After more than a month, the brinksmanship that has brought Ivory Coast back to civil war continues.
Two men, opposition leader Alassane Ouattara and incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, claim to be president. Most electoral observers, the country’s electoral commission, the United Nations, and most world leaders (aside from Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe) have proclaimed Mr. Ouattara the winner of the Nov. 28 runoff election. The vote count itself shows that Ouattara won with an 8 percent point margin.
Mr. Gbagbo clings to his office mainly through the loyalty of his powerful southern-based party, and through the country’s army. The radio and TV stations he controls have been accused of inciting hatred and violence against Ouattara’s party and ethnic group, and against the UN.
African Union mediators have come and gone, but the crisis continues.
West Africa’s strongest regional forum, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) threatened to remove Gbagbo by force, but that threat has done little to convince Gbagbos. Of course, this might have been because Nigeria’s own military is involved in several peacekeeping operations already, notably in Sudan’s Darfur region, and that one of the other major ECOWAS members, Ghana, said that it would not send troops.
So small wonder that the news headlines about possible “solutions” in Ivory Coast have taken on a boy-cries-wolf quality. Mr. Ouattara’s envoy to the United Nations, Youssoufou Bamba, announced yesterday that there was hope for peace, after Ouattara opened the possibility of a coalition government with Gbagbo’s party, if Gbagbo himself steps aside.
Gbagbo "has followers, he has competent people in his party. Those people, we are prepared to work with them in the framework of a wide composite cabinet," Mr. Bamba told the BBC's HARDtalk television news program this week.
Efforts to whittle down Gbagbo’s hold on power – freezing his access to state bank accounts, for instance – have done little to encourage his cooperation in ending the crisis.
Fighting between soldiers loyal to Gbagbo and supporters of Ouattara broke out last week, with an estimated 33 deaths, according to hospital officials in Abidjan. Even the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Hague, Netherlands, warned that his court might investigate the former president, if violence grew too severe.
So what does it take to get Gbagbo (or for that matter, any African leader) to step aside once they've lost a bid for reelection?
Author Paul Collier, in an opinion column in the Guardian newspaper, suggests the best and perhaps only tool strong enough to remove Gbagbo is his own army. Weaken loyalty between the army and the leader – perhaps by cutting off army salaries – and the leader might see it in his best interest to look for accommodations in the Cote D’Azur instead of Cote D’Ivoire.
Despite the happy rhetoric of African solutions for African problems, there is no solution in sight, unless it comes from within Ivory Coast itself.