The swearing in of Alassane Ouattara as President on May 21 officially ended the political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, which began in November 2010, when incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to accept defeat. However, as emphasized in a USIP public event on April 29, the way forward in Côte d’Ivoire will be very difficult. Social and political reconciliation are two of the top priorities in building peace after nearly five months of violence. Human rights organizations have documented extensive abuses committed by both pro-Gbagbo forces and pro-Ouattara forces. As such, social and political reconciliation must acknowledge the atrocities committed by both sides, in order to reduce the likelihood of future violence.
Furthermore, the structure, purpose, and members of the truth and reconciliation commission promised by Ouattara must carefully consider the ethnic nature of the violence carried out by both sides. The USIP event emphasized that the lack of clarity over land tenure, poor ethnic relations, security sector indiscipline, the lack of economic diversification, and poor political party development, which have played a significant role in fueling political, regional, and religious divisions, must be addressed in order for Côte d’Ivoire to effectively emerge from the cycle of violence that has gripped the nation since 1999.
Armed clashes between supporters of Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo that began almost immediately following the electoral dispute escalated dramatically on March 28, when pro-Ouattara forces took the strategic western town of Duékoué. Concurrently, the latest mediator proposed by the African Union, former Cape Verdian president Jose Brito, was rejected by Ouattara for his alleged bias toward Gbagbo.
From Duékoué, pro-Ouattara forces took the political capital of Yamoussoukro; the port town of San Pedro; and in a pitched six-day battle for Abidjan, forced the surrender of Gbagbo. The violence in Abidjan drew the United Nations (U.N.) and France into a peace enforcement role, where they attacked Gbagbo's military arsenal and equipment, in order to prevent further violence against civilians.
The political stalemate, in which both the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, and the challenger, Alassane Ouattara, claim to have won the November 28 presidential run-off election, continues. In the meantime, the regional response, led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), once united in recognizing Ouattara as the winner, has splintered. Furthermore, the broader African community has rejected ECOWAS' threat of a military intervention to oust Gbagbo and is also divided on their support of Ouattara's claim of victory.
While the financial, trade, and travel sanctions are beginning to be felt by the government and the citizens, they have thus far not succeeded in dislodging Gbagbo. Gbagbo continues to finance the military through special relationships he has with financial institutions and by threatening key Ivorian businesses into paying taxes. Repeated efforts by the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS to negotiate a settlement between the two presidential contenders have also failed. At its January 28, 2011 meeting in Addis Ababa, the AU's Peace and Security Council named a High-Level Panel of Cote d'Ivoire, chaired by the president of Burkina Faso, and consisting of the presidents of Chad, Tanzania, Mauritania, and South Africa, to launch renewed mediation efforts. Gbagbo's staying power derives from his ability to pay the military. Reducing his funds to do so is a critical factor in ending the stalemate. As such, it is imperative that the financial, travel, and trade sanctions be strongly enforced by members of the international community.
While the international community has recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner in the November 28 run-off, Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d'Ivoire's sitting president, is also claiming victory. Thus far, all efforts to end the standoff have failed and there is a very real threat of wide-spread violence. Three possible avenues for resolution exist: a powersharing arrangement between Gbagbo and Ouattara, similar to those in Kenya and Zibabwe; the deployment of a mutually agreed upon mediator, similar to resolution of the Guinean electoral standoff; or the re-run of the elections in the disputed constituencies. A powersharing arrangement would not be wise, as all credible accounts indicate that Ouattara is the clear winner. Similarly, all reports by international observers note that despite some irregularities in the disputed constituencies, results would not have been substantially different, so re-running the elections would not accomplish much. However, a new mediator, who focuses on finding a solution for Gbagbo's departure and reducing his support by the army, will be more likely to resolve to political crisis and avert a return to war.
The presidential elections, repeatedly delayed since 2005, are scheduled to take place on October 31, 2010. USIP, in partnership with the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding - Cote d'Ivoire (WANEP-CI), will be monitoring the political situation for signs of impending violence or areas of tension in 10 key regions and the capital, Abidjan before and after the elections. The project, which is expected to produce its first report in September, will document the tone of political rhetoric; the destruction of public property; incidents of politically-motivated assassinations (or attempted assassinations); ethnic discrimination; and other signs and incidents of political violence. Notably, WANEP-CI will use the information from the observers to develop targeted intervention programs to reduce tension or prevent the escalation of violence.
In February 2010, Cote d'Ivoire's presidential elections were postponed for the sixth time, because 429,000 names on the registry were suspected to be fraudulent-possibly, foreign-names. It revived the questions of citizenship and identity. Things worsened with the dispute on whether the rebel Forces Nouvelles (FN) should disarm before or after elections. USIP, along with the Community of Sant'Egidio, and George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, invited prominent civil society and religious leaders to Washington to devise strategies for resolving the political impasse. The resulting Washington Appeal celebrated Cote d'Ivoire's diversity, urged Ivorians to look beyond the immediate elections to resolve deep-seated problems, and called for a wider role for civil society.
Going forward, there should be a quick resolution to the controversy over the 429,000 names; the FN must have an incentive to disarm, given the rents they collect for controlling the north and the lack of opportunities for disarmed soldiers; and the threat of violence from the political opposition must be defused. The international community can help hasten the resolution of this crisis by funding reintegration programs, supporting efforts to education Ivorians on the rules of citizenship, and assisting with security measures to protect Ivorians with northern sounding names.