Five key reasons Ivory Coast's election led to civil war

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.

Hundreds of Ivorians have died in increasingly heavy fighting that included attacks this week by the United Nations and France.

How did a simple vote turn into this? There are a number of reasons that go back years, even decades.

Disputed election results

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara occupy an area of the Youpougon neighborhood, near a checkpoint at the main northern entrance to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Tuesday, April 5. Ivory Coast's strongman leader Gbagbo holed up in a bunker inside the presidential residence Tuesday, defiantly maintaining he won the election four months ago even as troops backing the internationally recognized winner encircled the home.

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.

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