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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Côte d'Ivoire > Côte d’Ivoire: Is War the Only Option?

Côte d’Ivoire: Is War the Only Option?

Africa Report N°171 3 Mar 2011


Côte d’Ivoire is on the verge of a new civil war between the army loyal to the defiant Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge he lost the November 2010 presidential election, and the “Forces nouvelles” (FN), the ex-insurgency now supporting the winner, Alassane Ouattara. The vote should have ended eight years of crisis, but Gbagbo, staged a constitutional coup and resorted to violence to keep power. The result is a serious threat to peace, security and stability in all West Africa. The African community should not be influenced by the support that Gbagbo enjoys from a part of the population that has been frightened by the ultra-nationalist propaganda and threats of chaos of a militant minority. It must act decisively, not least to defend the principle of democratic elections, but key countries show signs of dangerous disunity. Any proposal to endorse Gbagbo’s presidency, even temporarily, would be a mistake. His departure is needed to halt a return to war.

The November election was intended as the culmination of a painstaking peace process that began after the September 2002 rebellion and was endorsed by many agreements, the latest being the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (OPA) of March 2007. Gbagbo, like all other candidates, took part in the election on the basis of a series of compromises reached on all aspects of organisation and security.

There is no doubt Ouattara won the run-off. The candidate of the Union of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (Rassemblement des Houphouétistes pour la démocratie et la paix, RHDP) had a greater than 350,000-vote margin over Gbagbo’s The Presidential Majority (La majorité présidentielle, LMP) in a credible election certified by the UN, as provided for in the agreement Gbagbo himself signed in 2005 and that several UN Security Council resolutions confirmed. In an attempt to reverse the result, however, the Constitutional Council – the country’s highest court but entirely controlled by the Gbagbo camp – claimed to have discovered widespread violence and fraud – largely imaginary – in seven departments of the northern and central regions where Gbagbo had received less than 10 per cent of the votes in the first round. It thus cancelled more than 660,000 second-round votes, enough to raise his total from 45.5 per cent to 51.4 per cent.

To secure its hold on power, the regime has accompanied brazen manipulation of state institutions with a strategy of terror designed to brutally stifle any challenge from the coalition supporting Ouattara. According to the UN, the human toll already exceeds 300 dead, in addition to dozens of rapes and an unknown number of abductions and disappearances by security forces.

Gbagbo’s power grab was clearly premeditated. He declared a curfew on the eve of the run-off, a forerunner of the lockdown on Abidjan, the centre of power; recalled from the northern and central regions for no reason before the voting ended 1,500 soldiers whom he had deployed by decree to maintain electoral security; and obstructed the work of the independent electoral commission (Commission électorale indépendante, CEI). Having campaigned on the slogan “we win or we win”, he and his inner circle had no intention of relinquishing the presidency, regardless of the vote count. Driven by a political mysticism that blends nationalist discourse, virility and religiosity, Gbagbo is relying primarily on blackmail and targeted violence against civilians perceived as Ouattara supporters to remain president, even if his authority is unlikely to extend beyond the country’s southern third.

The international community needs to realise that the illegitimate president is prepared to fight to the end, even if it means throwing Côte d’Ivoire into anarchy and economic disaster. If he succeeds, he will take with him all hope of good neighbourly relations, stability and economic progress in West Africa. Apart from the need to respect the will of Ivorians, the stakes include the security and well being of millions in the region and whether peaceful, democratic transfer of power is to be safeguarded on a continent where eleven elections are scheduled in 2011. Neither Gbagbo’s obsession with power nor Ouattara’s presidential ambition can justify the potential costs. But while the one made a decision that was accompanied by a campaign of terror he knew would bring his country to the brink of civil war, the other won a fair election with the support of a political and social coalition that is more representative of the country’s diversity.

The African Union (AU) panel of five heads of state – representing each region of the continent – seeks a peaceful solution to the crisis but is in dangerous disagreement. The AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN have all recognised Ouattara as president-elect and asked Gbagbo to leave. South Africa, supported by Angola, however, has put forward power-sharing proposals that are dangerous because they contradict the original African consensus. Their positions on a crisis whose complexity they appear not to have fully grasped are compromising their credibility on the continent and beyond and undermining trust between ECOWAS and the AU. Gbagbo is the undisputed sole architect of Côte d’Ivoire’s desperate situation. That and the need to achieve the installation of Ouattara must be the fundamental starting points of the search for a successful strategy and implementing tactics.

The most likely scenario in the coming months is armed conflict involving massive violence against civilians, Ivorian and foreign alike, that could provoke unilateral military intervention by neighbours, starting with Burkina Faso. It is ECOWAS territory, not southern Africa, that faces a serious threat. The regional organisation must reclaim the responsibility for political and military management of the crisis, with unequivocal AU and UN support. Meanwhile, Ouattara should take the initiative to launch a dialogue between RHDP and LMP (but without the irreconcilable Gbagbo), with a view to achieving a reconciliation agreement and a transitional unity government that he would head as the democratically elected president.


To President-elect Alassane Ouattara:

1.  Propose an agreement for unity and national reconciliation that, with Ivorian Civil Society Convention (Convention de la société civile ivoirienne, CSCI) involvement, would lead to:

a) a pact between the RHDP and LMP to manage the country until the legislative elections, possibly including vice-presidents from both movements;

b) a moderate-sized High Council for National Reconciliation of individuals, including women and civil society representatives, who have had no involvement in partisan politics for five years and no record of human rights abuse for ten years; and

c) a transitional government of national unity, as proposed by the High Council, with you as president.

To outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo:

2.  Accept electoral defeat, step down and do not oppose an LMP-RHDP dialogue for an agreement that could also guarantee him a dignified exit and personal safety.

To Prime Minister and Defence Minister Guillaume Soro:

3.  Instruct the Forces nouvelles to respect the ceasefire throughout the country.

To former President Henri Konan Bédié, member of the RHDP:

4.  Reaffirm full support for President Ouattara and participate in the negotiation of a political agreement for national reconciliation.

To the chief of general staff of the army (FDS-CI), the chief of staff and commanders of the Forces nouvelles (FAFN) and commanders of all other military forces:

5.  Recall they will be held responsible for serious crimes committed by their forces, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and other violations of international law.

To the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court:

6.  Remind all Ivorian parties, including commanders of the FDS-CI, militia leaders and commanders of the Forces nouvelles that they will be liable for acts committed by persons placed under their authority or acting upon their messages of hate and violence.

To the UN Security Council and member states:

7.  Fully support the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI); encourage it to fulfil its mandate by all necessary means and urge France’s Licorne force to fully support UNOCI.

8.  Ask the UN panel of experts on Côte d’Ivoire to give the sanctions committee a new list of Ivorians who should be subject to individual sanctions, as well as the names of individuals and legal entities providing financial support to the Gbagbo regime since December 2010.

9.  Request the Secretariat to immediately begin talks with political and military authorities of ECOWAS regarding deployment of an ECOWAS-led military mission.

10.  Refrain from positions not supportive of African action to resolve the crisis and protect civilians.

To the French Government:

11.  Respond positively and promptly to any UNOCI requests for military support in accordance with Force Licorne’s Security Council mandate.

To the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Côte d’Ivoire:

12.  Have UNOCI and Licorne secure a place outside Abidjan and Forces nouvelles-controlled areas to host peace talks between RHDP, LMP and civil society representatives.

13.  Ensure that UNOCI, within its means, tolerates no obstruction to its movement and does not hesitate to use proportionate force to protect civilians under imminent violent threat.

14.  Arrange preventive deployment of armed patrols in the communities most vulnerable to serious human rights abuses by any military or militia forces, whether in city neighbourhoods, villages or areas held in the west by the Forces nouvelles.

15.  Strengthen UNOCI’s capacity for information gathering, and analysis as well as documentation of human rights violations, including by taking security measures to restore freedom of movement of UNOCI officers in charge of the human rights division.

To the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC):

16.  Adopt individual sanctions targeting individuals associated with Gbagbo’s illegitimate regime and fully support all ECOWAS decisions, including sending a military mission.

To the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS):

17.  Deploy rapidly a military mission with a mandate to help UNOCI protect civilians; help create a safe environment for a process to end the crisis and implement a reconciliation and national unity agreement; intervene immediately in case of hostilities to prevent regional contagion; and block maritime access to Abidjan and San Pedro to prevent delivery of weapons and ammunition in violation of the current embargo.

To ECOWAS Member States:

18.  Announce that members of the unrecognised Gbagbo government and his entourage are persona non grata in their territory and break all economic and financial ties with public or semi-public companies, particularly in the oil and energy sectors, controlled by that regime.

To the Government of Liberia and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL):

19.  Provide surveillance of the border with Côte d’Ivoire to ensure the safety of refugees and prevent the passage of mercenaries and weapons.

To the Governments of Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and relevant UN agencies:

20.  Update contingency plans and be prepared to accommodate massive refugee flows.

To the European Union and the U.S.:

21.  Maintain their sanctions regimes against natural and legal persons connected to the illegitimate Gbagbo government until he yields power.

Dakar/Brussels, 3 March 2011

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More Information


Côte d’Ivoire after the Violence

23 May 2011: Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director, talks about President Alassane Ouattara’s intention to investigate alleged atrocity crimes in Côte d’Ivoire during the post-election violence, as well as the prospects for peace and the security situation in the country.


La Côte d’Ivoire après la violence

23 mai 2011: Gilles Yabi, le directeur du projet Afrique de l’ouest de Crisis Group, nous parle de l’intention du Président Alassane Ouattara d’enquêter sur les atrocités présumées commises en Côte d’Ivoire durant les violences post-électorales, ainsi que des perspectives de paix, et de la situation en matière de sécurité dans le pays.