Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo – who sparked his country's second civil war in a decade when he refused to step down after losing the Nov. 28 elections – is expected to be yanked from his presidential bunker within a matter minutes, hours, or days.
Yet it would be a mistake, analysts say, to assume the end of Gbagbo's rule means the end of violence in Ivory Coast.
The nation's bitter divide runs much deeper than the personal feud between Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara, the former prime minster who once jailed Gbagbo in the 1990s.
"It's going to be a matter of hours or one or two days for Gbagbo himself, but the post-Gbagbo violence could be potentially more drawn out," says analyst Anne Fruhauf at the London-based Eurasia Group consulting firm. "It could be sustained, it could be sporadic, it could come in waves, but it's obviously a very, very tense situation."
For the moment, the situation is cautiously optimistic.
Rebels are inching their way into Gbagbo's presidential residence. The president himself is desperately trying to negotiate safe passage to a nation beyond the reach of the International Criminal Court.
War-weary citizens of the country's main city, Abidjan, are braving the chaotic streets in quick dashes for food and medicine. The state TV station, now held by Ouattara's camp treated them to a movie last night: "Downfall," the historical reenactment of Adolf Hitler's final delusional days in a Berlin bunker.
If and when Gbagbo's bunker door opens and his renegade presidency crashes to an end, these are the factors that will determine the depth of peace in Ivory Coast.
1) What will the youth militias do?
In the run-up to his nation's second civil war since 2002, Gbagbo frantically recruited thousands of young men into armed youth militias like his Young Patriots, often in a single day.
Then there are the mercenaries. Human rights groups have long signaled fears about the use of Liberian guns-for-hire fighting in the country's west. Ivory Coast's most-violent west borders Liberia, and fighting there has been in many ways a repeat of the country's two civil wars, with familiar faces firing on one another.
As recently as Monday, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it has observed recruitment of child soldiers in the region. Fighting there could outlast the civil war.
"On the ground, you're dealing with cities and towns that are awash with small arms and militias that have nothing to gain," says Ms. Fruhauf. "Until recently they had been receiving payments from Gbagbo, so they are worried about their livelihoods. They almost have an incentive to cause some kind of trouble."
2) How professional will the rebels be?
Following mass defections in the nation's army (controlled until recent days by Gbabgo), a band of former soldiers from the country's north now constitutes the state fighting force. The rebels patrol Abidjan, occupy the official capital, man border posts, control the ports, and are currently looking to pry the president from his hideout.
Yet the same force may be responsible for horrifying killings in western Ivory Coast where as many as 800 civilians were murdered in a single town, according to the Red Cross. Bodies have been scattered onto roadsides. Villages – including international soccer star Didier Drogba's hometown – have been burned down.
Ouattara and rebel leaders have denied responsibility for those massacres. His ability to prevent a round of reprisal killings could depend on how much he can control his army – a force whose loyalty remains in question.
3) What will Gbagbo do?
A full 54 percent of Ivory Coast's voters elected Ouattara in November. The other 46 percent didn't – and many of them believe Ouattara is not a true Ivorian due to a 1995 court ruling that found that his mother was born in neighboring Burkina Faso. (Ouattara and his supporters have always maintained that the ruling was an unjust ploy to prevent him from running in elections until this November.)
In the next few weeks, Ouattara will have to disarm thousands of youth who take him for a foreign occupier. He will have to dissuade popular opinion in Abidjan and abroad that he – a US-educated former International Monetary Fund economist – is a Western marionette installed using military support from France.
The one-time prime minister will have to create a unity government that brings together opposing militia-backed ministers from throughout the divided country. He will send civil servants to do their jobs into offices whose computers have been carried away. He will have to exert himself as the leader of a country where French soldiers, 51 years after independence, still tip the scale.
An old colleague of his, who asked not to be named, described the economist as a technocrat, not a politician with the rhetorical chops to create a nation out of two warring halves.
The only person who can help him accomplish that, many fear, may be Gbagbo.
"The terms of Gbagbo's surrender still matter," Fruhauf said.