In the week and a half since Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo declared himself the winner of a national election that domestic and international observers say he lost, the West African nation has teetered on the edge of violence. As soldiers patrol the streets to quell the rising protests, and the United Nations withdraws hundreds of non-essential personnel for fear of their safety, both Gbagbo and his opponent are claiming to be the rightful leader of the country. Will international groups such as the African Union and European Union be able to resolve the stand-off, or could Côte d’Ivoire risk all-out violence? Here's what's happening now and what regional experts are saying.
- Political Violence Could Become Civil War, The New York Times' Adam Nossiter warns: "Two presidents, backed by two armies, now stare at each other warily. Diplomats say the risk of a return to civil war is real." Nossiter hears murmurs of a bad omen: "The government death squads are back." The BBC also reports that troops loyal to Gbagdo have surrounded the hotel where the opposition party is based.
- Major Test for African Union "The AU, as the continent's leading body, which often intones the mantra of 'African solutions to African problems', must not back down," The Economist urges. "It has done just that several times before when a well-entrenched incumbent has been defeated at the polls but insisted on staying on," such as in Kenya and Zimbabwe. "If Africa's grandest transnational body has too often looked weak and above all loth to promote democracy, then Côte d’Ivoire offers it the chance to prove its worth." But, just in case the AU doesn't step up, the U.S. and Europe "must stand ready to help with cash, diplomacy and peacekeepers."
- Africa Looks Ready to Step In The Atlantic's Howard French recalls his 40 years of reporting on, and often from, the West African nation. Looking over its decline since 1994, he sees some hope. "A tentative hopefulness feels justified here. Tentative because this is far from over. Tentative also because one knows how short the world's attention span tends to be toward African countries." Here are the signs, he says, that the Africa and the world is beginning to expect more from African politics:
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union both endorsed the election's United Nations-certified result, and when Mr. Gbagbo still clung to office, ECOWAS, led by democratic Ghana, and by Nigeria, suspended Ivory Coast's membership in the body. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and is due to hold critical elections of its own early next year. Suddenly, one feels, we are a very far from the time honored mealy-mouthed African response to political outrages on the continent.
- We Should Remove Gbagdo 'By Force,' blogger on African politics G. Pascal Zachary declares. "With each passing day that Laurent Gbagdo refuses to relinquish the presidency of Ivory Coast to the winner in the recent national elections, the case for his forced removal from office grows clearer. ... He must now go, or face arrest by the U.N. forces--about 10,000 of them--keeping the peace in Ivory Coast." He also suggests "the French could arrest Gbagbo, and then send him into exile."
- Europe Union Bringing Economic Pressure Al Jazeera reports that "European Union foreign ministers have agreed to impose sanctions on Cote d'Ivoire to put pressure on disputed president, Laurent Gbagbo, to relinquish power. The EU move will target Gbagbo and his supporters with asset freezes and a visa ban, after he claimed victory in the November 28 vote over challenger Alassane Ouattara."