Ivory Coast: The Throw Down


December 29, 2010: Defeated in the November 28 election, outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, is losing control, and support. His appeal to tribe and nationalism is wearing thin in southern Ivory Coast. The UN has called his bluff, and many Gbagbo supporters are backing away. A demonstration  by his party youth wing today, was called off. Other Gbagbo supporters have been seen fleeing the country. The countries of West Africa have threatened invasion, and UN peacekeepers have orders to fight back if Gbagbo supporters try to use force.

In the ten years that Gbagbo has been president, he has built a patronage fueled power base. His income is more from extortion than formal taxation, and depends on foreign aid as well. But it has enabled him to put thousands of armed, or at least loyal, men on his payroll. The UN economic sanctions threaten this, as does talk of invasion by other West African nations. Gbagbo agreed, five years ago, to hold UN supervised elections, and abide by the outcome. He is being held to that promise. The U.S. has put travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his close associates, but France is believed to have offered prosecution-free exile if Gbagbo just leaves. Some African nations have also offered Gbagbo a "safe" (from prosecution for theft or murder) exile. Gbagbo was a political exile in France during the 1980s. He also received his PhD there.

Despite the threat of civil war, cocoa beans are still moving from northern plantations to southern ports, for shipment to foreign buyers. Cocoa is the foundation of the country's prosperity, and, for the moment, trumps nationalism, tribalism and politics in general.

December 28, 2010: Outside the southern city of Abidjan, a pro-Gbagbo crowd attacked a convoy of three UN trucks, and injured one of the peacekeepers. Later in the day, the presidents from Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, and Benin, plus officials from other West African states, met with Laurent Gbagbo and told him to leave, or else.

Gbagbo's security forces are a collection of police, troop units and militias. In the last month, pro-Gbagbo gunmen have killed at least 200 people, and wounded many more. This intimidation campaign has caused over 20,000 people to flee the country, and for anti-Gbagbo forces to get armed and organized. The 4,000 French and 7,000 African peacekeepers refused Gbagbo's order to leave the country. Worse, some of Gbagbo's armed supporters are deserting, wrecking the plan to invade and conquer the north and reunite the  country. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), which has supplied most of the peacekeepers, now threatens to send in more troops and crush the pro-Gbagbo forces. Gbagbo may not be impressed, but a growing number of his supporters are.

December 27, 2010: A general strike called in the southern city of Abidjan, by pro-Ouattara forces, failed. The pro-Gbagbo forces are strongest in Abidjan, making retribution most certain.

December 24, 2010: Foreign banks, and providers of foreign aid, cut off Laurent Gbagbo's access to state funds. Most of it anyway, and Gbagbo is not left with enough cash to pay his key followers. Alassane Ouattara now controls all this money, and income, along with the state TV, which has been ordered to cease broadcasting pro-Gbagbo propaganda. Instead, the state television, which had been assuring state employees that rumors of missed paydays were false, simply went off the air. This put many Gbagbo supporters into a panic.

December 23, 2010: The UN officially recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 election. Only officials (beginning with the Ivory Coast UN delegation) approved by Ouattara will be recognized by the UN, and most of the international community.



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