Laurent Gbagbo appears set to plunge his country back into civil war.
For the last several months, the Ivory Coast has been crawling back to civil war. Now, both sides are actively bulking up their forces in what looks like an alarming calculation that this country’s crisis will get worse before it gets better. The Ivory Coast has been divided between a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south for the last decade. The fragile detante that restored peace in 2005 is shattering. Thousands upon thousands are fleeing the capital today in fear of exactly that.
In the southern city and capital of Abidjan, “thousands” of youth have joined the army, heeding a call from outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, the man who lost November’s presidential election. The drive has been led by Gbagbo’s notoriously militant youth minister, Blé Goudé, who is under U.N. sanctions for violating the country’s peace agreement and impeding the U.N. peacekeeping missionin the country. He told Reuters, “Our country is under attack, so we’re organising ourselves to re-establish order … The legal way to do it is to put them in the regular army.”
Mr. Gbagbo lost an election late last year to challenger Alassane Ouattara but has refused to step down despite mounting international pressure. Most of the world, except Angola, Zimbabwe and a few autocratic presidents here and there, have condemned his refusal to step down.
Angola and Zimbabwe are arming Gbagbo. He is also busy recruiting militias within Abidjan and in neighboring Liberia. Mr. Ouattara, his challenger and Cote d’Ivoire’s legitimate president, has the backing of Forces Nouvelle, the rebel outfit that has controlled northern Cote d’Ivoire for most of the last 10 years. A blood bath between the two forces appears inevitable.
So what can be done? The AU’s mediation efforts have failed. The UN mission in Abidjan has been sloppy. ECOWAS, the regional bloc remains divided over the Ivorian issue. Confusion reigns. At the onset of the crisis most of those concerned wanted to avoid any conflict. But that calculus is already off the table. Now it is not whether there will be conflict, but how bad it will get. I say it is about time ECOWAS sent in troops (despite Ghanaian opposition) to take out Gbagbo before he becomes too entrenched in Abidjan.
This will be a lot less costly than waiting to send in a peacekeeping mission after hundreds of thousands have died.