Ivory Coast was once one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, thanks to its cocoa production that was largely catering to the needs of the West, but the political turmoil of recent years has seen its economy plummeting and the ongoing violence has thrown the country into a bloody civil war. The current political crisis in North Africa has however shifted the attention of the international community from the volatile situation in Ivory Coast, despite reports that it is becoming more severe by the day.
The woes of the Ivorian people started in 2002 when a civil war broke out, following an armed uprising that took place on September 19, which de facto divided the country into north and south. Accounts of the conflict are scarce and difficult to assess as most reports are contradictory due to a general state of chaos gripping the country and a large number of both offensive and defensive attacks that beleaguered the African nation until January 2003 when President Gbagbo and rebel leaders signed an agreement to form a government of national unity. In less than a year the peace treaty collapsed due to the unwillingness of the rebel forces to disarm. The fallout led to more deaths, which prompted the UN to deploy peace keeping troops in the region in a common effort to ensure that violence would not escalate, although during this period Gbagbo’s popularity plunged and his relationship with the opposition continued to worsen.
By 2005 Gbagbo’s mandate had expired but the fragile situation of the country persuaded the United Nations and the African Union to extend his presidency for another year, during which time elections could be organized. In reality, they ended up being postponed until 2010. The presidential elections carried great significance both for the Ivorian people and Africans, as they promised to deliver positive change in a region that had historically faced electoral fraud. The two rounds supervised by the UN and AU, ultimately led to a confrontation between Laurent Gbagbo, whose main support base came from the south, and long-standing opposition leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara, a technocrat who had been Prime Minister of Ivory Coast in 1990 under President Houphouët-Boigny. Ballot counts attested that Ouattara was the winning candidate with 54% of the votes, but the Constitutional Council claimed the results were invalid and went on to name Gbgabo winner. This led to the Ivorian crisis, which to this day remains unresolved. Certified bodies such as the United Nations claim that the situation continues to deteriorate, especially in some suburbs of the capital where armed groups have instilled a rule of terror that peacekeeping units, as well as the army, find difficult to control.
In light of recent developments in the Arab world, the Ivorian situation has been deprived of intense international attention to damaging effects, as the UNHCR reports that it has failed to reach the $46 million target for refugee aid and that the $5 million raised so far is insufficient for the almost 500 000 refugees and displaced people. The UN refugee agency promised to launch a new campaign for funds and urged international donors to pledge with the cause of the Ivorian people.
Meanwhile, the northern suburb of Abobo in Abidjan, has become a lawless region under the control of rebel forces and the scenario of bloody encounters between said groups and innocent civilians. Reports paint a bleak picture of the everyday terror encumbering the population, with many witnesses talking about the slaughtering of women and men being burned alive because presumably they belonged to the wrong group. Western journalists have also been under attack with many reporters receiving death threats or being beaten by unidentified members of groups operating in the area. Roadblocks have in effect become so dangerous, that even UN peacekeeping units have been shot at in Abobo. But Abobo is not the only problematic area, as other regions have registered similar violence and anarchic rule.
Currently, the only safe place in Ivory Coast is the Golf Hotel where Ouattara and his cabinet have been confined since the failed elections took place. According to a statement by Patrick Achi quoted by The Guardian, Ouattara’s “government” is waiting for the right time to strike back at Gbgabo and are working day and night to weaken the tight grip the president has over the country. This however has failed to portray the opposition as taking a firmer stance against the presidency and it seems that Ouattara supporters have requested a more active role on his behalf in tackling the ousting of his rival, largely because the ongoing violence has shown little success in this direction.
Mr. Ouattara’s strategic timing for involvement could be counterproductive, as partisans might eventually withdraw their support as a result of his slow reaction and the ever growing number of post- elections casualties, which according to the United Nations has reached 247. Unfortunately, the number of deaths is expected to go up as rebel fighters loyal to Ouattara have launched a new front and are now engaged in battle in zones previously controlled by Gbgabo supporters. The Associated Press reports that fighters are moving south, in an attempt to neutralize the police force “who’ve been killing indiscriminately” as one fighter claims.
The international community has greatly condemned the brutal abuses of power and Gbgabo’s utter defiance of international laws. World leaders have urged the controversial president to step down, but their demands have failed to strike a chord with the disputed president and his cabinet, who continue to govern a country torn apart by civil war and extreme poverty. Having exhausted all diplomatic channels, the United Nations has decided not only to extend the peacekeeping mandate for another six months but has been considering an increase in the number of troops, which Gbgabo was critical of and expressed no desire to cooperate. Other incentives brought forward by the UN Security Council were directed at Ivory Coast’s cocoa production revenues that Gbgabo has allegedly been using to fund his military ventures. Dignitaries gathered in New York proposed an escrow account that would protect revenues from being misused to the detriment of the population. No decision has yet been made.
With more than 300 000 refugees fleeing Ivory Coast and a violent conflict that seems impossible to resolve, the international community needs to step up its game in tackling the many issues affecting the beleaguered population of the African country. Humanitarian aid is insufficient, as organization like Oxfam and the United Nations continue to struggle to provide shelter, food and medical aid to the ever growing numbers of displaced people joining the camps and the neglect of the world media with regard to this subject threatens to turn donations and funding into an even more pressing matter. This however seems unlikely to change by much in the next couple of weeks, in view of the natural disaster in Japan and the fear of nuclear meltdown in the region, which have received the undivided attention of media outlets and governments around the world to the detriment of thousands of Ivoirians.