Ivory Coast’s long-anticipated Nov. 28 presidential election was meant to help the country move beyond its deep divisions.
Instead, the vote fueled a political stalemate that sucked the country back into civil war.More than four months after voters elected President Alassane Ouattara, renegade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo still refuses to step down even though rebel forces have now confined him to a bunker beneath the presidential residence.
How did a simple vote turn into this? There are a number of reasons that go back years, even decades.
According to the country’s electoral officials – and later, international observers and the UN – opposition candidate Mr. Ouattara won the Nov. 28 presidential election with 54 percent of the vote. Incumbent Gbagbo captured only 45 percent of the votes, but refused to acknowledge Ouattara’s victory, claiming that intimidation and fraud in the pro-Ouattara north of the country skewed the vote.
Instead, Gbagbo used government forces to barricade Ouattara and his camp in a hotel for months while the international community tried to financially pressure Gbagbo into stepping down.
Those efforts failed. The two sides remained locked in a sometimes violent stalemate until the end of March, when Ouattara’s supporters swept south from their northern strongholds, taking control of almost the entire country and arriving on the doorstep of Gbagbo’s Abidjan residence.
At that point, UN and French forces jumped in, bringing us to where we are today: Gbagbo hunkered down in his basement after talks of a surrender failed, with more than 800 Ivorians reported dead and about a million displaced by the violence.
But the election stalemate didn’t escalate into a violent conflict solely because of Gbagbo’s stubbornness. It has deeper roots than that.