What to do about Cote d'Ivoire

It seems like all rational attempts to end the post election/sectarian crisis in the Cote d’Ivoire has failed.In yet another bid to mediate an end to the crisis, African leaders failed to persuade both sides to negotiate an end to the conflict. President Laurent Gbagbo refused to attend a meeting in Ethiopia, and instead bared the UN from Ivorian airspace in an attempt to stop his rival from returning to his hotel holdout in the capital. Meanwhile the country continues a steady descent into chaos and civil war with fighting reported in many parts of the country, including the capital as thousands of people continue to flee into neighboring countries.

So where does this leave friend of the Cote d’Ivoire trying everything to end the suffering of the Ivorian people? The simple answer is resignation and helplessness in the face of massive atrocities against a defenseless population. The Ivorian leadership has shown itself to be brutal, inflexible, and intolerant in the face of near universal condemnation. I have personally agonized over what I see as sheer recklessness and ineptitude on the part of the Ivorian leaders to spare their people of yet another senseless conflict. It seems like they are prepared to pay any price, and ultimately bring destruction and economic ruin on an already dilapidated country. As somebody who hails from that part of the world, I find it very difficult to comprehend, even unbelievable to see Ivorian leaders, especially Laurent Gbagbo and his ministers blaming everyone but themselves for the country’s woes. I wonder how or why they have not learned anything from the madness a few years ago in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile the African Union remains divided amidst accusations that some countries are actively supplying Gbagbo with arms. Specific countries singled out are Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Angola, with support from South Africa. All of course, have denied any involvement, and continue to play the devil’s advocate for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. ECOWAS on the other hand has failed to muster the courage to intervene by force. Since its initial rhetoric to use “legitimate force” to remove Gbagbo from power all but fizzled, the organization has lost all credibility.

The result is that Laurent Gbagbo has been emboldened, has hardened his stance, and has refused to budge. He has gone from showing signs of accommodation in previous mediation efforts to now refusing to share power with his opponents. When banks decided not to do business with his government, he simply took over their branches and detained local staff. When foreign governments opposed him, he recalled his ambassadors and expelled theirs. Last week, he took over all cocoa and coffee exports in the country from private farmers. As the country’s chief export, cocoa accounts for over 35% of government revenue.

Laurent Gbagbo and his cronies have sacrificed the economic needs, and democratic aspirations of their people in a stubborn and desperate attempt to remain in power. Whether his claims of electoral irregularities are true or not, or whether the international community and those who oppose him are right or wrong, he does have the cards to spare his people the mayhem that is unfolding. Once West Africa’s most prosperous economy, the country has been reduced to poverty and economic ruin. While I am an advocate for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, it has become increasingly difficult to argue against using force to remove Gbagbo and his cronies from power. The massacre of unarmed women during demonstrations last week in Abidjan underscores the length Gbagbo and his thugs will go to remain in power. What a shame.

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.