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Cote d'Ivoire: Crisis Facts & Debates
Feb 28, 2011 (110228)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
There is a real threat of return to open civil war in Côte
d'Ivoire, driven primarily by the failure of former President
Laurent Gbagbo to admit electoral defeat. But despite a broad
international consensus on the election results, the presence of UN
peacekeeping forces, and active mediation efforts, there is no
consensus on what measures would actually help rather than run the
risk of accelerating the turn to violence.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains an open letter from scholars on
the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, an article by Human Rights Watch South
Africa director criticizing the role of South African diplomacy in
undermining international pressure, and a wide range of annotated
links to other sources on the election, different views of the
crisis, and background analyses.
I have provided this wide range of sources for further reference,
although it may seem overwhelming, because of the importance of
distinguishing issues on which there is genuine debate, and those
where, in my opinion, a refusal to recognize facts would be foolish.
Like most of my readers, I make no claim to be an expert on the
affairs of Francophone Africa. But I have done my best to sort out
the reliability of conflicting views, including those of several friends
who have been in touch with different conclusions than those I reach.
In the category of "strongly confirmed," after a review of these
sources and more, I would cite three:
(1) As noted in another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today, and
available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/ci1102a.php, with reports from
Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on
violations of human rights, forces supporting former President
Laurent Gbagbo are responsible for the overwhelming majority of
human rights abuses in the current crisis.
(2) These abuses, as well as the preceding decade of strife, have
been fueled in large part by the use of opportunistic appeals to
xenophobic sentiment and denial of political rights on the basis of
descent from immigrants from neighboring countries, embodied in the
concept of Ivoirité. While Laurent Gbagbo did not originate the use
of these appeals, he and his supporters have systematically made
use of them, and continue to do so. For additional background see
the book by Bronwen Manby, Struggles for Citizenship in Africa (http://www.africafocus.org/books/isbn.php?1848133529).
(3) Whatever the wisdom of elections as a means of resolving
conflicts, there can be no reasonable doubt that the second round
of elections was won decisively by Alassane Ouattara, who
benefitted from most of the votes of supporters of the third
candidate in the first round, Henri Konan Bédié. This remains true
despite the fact that many voters were probably voting more against
Gbagbo than for Ouattara, and all three candidates have dubious
democratic and popular credentials. The questions raised by pro-Gbagbo
forces do cast doubt on the wisdom of elections, but are not convincing in
their accusations of sigificant distortion in the polling process itself and
Among the issues for which clear answers are definitely not
(1) What the international community should do. Military
intervention by ECOWAS would be rash. But South Africa's apparent
promotion of "power-sharing" on the Zimbabwe model, or an
acceptance of a claimed election victory by Laurent Gbagbo, would
also be disastrous.
(2) Proceeding to elections without effective plans for military
forces which would accept the outcome was not wise. But those who
argue that the flaw was only the failure to disarm the rebels fail
to address the issue of the simultaneous continuation of political
bias by the security forces of the Gbagbo regime.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Côte d'Ivoire, as well as
links to other background sources, visit
For earlier background links, see particularly
For current news, see http://allafrica.com/cotedivoire/
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++
Open Letter: Ivory Coast, the war against civilians
January 31, 2011
Laurent Gbagbo is clinging to power after rejecting the results of
the presidential elections, as declared by the Independent
Electoral Commission, certified by the UN, and recognized by the
international community, designating Alassane Ouattara as the clear
There is now a real risk that the situation will escalate into
civil war. In pro-opposition neighborhoods of Abidjan, numerous
individuals have disappeared in the wake of operations by security
forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo. News reports have shown corpses
lying in the streets, while morgues have refused to release the
bodies of those killed to their families. Converging accounts have
led the UN to suspect the existence of mass graves and the
incineration of bodies, but Gbabgo's security forces have prevented
investigations of the alleged sites. Outside Abidjan, particularly
in the western region, NGOs are reporting incidents of serious
violence against the civilian population.
As scholars professionally committed to a rigorous analysis of the
situation, we must insist that there is no evidence for any primal
hatred between supposedly rival ethnic groups, nor for that matter
between local populations and foreigners, between northerners and
southerners, much less between Muslims and Christians. This is not
to deny the existence of sharp, long-lasting tensions, particularly
over access to land. However, the interplay of intersecting
interests has generally allowed Ivoirians to implement negotiated
solutions to such recurrent disputes. Moreover, Côte d'Ivoire, a
country with a long history of mixing, remains a trans-ethnic,
cosmopolitan, multi-religious "melting pot." In any "civil" war,
who would fight against whom? The answer is anything but obvious.
In the past few weeks, accumulated fears, resentment, and greed
have fuelled violent clashes among different segments of the
population in the west of the country. However, it is essential to
stress the resilience of the overwhelming majority of Ivoirians on
all sides of the political spectrum who are confronting the crisis
without resorting to violence. On the national scale, Laurent
Gbagbo's supporters are just a vociferous and agitated minority who
monopolize the state media they have hijacked. We should not
overestimate their numbers.
Laurent Gbagbo has justified his actions in terms of the defense of
national sovereignty, brandishing the specter of the country
falling prey to foreign influences. This is a diversionary tactic.
His political opponents are just as patriotic and just as concerned
with developing the national economy in a more equal partnership
with Western (or other) powers. Whatever its claims, the Gbagbo
regime has hardly turned its back on the "predatory foreigners" it
purports to ward off. Over the past ten years, it has depended on
extensive politico-commercial networks in France and elsewhere. Not
to mention the recourse to Liberian and other international
mercenaries for controlling the Ivorian population.
To the extent that there is any real ideological difference between
the two camps, it centers on their conception of citizenship. The
Gbagbo regime promotes an ethno-nationalist vision: only members of
indigenous ethnic groups from the south of Côte d'Ivoire may claim
a fully legitimate, or 'natural', right to civic participation - a
citizenship 'by blood'. In this conception, electors from the
northern regions, assimilated to 'foreigners', are relegated to the
status of second-class citizens. Annulling the votes of districts
in the north and the center of the country is thus consistent with
this logic. The opposition claims a republican conception of
citizenship, founded on the principal of equality and according
civic rights to all those born in the Côte d'Ivoire, a far remove
from the 'divine right' claimed by Gbagbo.
But ideology is undoubtedly not the key to understanding the
ongoing crisis. The Gbagbo mafia is struggling first and foremost
for power; for an exclusive hold on power, for the very enjoyment
of power, with all its attendant material benefits. How, one might
ask, can civilians freely and openly express dissent when the thugs
of the outgoing regime exact merciless reprisals against anyone
expressing overt opposition or who is even suspected of voting for
the wrong candidate?
A group of experts on Côte d'Ivoire and West Africa:
Michel Agier (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales or
EHESS, Paris), Emmanuel Akyeampong (Harvard), Jean Allman
(Washington University in St. Louis), Jean-Loup Amselle (EHESS),
Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton), Karel Arnaut (Ghent University,
Belgium), Ralph Austen (University of Chicago), Cheikh Anta Babou
(University of Pennsylvania), Georges Balandier (EHESS), Issaka
Bagayogo (ISFRA- Universit‚ de Bamako), Richard Ban‚gas (Universit‚
de Paris 1), Thomas Bassett (University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign), Jean-François Bayart (Centre National de la
Recherche Scientifique or CNRS, France), Laurent Bazin (CNRS),
Laurence Becker (Oregon State University), Sara Berry (Johns
Hopkins University), Chantal Blanc-Pamard (CNRS), Pierre Boilley
(Universit‚ de Paris 1), Catherine Boone (University of Texas at
Austin), Christian Bouquet (Université de Bordeaux, France), Sylvie
Bredeloup (Institut Recherche Développement or IRD, France),
William Gervase Clarence-Smith (School of Oriental and African
Studies or SOAS, University of London), Jean-Paul Colleyn (EHESS),
Barbara Cooper (Rutgers University), Souleymane Bachir Diagne
(Columbia University), Mamadou Diouf (Columbia University),
Jean-Pierre Dozon (EHESS), Stephen Ellis (Afrika-Studiecentrum,
Leiden), Sandra Fancello (CNRS), Boris Gobille (Ecole Normale
Sup‚rieure de Lyon, France), Alma Gottlieb (University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign), Sean Hanretta (The University of Florida),
Joseph Hellweg (Florida State University), Gilles Holder (CNRS),
Paulin Hountondji (Universit‚ d'Abomey-Calavi, Benin), Anne Hugon
(Universit‚ de Paris 1), Sharon Hutchinson (University of
Wisconsin-Madison), Biodun Jeyifo (Harvard), Bennetta Jules-Rosette
(University of California San Diego), Ousmane Kane (Columbia),
Ousman Kobo (Ohio State University), Eric Lanoue (ARES, France),
Robert Launay (Northwestern University), Marie Nathalie Le Blanc
(Université du Québec, Montréal), Marc Le Pape (CNRS), Barbara
Lewis (Rutgers University), Bruno Losch (Centre de coopération
internationale en recherche agronomique pour le d‚veloppement ou
CIRAD, France), Ruth Marshall (University of Toronto), André Mary
(CNRS), Achille Mbembe (University of Wittwatersrand, South
Africa), Elikia M'Bokolo (EHESS), Michael McGovern (Yale), Marie
Miran-Guyon (EHESS), Richard Moncrieff, Jean-Pierre Olivier de
Sardan (EHESS), Jacob Olupona (Harvard University), J.D.Y. Peel
(SOAS, University of London), Claude-Hélène Perrot (Université de
Paris 1), Ato Quayson (University of Toronto), David Robinson
(Michigan State University), Ruediger Seesemann (Northwestern
University), Benjamin Soares (Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden),
Emmanuel Terray (EHESS), Jean-Louis Triaud (Université de Provence,
France), Claudine Vidal (CNRS), Laurent Vidal (IRD), Leonardo
Villalon (The University of Florida).
Colleagues living or having family in Côte d'Ivoire have not been
included for reasons of security.
A shorter version was published in Le Monde, January 19, 2011.
President Zuma should be on the side of justice in Ivory Coast
by Siphokazi Mthathi
February 22, 2011
Human Rights Watch
Siphokazi Mthathi is South Africa director of Human Rights Watch.
All eyes are on President Jacob Zuma's sojourn in Ivory Coast to
help lead the AU panel on the post-election crisis.
The incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to respect the
internationally recognised election result that his rival, Alassane
Ouattara, won the presidency.
Human Rights Watch has reported that forces under Gbagbo's control
have been responsible for horrific abuses since the political
impasse began in late November.
South Africa's involvement thus far - in mediating the Ivorian
conflict - raises profound questions about whose interests it is
pursuing: those of an abusive leader clinging to power through
targeted killings and a campaign of terror, or those shared by
millions of Ivorians living in fear and struggling to survive.
Sadly, the evidence suggests that Pretoria's sympathies are
ambiguous at best, and at times publicly lean toward defending
As Zuma arrives in the country, young men whose names bespeak
certain ethnicities, or who wear Muslim dress, are being bludgeoned
to death with wooden beams at checkpoints operated by pro-Gbagbo
militias working hand-in-hand with security forces. Neighbourhood
political leaders in Ouattara's party are being dragged from their
homes and mosques in the evening, only to turn up in mortuaries
days later; their families describe the bodies as being riddled
Young teenage boys have died when elite security forces close to
Gbagbo have tossed fragmentation grenades into crowds of peaceful
demonstrators. Women have been raped in front of their families and
then forced to watch as their husbands are executed, only to be
tauntingly told by the perpetrators from the security forces that
they should "go tell Ouattara what happened to them".
Human Rights Watch's field research in Abidjan, the country's
commercial capital, has shown that security forces and militias
under Gbagbo's control have committed widespread extra-judicial
killings, forced disappearances, torture, and rape over the past
two months. Our in-depth investigation, based on more than 120
interviews with victims and witnesses, revealed an often-organised
campaign of violence targeting members of Ouattara's political
coalition, Muslims, immigrants from West African countries, and
ethnic groups from northern Ivory Coast that tend to support
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on
February 10 that at least 296 people had been killed and almost 100
more "disappeared" during the post-election violence. Week after
week, horrendous abuses are carried out by forces under the
ultimate command of Gbagbo and by his proclaimed supporters. An
immediate and just solution is needed.
South Africa, however, seems to be undermining international
efforts to bring this killing to an end. Just last week, a South
African warship was discovered off the coast of West Africa en
route to Ivory Coast for reasons that remain unclear. The head of
the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) described
the move as complicating efforts to resolve the crisis. Pretoria
has also publicly questioned election results announced by the
Ivorian Independent Electoral Commission, certified by the UN, and
endorsed by Ecowas, the AU, the European Union, and numerous
countries throughout the world.
Ecowas and the AU have sent multiple delegations to try to break
the impasse, yet Gbagbo has made it publicly clear that he will
accept no resolution other than his continued presidency. Ecowas
leaders have indicated a willingness to take further measures to
remove Gbagbo, including additional diplomatic measures and even
military intervention as a last resort.
South Africa has seemed to thumb its nose at Ecowas's efforts to
pressure Gbagbo, however, and has even publicly suggested a
power-sharing agreement - with Zuma telling South African
journalists that "our view is that we don't demand that one leader
South Africa's president has yet to talk about finding real
solutions for ending rights abuses or bringing those responsible
for the recent abuses to account.
The EU and US have both instituted sanctions against Gbagbo and
many of his closest allies.
Meanwhile, both sides are still armed to the teeth after the
2002-2003 civil war and have raised the spectre of larger-scale
human rights abuses should the crisis not be resolved. There are
already reports of intensified recruitment of youths by armed
forces on both sides of the divide, including recruitment in
neighbouring Liberia, threatening to spread the crisis further.
There has been no accountability for crimes allegedly committed by
any party during the civil war or in its aftermath. That impunity
prevails today, and needs to be rectified.
While in the country with the AU panel this week, Zuma should
support the African solidarity drive that is trying to end Gbagbo's
campaign of violence. As a member of the UN Security Council,
Pretoria should advocate strongly for the protection of civilians
and of UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast who face threats incited by
those close to Gbagbo.
Zuma should push for justice for the crimes committed.
Without that kind of principled foreign policy, Pretoria will be in
the uncomfortable position of having to explain why a democratic
state like South Africa is defending Gbagbo's abusive, autocratic
Additional Sources for Background and Debate
(1) On the "international community"
- On Ivory Coast diplomacy, South Africa goes its own way
Colum Lynch February 23, 2011
Additional background on the South African role and its clash with
West African and other international perspectives
- "Moi ou le chaos", stratégie suicidaire pour la Côte d'Ivoire
by Gilles Yabi, Afrik.com
http://www.crisisgroup.org / http://tinyurl.com/4nftux3
Strong critique of those who defend Gbagbo, making the case that
their arguments ignore current realities in favor of past alliances
and stereotypes about the political forces involved
- Cote D'Ivoire: The case against military intervention
by Mawuli Dake
Pambazuka News, 2011-01-06
A clear statement of why international military intervention would
likely make things worse
- Briefing on roles of AU and ECOWAS
IRIN, February 15, 2011
- Lessons to Draw from North Africa
by Veronique Tadjo
"In Côte d'Ivoire, what cannot be said enough is that in the second
round of presidential elections Ivorians found themselves before an
invidious choice: Laurent Gbagbo, whose poor management of the
country was flagrant for 10 years, or Alassane Ouattara, whose
political past and personality were controversial in the southern
part of the country? Furthermore, one wonders if the conditions
were there for the holding of free and fair elections when one
takes into account that the after-effects of the rebellion of 2002
were still visible. By all accounts, the answer is no."
"At present, none of the two leaders in opposition - Alassane
Ouattara or Laurent Gbagbo - can claim to be entirely in the right,
given that they both have been declared president: one by the
Constitutional Court and the other by the Independent Electoral
Commission. One asks oneself if these elections had any chance to
be democratic. In effect, the most important thing for Laurent
Gbagbo was to not have free and fair elections in Côte d'Ivoire,
and simply to stay in his position for five more years, even though
this position could put his people in danger. Since the beginning
of the post-electoral crisis, the mounting violence and repression
in the country is proof."
"What has cruelly lacked regarding Alassane Ouattara is any
movement of collective protest by his supporters, which would have
given him legitimacy - Egyptian style. The brutal force carried out
against the two marches organised on the television station offices
and the prime minister's office in Abidjan cannot be
underestimated, but it does not explain all. It is necessary to see
the failure of these attempts relative to popular uprisings
elsewhere. ... Above all, this lack of effective support puts
Alassane Ouattara and the members of his entourage in a very
precarious situation. Holed up at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, their
lives are entirely in the hands of the international forces that
ensure their protection."
"You cannot turn your weapons against your own people and hope to
retain legitimacy. Soro Guillaume, the prime minister of the
government of Alassane Ouattara, is asking for militarily
intervention in Côte d'Ivoire with the aim to "dislodge Gbagbo" by
force. Yet as the former head of the rebellion, he is fully aware
that a confrontation between an African force and the Ivorian army
would result in enormous loss of life and risks setting the whole
region on fire."
(2) On the elections
- A Second Look at the Second Round
http://tinyurl.com/49wvmms / http://hotelivory.wordpress.com
Has statistics on the votes invalidated by the Constitutional
Council in the Second Round, compared with First Round votes.
The Constitutional Council invalidated all votes from seven
departments in three northern regions, thus removing from their
count 52,518 Gbagbo votes and 544,492 Ouattara votes. This changed
the result from the 54% to 46% victory for Outtara, according to
the Independent Electoral Commission and the United Nations to a
51% to 49% victory for Gbagbo.
Mapping the Elections and the Violence in Côte d'Ivoire
Maps by Abou Bamba
[some text in both French and English]
This set of maps includes a set comparing the first and second
rounds of the presidential election, showing (a) how supporters of
Henri Konan Bédié followed their leader's advice to shift their
vote to Alassane Ouattara and against Laurent Gbagbo, and (b) the
distribution of violence and potential for greater violence,
particularly in zones of the country more evenly divided in the
second round of the election.
- Interview with UN Representative Choi Young-Jin
L'Inter, December 9, 2010
Choi Yound-Jin explains in detail the process followed by the UN
monitoring team in reviewing and certifying the vote, including
multiple levels of independent checking which led to the UN
certification of the vote.
(3) Debate on Current Crisis
The Post-Electoral Crisis in Côte d'Ivoire: A Crisis of Legitimacy
by Guy Martin
January 19, 2011
A brief statement of the pro-Gbagbo case.
- Côte d'Ivoire's elections: Chronicle of a failure foretold
Pambazuka News, 2011-01-06, Issue 511
The most substantive critique of the errors of the international
community in implementation of the peace accord and the elections.
- Ivory Coast Showdown: A Discussion on the Political Crisis in
Interview with Horace Campbell and Gnaka Lagoke by Amy Goodman of
Pambazuka News, 2011-01-06
Lagoke is a supporter of Laurent Gbagbo. Campbell a strong critic.
A revealing discussion.
- The empire strikes back: France and the Ivory Coast
Gary K. Busch
Pambazuka News, 2011-01-05
A very detailed exposé of the links between Alassane Ouattara and
French economic and political interests. Its credibility is
undermined, however, by a failure to deal with issues such as
Gbagbo's similar links and the use of xenophobic appeals by the
Gbagbo forces. The portrayal of Gbagbo as anti neo-colonialist is
(4) On the broader background
- Role central de l'immigration by Augusta Conchiglia
Le Monde Diplomatique, Dec. 2007
Surveys the role of immigration in Côte d'Ivoire and the political
use of nationality policy in discrimination against many born in
the country, but with foreign ancestry, including in access to
citizenship and the vote.
- The best summary background source on the issues of citizenship
and their connection with the decade-long crisis in
Côte d'Ivoire is in the 2009 book by Bronwen Manby, Struggles for
Citizenship in Africa
(http://www.africafocus.org/books/isbn.php?1848133529). The book is
not fully available on the web, but the relevant pages can be read
through Amazon's "Look inside" feature by using the links above and
then searching within the book for "war of conjunctions."
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