At least 200 people have died after violence erupted in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
Tensions have been running high in the aftermath of the November 28th elections. The election, intended to unify the country, has descended into farce after the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, contested the vote. Gbagbo has refused to cede power to rival Alassance Ouattara, despite increasing international pressure, and has scorned the possibility of a power-sharing deal.
A decade ago the Republic of Ivory Coast was seen as an African model of stability and prosperity; however, internal strife erupted into civil war in 2002, and since then the country has alternated between peace deals and violence.
Northerners, the majority of whom are Muslim migrant workers, have complained of widespread discrimination; deemed ‘illegible’ to vote, they have also been denied nationality cards. In 2002 a troop mutiny in Abidjan escalated into a full rebellion voicing the discontent felt throughout the country. Thousands were killed.
The country was split into the rebel-held (New Forces) North, and the government-held South. The UN peacekeeping force deployed in 2003, creating a buffer-zone between the north and south. 2010 election was intended to reunite the country, but this now appears unlikely given Gbagbo’s actions.
The UN ratified election gave 54.1 per cent of the vote to Ouattara, compared with Gbagbo’s 45.9 per cent. However, the Constitutional Council, headed by an ally of Gbagbo, annulled the votes from the North, claiming the result was rigged. Ouattara has been confined to a hotel in Abidjan, protected by former New Forces rebels, and 800 UN peacekeeepers. His supporters are growing increasingly impatient and violent.
Reported attacks have been made towards Gbagbo supporters, and the UN states there are currently close to 600 refugees arriving in Liberia every day. Gbagbo’s spokeperson claimed people were fleeing the country after being threatened by New Forces rebels.
Europe, America, and Canada have all recognised Ouattara as the new President, and the US has frozen the personal accounts of Gbagbo, his wife, and close aids. The West African Bank has also blocked his access to Ivory Coast’s funds, which will prevent him from paying the salary of the civil service and, most critically, the armed forces.
These sanctions are seen as the most effective course of action, however, Ouattara has called for foreign action despite Gbagbo’s supporters promising retribution upon foreign nationals should there be a military intervention.
Ghana, which borders Ivory Coast, has quashed intervention fearing reprisals against the 80,000 Ghanaians living in Ivory Coast. France has advised its 15,000 nationals currently resident to leave as a ‘precaution’ after violence during previous unrest.
The Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is acting as a mediator for the African Union, is to travel to Ivory Coast again this week in an attempt to break the deadlock. Should Gbagbo continue to refuse any notion of a power-sharing deal, and Ouattara remain confined within his luxurious prison, it appears likely this first taste of violence will only escalate.
The ever prevalent north-south divide may suck the country back into the civil unrest that has characterised the past ten years for Ivorians.