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Cote d'Ivoire: Crisis Facts & Debates

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 28, 2011 (110228)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

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, 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 (

(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 the count.

Among the issues for which clear answers are definitely not available:

(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

++++++++++++++++++++++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 winner.

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 Gbagbo.

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 with bullets.

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 Ouattara.

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 should go".

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 regime.

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, /

    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 /

    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.

  • Cartographiquement!
    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 [in French]

    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
    Pierre Sané
    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 West Africa
    Interview with Horace Campbell and Gnaka Lagoke by Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow
    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 not convincing.

(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 ( 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."

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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