Ivory Coast Moves Closer to Civil War

Clashes continued this week in Ivory Coast’s capital, Abidjan, as the African nation again teetered toward civil war. The United Nations said there was a "pressing need" to restore law and order in the country. Only weeks earlier a violent power struggle between Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of the country who refused to hand over power, and his rival Alassane Ouattara concluded when UN and French troops captured Gbagbo.

Economic uncertainty resulting from the continued freeze on exports from the African nation has underscored the difficulty of restoring security to Ivory Coast, and continued conflict at the hands of militias loyal to Gbagbo may disrupt the world’s most important cocoa exporter. With military uncertainty looming, Ivory Coast’s future remains volatile, and strong democratic governance of the country seems to be a fading glimmer of hope.

Field teams from the UN’s refugee agency say the humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast remains alarming for tens of thousands of civilians. Homes and villages have been partially or totally destroyed from recent violence. As it stands, continued violence has derailed any efforts to establish institutions dedicated to promoting democratic gains realized in last November’s election.

With the Western media almost unanimously declaring the situation in Ivory Coast resolved with Gbagbo's capture, little notice has been taken of Ivory Coast’s continued deficiency, a limited ability to build a healthy political foundation or move forward following Abidjan’s recent succession crisis. The West has long ignored the root causes of Abidjan’s violence, and the precarious political situation facilitated by a rushed November election reveals an Ivory Coast that is far less prepared for democracy than believed.

Gbagbo, his house arrest notwithstanding, has proven himself to be a shrewd politician, and his role in the Ivorian crisis remains uncertain and dangerous. With the presence of mercenaries and foreign interests still grasping for power in Gbagbo's name, the likelihood of a peaceful political resolution to the crisis remains grim. So long as Gbagbo’s role in the recent flare-up remains unaccounted for judicially and recent attempts at establishing a reconciliation process are stalled, democracy in Abidjan will remain illusory.

As most world traders persist in demanding Ivorian cocoa trade and peaceful resolution to the present humanitarian crisis, any gains for Western countries involved in last month’s mission to restore peace to Ivory Coast by ousting Gabagbo have all but evaporated. While the U.S. and Europe remain distracted with counter-terrorism concerns, now is the most opportune time for Western powers, including France, in coordination with an international coalition led by a UN operation to get serious about peace in the Ivory Coast. Only then may a genuine effort at nation-building follow.

Photo Credit: DFID