How the Crisis in the Ivory Coast is Dividing the African Union

As the world’s attention is focused on the situation in Libya and unrest in the wider Arab world, there have been renewed clashes in the Ivory Coast, both in the commercial capital Abidjan, and in the western region dubbed as the “Wild West.” There are reports of many people killed and thousands on the move, as forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo clashed with rebel forces aligned with “elected” president Alassane Ouatarra. With the Ivorian crisis presenting a serious dilemma, and even dividing African countries on the right action to take, both camps in the conflict have refused to budge, claiming to be the rightful winners of the disputed elections, and subjecting their people to untold atrocities.

I came across a variety of opinions on the Ivorian crisis, highlighting the serious divisions on how best to resolve the stalemate. Here are a few:

Military Option?   

Among the various options has been military force to remove incumbent president Gbagbo from power. There was even a military threat from ECOWAS, the West African regional grouping headed by Nigeria to use “legitimate” force to oust Gbagbo if he refuses to step down. However, the move towards military action will not be easy, and the leaders in the region know this. Nevertheless, Tony Bello of the Ghana Chronicle points out that after failed attempts of peaceful resolution, it is doubtful that Gbagbo will step down without the use of military force.

However, there are serious limitations and constraints for a military option. Robert Mukondiwa of the Zimbabwe Herald highlighted the risks of military action, noting that the political crisis had not yet moved beyond the Ivory Coast’s borders, that Ecowas had never before led a military intervention against a sitting government, and that Nigerian troops would be asked to carry the biggest burden and suffer the greatest casualties.  

South Africa, the continental powerhouse, is seeking a different approach to resolving the crisis. President Jacob Zuma called for restraint and urged Ivorian leaders to promote reconciliation and unity, adding that a rush to military action will be counterproductive, and could even lead to civil war. The country has even stationed a warship along the West Africa coast, drawing criticism from regional leaders of South Africa’s attempt to prop-up Gbagbo. A recently issued communiqué on South Africa’s position argues for a peaceful resolution involving consultation with the United Nations Security Council, the AU, and Ecowas.

Backing South Africa’s stance are a number of African leaders, most notably Dos Santos of Angola, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. According to Museveni:

The UN's recognition of Alassane Outtara as winner of Ivory Coast's disputed presidential ballot is premature. There is need for a serious approach that involves investigating the (electoral) process, including registration of voters and who voted. There should be investigations, not just declaring who has won. No, no, no.

Meanwhile, as the squabbles continue between the pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouatarra camps of the African Union, the situation on the ground remains precarious. Just last week, the new forces rebels who control the north of the country siezed a major town in the west from the government army,effectively ending the fragile ceasefire that have held since 2003.  Five African leaders from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, South Africa, and Tanzania were appointed to mediate and resolve the crisis. As they stall, bicker, and argue among themselves on the right course of action to take, the Ivorian people continue to suffer grave human rights abuses at the hands of their own leaders.

For more on the violence and human rights abuses in the Ivory Coast, see Amnesty International’s report here.


Mohamed Jallow is a former Colin Powell fellow. He graduated with a BA in International Studies in 2008, and currently pursuing and MPA at City College. He is a program associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.