John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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ECOWAS in Cote d’Ivoire

by John Campbell
December 28, 2010

ECOMOG soldiers stand ready to welcome French troops in Tiebissoude on February 18, 2003. (Luc Gnago/ courtesy Reuters)

The international community, led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is raising the possibility of foreign intervention to break the seeming deadlock in Cote d’Ivoire between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.

Outside the country, there is unanimity that Ouattara is the legally elected president, and that Gbagbo must go. However, Gbagbo enjoys substantial support within Cote d’Ivoire, based on religion, ethnicity, and his skillful use of repression. Using his position, Gbagbo is credibly threatening civil war, including threats against citizens of other West African states residing in Cote d’Ivoire, such as Burkinabes and Nigerians, if ECOWAS seeks to displace him by force. The Nigerian community, for one, takes this threat seriously and has publicly urged Abuja to remain neutral in the Cote d’Ivoire crisis.

To bolster his position, Gbagbo has also generated significant “indigenous” antipathy against “immigrants” from other West African states that are associated with Ouattara. (Many of them in fact were born in Cote d’Ivoire.) His spokesperson and the press that supports him are raising the specter that outside intervention is a “plot” orchestrated by France or the United States to get him out. His popular strength is illustrated by yesterday’s general strike, organized by Ouattara’s supporters. The strike was universally observed in Bouake, Ouattara’s territory, not at all in parts of the country favorable to Gbagbo, and only sporadically in Abidjan.

Outside military intervention risks igniting a civil war with the possibility of massacres of foreigners. In addition, as some thoughtful Nigerian press commentary is noting, previous ECOWAS interventions in Sierra Leone and Liberia lasted a long time and may have prolonged the conflict. For the international community, the principle with respect to Cote d’Ivoire should be first ‘do no harm,’ with recognition that outsiders will have little impact over what develops. The Obama administration should be cautious about encouraging outside military intervention as a solution to the current standoff.

(Photo: Luc Gnago/ courtesy Reuters)

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by dos santos

    ECOWAS idea of planning to use force to remove an elected president Like Mr . Gbagbo from power will be disaster. Ecomog peacekeepi ng forces were subdued by a small fiction ( ULIMO-J) in 1996 and heavy weapons were captured in bomi , Liberia . You are just dancing to the drum beat of the west without weighing the merits and demerits of the ivoirians situation . Remember when your neighbour house is on fire you should help to off it but not to bring gas to increase the fire . smith G. wulu LIberia

  • Posted by Drex

    What is unfolding is watched by many African present and future leaders. Kenya and Zimbabwe set and example that Gbagbo is following. When one man can defeat the international community, the truth and inflate human and economical suffering to his people and can probably get away with it, we have to ask ourselves what kind of world we leave in. No wonder the African continent is screwed up!

    The guy is emboldened knowing that ECOWAS does not have the stomach to get rid of him. Watch out for his next move!
    My point here is; think of the future of the continent. We are setting the pathway for resolving future elections in Africa. Any idea of what could have happened in Kenya and Zimbabwe were dealt with differently?

  • Posted by Benard

    Gbagbo has to be removed because the Kenyan and Zimbabwe cases have already set bad precedents that Presidents do not have to cede power whenever they lose elections. All they have to do instigate violence and then the international community pressures the winner/opponent to agree to the formation of a coalition government. If this trend spreads, Africa shall be afflicted with conflicts every election cycle when a President rigs elections but still loses as is the norm in 95% of the countries in Africa.

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