A few weeks ago in an earlier blog post, we discussed the willingness of African dictators to massacre their own people, and the extent to which they are prepared to commit genocide to remain in power. I quoted an editorial from Next Newspaper, which emphasized this point, and alas, we saw the brutality of Laurent Gbagbo and the Ivoirian military last week when they turned their weapons on a defenseless crowd of protesting women , killing six. This comes on the heels of weeks of clashes between the army and demonstrators loyal to Alassane Ouatarra, the internationally recognized winner of that country’s presidential elections. We did not have to wait long for an answer to the questions I raised in the blog.
In the United States, criticism of Gbagbo’s atrocities against his own people has mostly been from the State department, which issued sanctions and froze some of his assets. Members of Congress have mostly been silent, except for a harshly worded rebuke from Congressman Donald M. Payne (D- N.J), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. In his statement, Congressman Payne, who in February introduced a resolution in the House calling for respect for the democratic aspirations of the Ivoirian people, blasted Gbagbo for compounding the suffering of his people by shutting off electricity supplies to the northern portion of the country, where many residents support Ouatarra. Payne cited multiple reports that highlighted the consequences of this action, which led to the deaths of premature babies in hospitals, and forced residents to turn to unsafe water sources.
A few days ago, the International Crisis Group issued a powerful report making the case for military intervention against Gbagbo’s illegitimate government. According to its assessment, African nations should not be influenced by the support that Gbagbo enjoys from a small part of the population and army, but act decisively to defend the principle of democratic elections. It urged key countries in the region to unite, recalling South Africa and Angola’s attempt to prop-up Gbagbo, concluding that any proposal to endorse Gbagbo’s presidency, even temporarily, would be a mistake.
Meanwhile as the situation in the Ivory Coast continues to deteriorate, the humanitarian condition of its people is fast approaching a crisis level. In neighboring Liberia, a country that is also recovering from a decade-long conflict, thousands of Ivoirians have crossed the border with few resources from either the Liberian government or the United Nations. According to the United Nations, over 30,000 people have crossed the border into Liberia since the post election crisis began. This strains the few resources the Liberian government has as it struggles to provide security in the porous border region between the two countries.