Ivory Coast: Violence Resumes


September 27, 2012: Despite the installation of a new, elected government sixteen months ago, violence continues in the south. In the last six weeks about a hundred people have been killed or wounded during attacks on army and police installations in the south. The attackers have been defeated in all cases but it appears that the animosity between the Christian south and Moslem north is reviving in this country of 21 million.

Over 3,000 died in the civil war that ended two years ago. There are still refugees across the border in Ghana, most of them supporters of former dictator Laurent Gbagbo. There is still tension between Gbagbo supporters and anti-Gbagbo people in Abidjan (the largest city in the country and home of a third of the population). When the armed supporters of Alassane Ouattara (the northerner who won the election) moved south 18 months ago they sought out the most enthusiastic Gbagbo supporters. In some cases, organized and armed Gbagbo supporters sought out the advancing Ouattara men and fought it out. But, just as in the elections, the Gbagbo forces were outnumbered and outfought. Animosity and resentment by Gbagbo loyalists based in Ghana has led to increased violence in southern Ivory Coast. Ghana has sought to shut down the Ivory Coast rebels but has had limited success.

Abidjan is still largely pro-Gbagbo (who did receive 46 percent of the vote in the 2010 election). There was not a lot of fighting in Abidjan last year but there was an enormous amount of looting and destruction. Thus a lot of people are out of work, as well as out of a home. Most of the victims of this economic destruction were Gbagbo supporters and they are still angry.

Many Gbagbo supporters still have their weapons and their dislike for the northerners. Gbagbo's party, the FPI, is still around and remains active. The country remains divided by tribal and religious differences. President Ouattara has to satisfy demands for justice from his supporters and opponents.

Former president Gbagbo's dirty politics were largely responsible for causing this mess in the first place. When Gbagbo was still in power he apparently believed he could use wheeling and dealing with the UN and peacekeepers to defeat the northern rebels. Many Ivorians were not happy with the division of the country, which they blamed on rabble rousing president Gbagbo.  That attitude led to Gbagbo losing the 2010 election.

During eight years of de-facto division, cocoa production continued in the Moslem north but the exports declined because of the higher costs of production. Many bribes had to be paid to soldiers and warlords, in order for the crop to be moved into the Christian south. The warlords were enjoying all this wealth and were reluctant to give it up without some kind of "compensation." Thus neither president Gbagbo nor the northern rebels had any real incentive to change things. By 2006, the deadlock between the government, in the south, and the rebels, in the north, caused the country to be ruled by warlords and outlaws. Despite pressure from the UN and the presence of 10,000 peacekeepers, the government and rebels would not agree to a deal to share power. The country was drifting into total social collapse, like so many other countries in Africa.

By late 2006, the northern economy and infrastructure had broken down. The northern rebels were split into a coalition of factions. They were only really united when it came to dealing with the government in the south. As a result, the water and electricity systems fell apart in the north, mainly due to lack of maintenance and looting of facilities. There was no government in the north to guarantee the safety of water and electricity facilities, or the staff that runs them, so little was done. President Gbagbo knew this and believed that if he could get the 4,000 French and 7,000 African peacekeepers out of the country he could invade and conquer the north and reunite the country. ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), which supplied most of the African peacekeepers, was opposed to that, as they saw Gbagbo as a corrupt despot and the cause of most of the trouble in Ivory Coast. But ECOWAS and the French had to agree to remove Gbagbo and run the country until elections could be held. This would be very difficult, for Gbagbo had followers who would fight. Gbagbo's basic position, which caused the civil war, was that most of the people in the north, because they were emigrants or the children of emigrants, were not really citizens of Ivory Coast and should leave. There's one major problem with this. The Ivory Coast armed forces and pro-Gbagbo militias in the south were not strong enough to toss out the peacekeepers. And then there's the cost issue. Maintaining 11,000 peacekeepers was expensive. France and the African nations was getting tired of paying for it. Everyone wanted the situation to be resolved peacefully but Gbagbo had made "expulsion of the foreigners" really popular in the south. And the "foreigners" in the north were not willing to go. 

Gbagbo, under pressure from the UN, eventually signed a power sharing deal in early 2007. This was to allow the economy to rebuild and national elections to be held. Despite the peace agreement the most important steps were never completed. The army and rebel militias were not reduced in size and integrated, as per the peace deal. Both sides had less than a year to do this, as well as decide who, in the north, was a citizen (and eligible to vote) and who was not, then hold new elections. The issue of which migrants were citizens is what sparked the civil war in 2002 and, in theory, the peace deal should make many migrants, or descendants of migrants, voters and those voters might be sufficient to get the pro-government, and Christian dominated, party out of power. The north is mainly Moslem. Five years of conflict had done much damage to the economy and infrastructure. Unemployment was about 50 percent and there were still 700,000 internal refugees. 

It's all about money. For decades migrants from neighboring countries were allowed in to help with the booming cocoa business. But when growth in the cocoa industry stalled (and competition from Ghana and Indonesia increased), the Christian southerners sought to expel many of the Moslem migrants in the north. Fighting broke out in 2002, but neither side was strong enough to prevail. That was the situation until last year, when northern forces moved south and deposed Gbagbo by force.

Gbagbo supporters remained organized and served as the official political opposition. But the government believed the southerners were planning a coup or revolution and last month arrests of important southern politicians (who were Gbagbo supporters) began. The arrests continued this month and now we have armed violence returning in the south. There was some violence last month, and it has continued into September.

Gbagbo himself is still imprisoned (in the Netherlands) and waiting prosecution by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

September 25, 2012: The Ghana border was closed again, after having been opened the day before.

September 21, 2012:  Several attacks on soldiers and police near the Ghana border left ten dead (seven of them attackers). The attackers were believed to be supporters of former president Gbagbo and operating from bases across the border in Ghana. In response to this violence the Ghana border crossings were closed.

September 13, 2012: All pro-Gbagbo newspapers have been shut down. The government accuses these news outlets of advocating a resumption of the civil war.  


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