Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Ivory Coast Faces Unrest as Gbagbo Refuses to Step Down From the Presidency

African Union Website: AU in a Nutshell
NY Times: Defeated Ivory Coast Lender Moves to Seize Banks
Bloomberg: Ivory Coast Rivals Preparing for War, Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga Says
NPR: Ivory Coast Leader Tries to Seize Regional Bank
NY Times: Ivory Coast: Incumbent Seizes Utility
NY Times: Diplomacy Again Falls Short in Tense Ivory Coast Standoff

In an election on Nov. 28, the Ivory Coast elected challenger, Alassane Ouattara, the winner of its presidential race. Since the Election Commission announced Ouattara the winner, the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, has challenged the results of the election, claiming voter fraud. However, the United Nations certified the results, and nearly all foreign governments have recognized Ouattara as the rightful winner. The results of the election, coupled with many people believing that Gbagbo will refuse to step down from the presidency, have caused unrest within the nation. World leaders worry that both sides of the political rivalry are preparing for war.

The United Nations has reported that there have been at least 271 people killed in violent clashes following the election. The Human Rights Watch recently accused Gbagbo-loyal militia and security forces of targeting, murdering, and raping Ouattara supporters. Witnesses report that Gbagbo’s security forces either willfully ignored or joined militia forces in murdering Ouattara supporters. The Gbagbo administration and its allies deny any association with the incidents.

Recent events indicate that Gbagbo is unlikely to step down peacefully. This week, Gbagbo ordered that the regional central bank’s offices be seized. Prior to the bank’s seizure, Gbagbo was operating without government funds; in December, the Central Bank of West African States, a bank that groups several Western African countries’ treasuries, denied Gbagbo access to the nation’s accounts and made it necessary for him seek Ouattara’s approval before the bank would allow withdrawals. Without approval, Gbagbo will not be able to pay for, and therefore control, the nation’s military and security forces and civil servants after the end of his legitimate term. Following the seizure, the Gbagbo government ordered local bank employees to follow its instructions, rather than those from the bank’s headquarters in Senegal. The bank protested the seizure and immediately ordered the offices in the Ivory Coast to shut down until further notice. The following day, Gbagbo ordered the seizure of the country’s electric company.

Gbagbo’s refusal to step down from power, along with his seizures, suggests an unstable future for the Ivory Coast. Other African countries are working hard to prevent the Ivory Coast from civil war. Recently, the African Union, an organization that provides a forum for African countries to discuss matters of common concern and that helps the continent effectively promote its own interests, appointed Kenya’s prime minister to mediate the crisis. The African Union, which consists of 53 nation members, has temporarily suspended the Ivory Coast’s membership and urged Gbagbo to transfer the presidential powers and office to Ouattara immediately. The European Union has prohibited almost all trade with the Ivory Coast in order to pressure Gbagbo to end his presidential term. Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWA), a group of 15 Western African countries whose mission is to promote economic integration through the region, has threatened to use force to remove Gbagbo from the head of state if he refuses to leave. Many West African heads of state are currently lobbying both the U.N. and the United States to back ECOWA forces if such action is needed to oust Gbagbo.

1. Should the U.S. back ECOWA if force is necessary to oust Gbagbo?
2. What else should other African countries do to persuade Gbagbo to step aside for Ouattara?

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