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Ivory Coast Conflict


Since a failed coup and subsequent insurgency in September 2002 split Côte d'Ivoire between a government-led south and rebel-controlled north, several peace agreements and election dates have come and gone. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his twenty-third report, stated on 13 January 2010 that the Côte d’Ivoire elections were to be held in March 2010. Since a UN mission first came to the country in 2004 Côte d'Ivoire the UN has monitored and supported peace efforts as several accords have come and gone; prior to the 28 November 2010 presidential election a number of tasks remained incomplete, like disarmament and the deployment of civil administration in the rebel-controlled north.

The presidential election was intended to stabilize Ivory Coast eight years after a civil war divided the country. The West African country plunged into a tense political crisis after the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede electoral defeat to his challenger, Mr. Ouattara, following a presidential run-off poll held on 28 November 2010. The international community has recognized Mr. Ouattara as the country's president-elect.

But there would not be an election unless President Gbagbo was confident that he will win it -- and he was not confident of the outcome. This had been the assessment of some analysts since 2005 and the political landscape in Cote d'Ivoire helps to explain why. Gbagbo's political party, the FPI (Front Populaire Ivoirien), consistently came in at third place, and was still associated with a minority ethnic group (the Bete). To win a presidential election, the FPI needed an alliance with one of the larger parties - either the PDCI (Parti Democratique de Cote d'Ivoire) or the RDR (Rassemblement des Republicains), but the latter have remained remarkably united in an alliance against the FPI, known as the RHDP (Rassemblement des Houphouetistes).

Gbagbo haf tried since at least 2007 to cut a deal with Alassane Ouattara, president of the RDR, but had not succeeded. Having failed to co-opt Ouattara, Gbagbo focused on promoting a rift within the PDCI by helping to finance and support former-Prime Minister Charles Banny's efforts to replace aging former-President Henri Konan Bedie as the PDCI's candidate for president. Whether or not Banny succeeded is irrelevant from the FPI's perspective, as long as the internal struggle induced a certain percentage of PDCI voters to go elsewhere. Gbagbo wanted to face Alassane Ouattara in the second round (no one expected a winner to emerge from the first round) because he (Gbagbo) believes that the ethnic groups who traditionally support the PDCI will vote FPI, rather that support an RDR leader who has links to the rebellion.

In addition to these calculations, there were other reasons for the governing coalition to want to hang on for as long as they can. Cote d'Ivoire would celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence in August 2010. President Gbagbo (who savors the role of Le Grand Chef) would not risk losing the prestige and celebrity that goes with hosting such an historic event. Also, the Cote d'Ivoire lobbied successfully to host the spring 2010 meeting of the African Development Bank's general assembly. Thus the fall of 2010 appeared to be the most realistic potential timeframe for elections. President Gbagbo will have been in office for ten years (the equivalent of two terms) and although he had stated publicly that he considers himself to be in an extended first mandate, remaining in office without a new mandate will become harder to justify after 2010. The financial benefits of the status quo were, of course, a prime consideration and not just for the FPI but for individuals such as the PM Soro (Secretary General of the Forces Nouvelles) as well.

On 12 February 2010, President Gbagbo dissolved both the government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), in which he accused the head of the Commission, Robert Mambé, of adding names to the electoral register to boost the opposition vote. The opposition described Gbagbo's action as illegal and part of a strategy to cling to power by further delaying elections, which had by that point been postponed 6 times since they were first scheduled to take place in 2005. The opposition demanded the reinstatement of the Commission. Demonstrations stemming from public anger over Gbagbo's decision subsequently erupted daily across Côte d’Ivoire. On 19 February 2010, security forces in the southwestern town of Gagnoa opened fire on opposition demonstrators, killing 5.

During the week of 12 February 2010, international pressure mounted on President Gbagbo. The UN, the Economic Community of West African States, France and the US urged the country to resolve the impasse and resume efforts to hold the polls as quickly as possible.

On 20 February 2010, President Gbagbo announced that he had temporarily reinstated Defense Minister Michel N'Guessan Amani, Interior Minister Désiré Tagro and Finance Minister Charles Diby Koffi, to run the government while the Prime Minister formed a new government.

On 23 February 2010, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro (and leader of the former rebel Forces Nouvelles, or New Forces) announced a new government of 27 members, which included opposition members. The announcement had been held up as Soro and Compaoré sought to resolve the stand-off between the opposition and the President, following the 12 February 2010 announcement about resolving the government and the IEC. Soro named 16 members of the new cabinet who were drawn from Forces Nouvelles and President Gbagbo's party. At press time the names of ministers for the remaining 11 posts designated for the opposition parties had not been announced, but the opposition had agreed to participate in the new government. Agreement on the IEC was reached on 26 February 2010.

On 16 June 2010, the disarmament and demobilization of 600 former combatants began in the northern, rebel-held town of Korhogo. The soldiers from the Forces Armées des Forces Nouvelles (FAFN) who demobilized were part of a group of 1,200 ex-combatants who were expected to disarm and enter cantonment, and to join an integrated national army.

On 31 October 2010 Ivoirians voted in the first round of presidential elections. From 14 candidates, the three main contenders were: Gbagbo, former president Henri Konan Bédié and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara, barred from running in past elections because of concerns (strongly dismissed by Ouattara) over his nationality. On 6 November 2010 the Constitutional Council validated the results of first round, with leading candidates Gbagbo (38 percent) and Ouattara (32 percent) to go to a run-off.

On 28 November 2010 Ivoirians voted in the run-off election. Both Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo claimed victory. On 30 November 2010 the announcement of preliminary results by the independent electoral commission, Commission Indépendante Electorale (CEI), spokesman was interrupted by pro-Gbagbo CEI official tearing up ballot papers, later denouncing announcement as "illegal". On 2 December 2010 the CEI released provisional results giving Ouattara 54 percent of the vote, 46 percent for Gbagbo. CEI challenged by Constitutional Council, with its president Paul Yao N'Dré warning in televised broadcast that CEI had not followed established guidelines.

Gbagbo orders borders closed and blocks international television and radio broadcasts. The dispute led to a tense political power struggle that the United Nations said had killed more than 170 people by the end of 2010, and many worried could re-ignite a civil war.

Dozens of people were killed 16 December 2010 when forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo stopped civilians and former rebels who control the north of the country from seizing the state television in Abidjan, the main commercial city in the south. United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Thursday's violence and said the situation in Ivory Coast had taken a "dangerous turn. ... "There was a clear winner. Power-sharing is not an option," he said. "The efforts of Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters to retain power and flout the public will cannot be allowed to stand. I call on him to step down and allow his elected successor to assume office without further hindrance. The international community must send this message - loud and clear. Any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law."

In an 18 December 2010 broadcast on national television (still controlled by Gbagbo's administration), a Gbagbo spokesperson announced that the UN working alongside the French military had "interfered seriously in the internal affairs of Côte d'Ivoire", and both parties must leave the country immediately. The United Nations said the request by Gbagbo for all foreign peacekeepers to leave the divided country immediately was irrelevant, since Gbagbo is not the president of Ivory Coast, and statements issued by Gbagbo are without effect. U.N spokesman Michel Bonnardeaux said the world body, the African Union, the West African regional grouping ECOWAS, the former colonial power France, the United States and many other countries recognize Mr. Ouattara as the winner of last month's presidential election.

On 20 December 2010 the UN Security Council extended the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) for six months. The Secretary-General denounced a recent incident in which men in military uniform shot at UN troops; the Ivoirian military officially backs Gbagbo. The Security Council unanimously rebuffed the demand, renewed the nearly 9,000-strong force, foreshadowed a possible increase, threatened sanctions against those imperilling peace and stressed its mandate to protect civilians. The United Nations says its peacekeeping force will remain in Ivory Coast on an impartial mandate to protect civilians, despite Mr. Gbagbo's demands it withdraw.

On 24 December 2010 the United Nations General Assembly recognized Alssane Ouattara as the winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election. The 192-nation world body adopted a resolution that accepted Ouattara's choice for the country's ambassador to the United Nations. The move gives a boost to Ouattara's bid to unseat Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down after last month's disputed election.

On 29 December 2010 Ivory Coast's new U.N. ambassador said the ongoing dispute over who won last month's presidential election is pushing his country to the brink of genocide. Youssofou Bamba made his comments in New York after presenting his credentials to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Mr. Bamba was appointed by Alassane Ouattara, who the United Nations and the international community recognize as Ivory's Coast's president. At least 15,000 Ivorians, mostly children, had fled to neighboring Liberia fearing Ivory Coast's violent post-electoral political stand-off could spark civil war. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d'Ivoire will "robustly" fulfil its mandate, breaking through roadblocks if needed, to protect civilians and the "legitimate Government" after the outgoing president's refusal to step down in the face of his rival's internationally recognised electoral victory. UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy insisted on the peacekeepers' right to freedom of movement.

On 30 December 2010 Francis Deng, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and Edward Luck, the Special Adviser focusing on the responsibility to protect, said that there are continuing reports, thus far unconfirmed, of serious human rights violations by supporters of Mr. Gbagbo, and by forces under his control, as well as the use of inflammatory speech to incite hatred and violence.

The European Union and the United States have imposed travel restrictions on Mr. Gbagbo and his entourage. The World Bank has frozen loans to Ivory Coast and West Africa's central bank has transferred control of state reserves to Mr. Ouattara. France, Canada, the European Union and the United Nations no longer recognize Mr. Gbagbo's ambassadors; Mr. Ouattara's newly appointed UN ambassador has already begun work. The unity of African states in demanding Mr. Gbagbo cede power is unprecedented.

Gbagbo's minister of youth and employment has urged supporters to seize the Abidjan hotel where Ouattara set up his headquarters under U.N. protection. Charles Ble Goude said supporters would "liberate" the Golf Hotel on 1 January 2011.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:19 ZULU