economic capital, Abidjan, as well as in a town in the center of the country. Security forces loyal to President Gbagbo have opened fire on Ouattara’s supporters killing more than 200 demonstrators”.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration has slapped wide-ranging sanctions on Gbagbo. The sanctions bar American citizens from doing business with incumbent President Gbagbo, his wife Simone Gbagbo and allies Desire Tagro, Pascal Affi N'Guessan and Alcide Ilahiri Djedje. Any assets they have in the United States are now frozen. In a statement Adam J. Szubin, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said that, “should the situation improve, or no longer pose such a threat, it would be expected for sanctions to reflect the changing situation on the ground.” Simultaneously the European Union, the World Bank and the IMF have freezed relations and imposed sanctions including visa bans and asset freezes on Laurent Gbagbo, 84 of his supporters and 11 economic entities linked to the government.

Following a meeting on January 20, 2011 with Gbagbo, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, serving as the African Union mediator, said that "time is running out for an amicably negotiated settlement" and that the Ivorian leader could squander any opportunity of securing an amnesty guarantee in exchange for abandoning power. "The window of opportunity for any amnesty will continue to close if Mr. Gbagbo's supporters continue to commit crimes against civilians and peacekeepers," Odinga said.

On January 18, 2011 the army chiefs of staff from 15 nations belonging to the ECOWAS, met in Mali to discuss a military operation to remove Gbagbo from power. Such a move is considered a last resort since it could cause mass casualties. However, the president of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defense Staff, Air Chief Marshall Oluseyi Petinrin of Nigeria, stated that, “Virtually every member of ECOWAS has agreed to contribute troops” and that military preparations are "already well under way."

Cote d'Ivoire residents have been fleeing to neighboring countries in ever greater numbers, fearing the stalemate could lead to a return to civil war. According to the U.N. refugee agency, at least 23,000 Ivorians have crossed into Liberia to seek refuge since the crisis began.

To read the full statement from the International Steering Committee on Cote d’Ivoire, please click here.

United Nations - Security Council Press Statement on Situation in CÔTE D’IVOIRE

United Nations Radio - 23,000 Ivorians cross into Liberia

U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Center - Treasury Targets Former Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo and Members of his Inner Circle

The Guardian - Ivory Coast: death squads on the rise as civil war looms

The New York Times - Ivory Coast Forces Crack Down on Opposition

United Nations News Center - UN chief underlines warning against attacking peacekeepers in Côte d'Ivoire

BBC - Gbagbo orders peacekeepers to leave Ivory Coast

Associated Press - Ivory Coast opposition candidate sworn in too

The Wall Street Journal - Treasury Amps Up Pressure On Ivory Coast Leader

The Wall Street Journal - Debt Default Looms for Ivory Coast





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