While the world’s attention shifts to the North of the African
continent, the political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has faded into the
background, but remains unresolved. Entering its third month of
political stalemate, the country was high on the agenda as members of
the African Union (AU) General Assembly met on 30-31 Jan. in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia.

In light of the disputed presidential elections,
the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) has agreed on the creation
of a ‘high level panel’ headed by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould
Abdel Aziz and made up of Presidents of Burkina Faso, Chad, South
Africa and Tanzania. They have been tasked with devising a way out of
the impasse within a month. The summit has urged a ‘negotiated
solution’ to the conflict, but unity amongst its participants is

2010 elections

Having been delayed six times
since 2005 the first round of Ivorian elections took place on 31
October. Following the result – in which the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo,
secured 38.3% of the vote, Alassane Ouattara, the leader of the
Rassemblement des républicains (RDR), gained 32.1% and ex-President
Henri Konan Bédié received 25.2%—a run-off between Mr Gbagbo and Mr
Ouattara was scheduled for 28 November. This went ahead despite
electoral violence and inflammatory comments by both candidates with
electoral observers reporting that the election had largely been free
and fair.  The Commission Electorale Independent (CEI) declared
Alassane Ouattara winner with 54.1% of the vote versus 45.9% for the
incumbent Laurence Gbagbo.

The results were disputed by Gbagbo’s
supporters who claimed electoral fraud in Ouattara’s heartland of
support in the north. Alongside these protests the president of the
Constitutional Council, Paul Yao N’dre – largely viewed as a Gbagbo
sympathizer – overruled the Commission, annulling all votes from seven
northern departments and declared Gbagbo winner with 51.45% of the vote
versus 48.55% for Alassane Outtara. Both candidates proceeded to
declare themselves president, underwent simultaneous inaugurations and
began forming parallel administrations.

Violence erupted on 16
December as Ouattara demonstrators fired on security forces backed by
Gbagbo. Since then, more than 296
have been killed
in ensuing clashes between rival supporters. There
have been allegations of severe human rights violations (the UN has
been blocked from investigating sites of alleged mass graves),
incidents of continuing hate speech and UN officials have said they are
by both sides’ adoption of ethnicity for political
purposes. The UNHCR has declared some 35,000 internally displaced
persons (IDPs) and have warned of a degenerating refugee crisis. Some
38,000 people have fled to neighbouring Liberia and 600 Ivorians a day
continue to cross the border.

Gbagbo’s position

international community (with the UN, EU and US at its fore) has
repeatedly condemned Gbagbo’s refusal to relent power, declaring
Ouattara the election’s legitimate winner and demanding that Gbagbo step
down. The AU, the UN and the regional grouping, the Economic Community
of West African States (ECOWAS) have all since suspended Ivorian
membership from their organisations and have imposed economic and travel
sanctions. ECOWAS, supported by the AU, has already threatened
military intervention by foreign troops to restore democracy and, while
the likelihood of a full-fledged display of ‘legitimate force’ is not
yet certain, the UN has agreed to bolster its original 9000-strong
force with a further 2000 troops along with two attack helicopters.

his part, Mr Gbagbo continues to retain control of the state’s
administrative apparatus. As key international banks suspended business
in Abidjan, the Gbagbo administration took control of operations by
decree on 17 February. Gbagbo retains full control of tax revenues,
customs duties and income from cocoa, coffee and oil production – worth
an estimated $180m per month. In efforts to deprive Mr Gbagbo of these
sources of income, Mr. Ouattara appealed for a one-month suspension of
cocoa deliveries to world markets. Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s top
producer of the crop making up a third of the market. With six cocoa
exporting houses currently heeding calls for a strike, industry sources
say that its effects, alongside the international sanctions imposed,
are beginning to bite. There have also been warnings, however, on the
long-term effects of such measures on the 700,000 Ivorians whose
livelihoods depend on the crop. As an estimated 30,000 tons of cocoa
remain on farms (due for export in the 2010/11 season), hundreds of
local farmers have protested against EU sanctions, burning
of their crop against EU policy. Locals have also warned that
the smuggling
of cocoa has surged

Potential for war?

While Mr
Ouattara remains barricaded in the Golf Hotel, Abidjan, protected by
900 UNOCI troops, Gbagbo continues to occupy the Presidential palace.
He has demanded the complete withdrawal of UN troop presence which,
according to him, is acting in complicity with the rebels, has lost the
confidence of civilians and is violating its neutrality by interfering
in the state’s internal affairs. UN and French peacekeeping forces are
increasingly being drawn into the conflict as the violence escalates
and there have been reports of Gbagbo loyalists shooting at UN
and ransacking provision trucks.

The danger remains
that the crisis will degenerate again into civil war. Following an
attempted coup d’etat by a section of the Ivorian army in September
2002, an on-off civil war raged in Côte d’Ivoire until the signing of
the Ouagadougou Political Accord (OPA) in March 2007. The rebels which
later united under the Force Nouvelles (FN) had failed to gain control
of the state, but they had captured key northern cities effectively
dividing the country between North and South. According to the
Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) both sides retain the capacity for
violence, albeit asymmetrically. Gbagbo remains bolstered by the
support of army chief Philippe Mangou and retains control of an elite
4000-strong force. ‘Well-trained, -paid and fiercely loyal to Mr Gbagbo’
this force has ‘everything to lose’ should he fall from power and
‘would be a formidable
to any ECOWAS intervention force’.

On the other hand,
the FN, still controlling the north since the war and loyal to Mr
Ouattara, have said they are on maximum alert and are ready to fight
alongside any ECOWAS intervention force. As a rebel arm, the FN has
worked to re-establish itself as a northern government with its own
bureaucracy and provision of services. Its leader Guillaume Soro has
engaged politically, having acted, until the October election, as Prime
minister alongside President Gbagbo. Crucially, however, the process of
demobilising, disarming and reintegrating rebel and militia forces
(DDR) remains incomplete. On the eve of the election, Human Rights
Watch lamented the failures of the DDR process in Côte d’Ivoire with
many thousand yet to even enter the process. Citing a ‘lack of will’
and mistrust between State militias and the FN rebels, officials
denounced the demobilization ceremonies as a ‘charade’ and
reported that since 2007 UNOCI had only collected a total of 715 arms
from rebels and militia forces combined. Commentators urged that
Ivorian disarmament before people went to the polls was critical: cases
in the Republic of Congo, the DRC and Angola demonstrated the dangers
of proceeding with elections prior to completing disarmament processes.

Standing firm?

Hitherto, mediation efforts since the election have made
no progress. In early December, the AU’s attempts at talks via former
South African President, Thabo Mbeki, produced no results. A follow-up
mission comprising the president’s of Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra
Leone, as well as a visit by former Nigerian president Olusegun
Obasanjo, got no further. Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, the
current designated AU official mediator, accused of bias by Gbagbo, has
also proved ineffective in bringing the two sides to talk.

Gbagbo is doing all that he can to draw out the process and
prolongation of the crisis has seemed to work in his favour.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for a united approach to the crisis
urging states at the AU summit to ‘preserve our unified position,
act together, and stand firm against Mr Gbagbo’s attempt to hang onto
power’. Nigeria is one state that maintains this line, still denouncing
Gbagbo’s intransigence and pressing the case for military
intervention. ‘It is clear,’ the country’s foreign minister Henry Odein
Ajumogobia wrote,
‘that Mr. Laurent Gbagbo is determined to defy and treat the entire
international community with absolute disdain. In the interest of global
peace and security and in order to preserve and deepened (sic) the
growing democratic culture in Africa, he cannot, he
must not be allowed to prevail.

But the longer the crisis
is drawn, the more divisions amongst Gbagbo’s opposition have fostered
and the once unequivocal support for Ouattara has waned. Gbagbo has
received implicit backing from Zimbabwe and Angola which have denounced
the impartiality of the international community and the proposed
intervention force by ECOWAS.

Uganda too has broken ranks with
the initial AU line. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, alongside Jacob
Zuma of South Africa has argued against the UN’s ‘simple’ conclusion
that Ouattara is the President-elect of Côte d’Ivoire and has urged
that the vote be investigated. Tamale Mirundi, the Ugandan presidential
spokesman, spoke to Uganda’s
Daily Monitor
newspaper, quoting Museveni: ‘Uganda differs with the
UN and international community on Ivory Coast. 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.’ ‘If elections are
contested’, he continued, ‘you don’t just declare one candidate a
winner. You must investigate thoroughly what went wrong.’

The AU
position seems increasingly divided. With states ‘back peddling’ on
their initial, more unified position, the AU has been forced to pull
back on the severity of its demands. A comparison of AU statements on
the crisis is illustrative. The communiqué of the 252nd meeting of the
AU’s PSC on 10 Dec. 2010 which ‘Strongly
Mr. Laurent Gbagbo to respect the results of the election and
to facilitate, without delay, the transfer of power to the
President-Elect’ stands in contrast to its most recent statements.
While reiterating its recognition of Ouattara as President-Elect, the
Council’s most recent communiqué of 28 Jan. makes no specific demands
of Gbagbo, and states, instead, that it ‘reaffirms
the necessity
of a rapid peaceful solution which will allow for the
preservation of democracy and peace, through the respect for the will
of the Ivorian people, as expressed on 28 November 2010.’ Until now,
the AU has demanded Gbagbo’s departure, but Jean Ping, head of the AU
said he was ‘no longer sure things should be presented in these terms’

The politicisation of “Ivorité”

Why, we might
ask, are sub-Saharan Africans not rallying the same calls for change
that are ringing through the cities in the north of the continent? The
region certainly has its fair share of leaders whose long years in
power are frustrating and resented. Côte d’Ivoire’s current battle for
the Presidency, however, is more complex than one of a ‘dictator’
hanging onto power.

The causes of Ivorian tensions are broader
than immutable tribal and sectarian differences. As convincingly argued
by Patrick
for openDemocracy, explanations of the conflict in Côte
d’Ivoire are often too narrow – degenerating into culturalist theses
that cite ethnicity and religion as the cause of all Ivorian ills. The
fact remains, though, that Ivorian identity and questions of
citizenship have been central to all elections in Côte d’Ivoire. While
Tunisians, Egyptians and the ‘domino’ states that they have inspired,
have rallied together in nationalist spirit, the persisting notion of
Ivorité politicizing ethnic grievances, serves to exacerbate poor
social and economic conditions, but leaves Ivorians divided, un-united
in any demands to improve them.

Ivorité (literally,
Ivorian-ness) emerged as the dominant political discourse of the 1990s
defining southerners as ‘authentic’ Ivorians in opposition to
‘circumstantial’ Ivorians the, mostly Muslim, immigrants and their
descendents from neighbouring countries of Mali and Burkina Faso.
Ivorians vote to improve standards of living and education, but voters
are also reliant on the candidate that will meet and safeguard, their
interests of identity. In many ways, this is the tragedy of politics in
some parts of Africa – while the tropes of a Western-style election are
played out, a harmful political culture of galvanizing, manipulating
ethnic sympathies follows in attempt to gain or retain power.

role of Ouattara in Ivorian politics is indicative of the garnering of
ethno-politicized resentments on both sides. In 1995, President Henri
Konan Bédié found himself in a potential electoral battle against
Ouattara. In actions that were perceived as anti-northern, he adopted
the concept of Ivorité, drawing on the supposed Burkinabé nationality
of at least one of his parents, to challenge Ouattara’s attempts at the
Presidency. He was excluded from the process in both 1995 and 2000.
Currently, under the Ivorian Constitution, Article 35 continues to
stress the importance of Ivorité stating that to sit as President of the
Republic, a candidate ‘must be Ivorian by birth, born
of a father and of a mother themselves Ivorian by birth
. He must
never have renounced the Ivorian nationality. He must never have had
[prévaloir] another nationality.’ This clause has long sparked
controversy: the debate over ‘le
et et le ou’
, referring to the necessity of having one or both
Ivorian parents to legitimately stand has, in the past, dominated
discussion in all circles of Ivorian society.

Since the late
1990s, Ouattara and his supporters have inverted the concept Ivorité to
convert the latent discontent in the north into their own ethnicised
support base
. According to Francis Akindès, an academic at the
University of Bouaké ‘opposition between pro- and anti-Ouattarists was
developed around differentiated constructions of ADO’s [Ouattara’s]
identity in the imagination
of the people’
. Ivorité gave the people of the south a rhetoric
through which to express their fears against excessive migration and,
at the same time, encouraged the peoples of the North to organize
politically in order to resist what they considered to be ‘the spiral
of a process of exclusion.’

Successive governments under Bédié,
Guéi and Gbagbo have blamed Ouattara for stirring trouble from his
support base in the north. Outtara, on the other hand, is regarded as a
defender of this xenophobia. ‘While for his opponents,’ Akindès
continues, ‘Ouattara is the prototype of the “false Ivorian” who is
claiming something for which he has no right, for the inhabitant of the
North he is symbolic
of their loss of status as citizens having been constantly deprived of
his civic rights by governments in the hands of “people from the

In recent weeks, there have been increasing protests on
both sides of the political divide. Tensions are simmering along the buffer
between North and South of the country and fighting in the town
of Duékoué in the West has exacerbated long-standing tensions between
the Malinké and Guéré communities. Predominantly linked to the
ownership of land, these tensions are increasingly politicized in the
current climate with the Malinké considered to be supporters of Ouattara
and the Guéré supporters of Gbagbo.

The ideal “democratic solution?

What, in this, can we say about the nature of
democracy? These elections might have been termed (and accepted by the
West) as ‘free and fair’, but is this politicization of people’s
grievances liberating? A ‘theatre’ of democracy, one might argue, as
leaders cling to power via the manipulation of delicate
vulnerabilities. And why, as both governments and their oppositions
adopt this process, is the West so quick to adopt a winner; to claim
‘our man’? Do we really ‘want’ either?

2011 will be a big year
for African democracy. For some African statesmen, the political crisis
of democracy in Côte d’Ivoire has serious implications as it ‘is
likely to disrupt the trend toward democracy in the sub region and
create a dangerous
for a continent in which twenty presidential elections
are to hold within the next eighteen months.’ For Africans, setting the
right example in a fellow nation prior to elections in Nigeria, Benin,
Chad, Madagascar, Zambia, Cameroon, the DRC, Liberia and Gabon, among
others, is of the utmost importance.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila
Odinga argues that Africa will never have a stable political base
unless a democratic culture of ceding power is internalised. Speaking
at the joint meeting of the PSC on 28 Jan., he urged Gbagbo and
Ouattara to negotiate ‘face to face’ arguing that Africa ‘stands on a knife’s edge’
– that inaction on Côte d’Ivoire was perilous for the continent. The
Ivorian crisis ‘symbolises a great tragedy that seems to have befallen
Africa,’ he said, ‘whereby some incumbents are not willing to give up
power if they lose’. This refusal was ‘disturbing’ in the case of Côte
d’Ivoire, he argued, ‘since there was never internal, regional and
international unanimity among independent institutions about the outcome
of elections in Africa’. While perhaps fitting for Côte d’Ivoire, one
cannot help but hear these words in the context of Odinga’s home state
of Kenya; the 2007 election crisis and the part Odinga currently plays
in the power-sharing agreement that followed.

The AU’s approach is that ‘this is an African crisis
and only Africa can find a durable solution which will serve peace’.
But Africa’s states are divided over how to approach the dilemma.
Prolonging indecision serves only to further divide opinion. Meanwhile
the humanitarian situation within Côte d’Ivoire is deteriorating. Two
Presidents sworn in, defending the identities of a divided nation. What
can a future settlement looks like? Certainly, the recent ‘model’
solutions for this sort of impasse have seen crises settled in the
Kenyan and Zimbabwe power sharing arrangements. But these have merely
allowed incumbents to remain in the power they sought.

On the
other hand, the statesmen and women engaged in addressing Africa’s
complex politics deal with delicate situations that involve avoiding
much greater disasters. ‘Non-Africans only think of democracy’, laments
Jean Ping, head of the AU, ‘Africans are concerned about democracy and
peace; their continent being afflicted by conflict and civil war.’
Despite dropping off the front-page news, the potential in Côte d’Ivoire
for things to get a whole lot worse is very real. Certainly the
five-member panel about to embark on its mission will be constrained by
the fact that both sides of this dispute are armed, determined to come
out as victor and have already begun to battle it out.

Caroline Wells has recently completed her masters in Intelligence
and International Security
at King’s College London. She is a
freelance researcher and currently works for Intelligence Squared. This article has been republished under a Creative Commons licence from openDemocracy.net