Grasping for Options in Côte d'Ivoire

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One and a half months after losing reelection, Côte d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo shows no signs of leaving office or of tamping down the resulting  post-election violence that has claimed at least 200 lives. The situtation has shown every sign of worsening, with the United Nations warning that Gbagbo-controlled militias could be hiding mass graves--the result of "death squads" sent to pro-opposition neighborhoods. So far, attempts at international intervention have failed to either persuade or pressure Gbagbo out of office. Though commentators are becoming increasingly pessimistic, some are offering possible options for dealing with the crisis. Here's what they're saying.

  • Military Intervention Not an Option  "The world is fast running out of plays to run," Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson warns. Military intervention isn't a real option because "the population is really quite divided" between Gbagbo and the opposition. "If Gbagbo were removed forcefully, it really could respark civil war." And who would do it, anyway? "Ghana has said it won't be involved in such an action, and Nigeria is preparing for its own contentious elections at home--hardly the time to engage in military adventures abroad. No Western power will intervene--and the only one that cares enough about tiny Ivory Coast to do so is France, the country's much-distrusted colonial power. Paris couldn't touch the current situation without lighting it on fire."
  • Persuade the Army to Abandon Gbagbo  The Guardian's Paul Collier floats the possibility of convincing Côte d'Ivoire's army to threaten a coup. "In much of Africa, the national army is the force most feared by presidents. Leaders go to considerable lengths to keep the army happy, but coups are still common." Though Collier concedes that the military leadership is "close to Gbagbo," he suggests that mid-level officers could lead the coup. It's not clear, however, how the international community would persuade the military and what would happen after the coup.
  • Push Sanctions, Hope He Leaves at Next Election, political science professor Chris Blattman suggests. "Over the next five years, the world can make Ggbabo's life difficult enough that no neighbor will want to repeat his move. This might or might not include an ICC indictment (perhaps left sealed for a little while, with a promise that it will disappear if he is gone by the next election?). Undoubtedly, however, pariah status for Ggbabo would mean pariah status for the nation, and with it economic stagnation and possibly suffering. A hard choice."
  • Maybe We Should Leave Him Be?  Amanda Taub considers the possibility. "It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that this is a Bush v. Gore-type situation: even if Gbagbo was not the winner of the democratic elections, under Cote D'Ivoire's constitution, he is now that country's president for a new term. The Constitutional Council had the authority to decide the election, and they decided it in his favor," she writes. "And, even if those decisions were corrupt and improper, it is not clear that that actually makes them invalid under Ivorian law. If that is the case, should it make us re-think the international community's universal calls for Gbagbo to step down and allow Ouattara to assume the presidency?"
  • Don't Use Force Without Popular Ivorian Support  Chris Blattman emphasizes, "This is a sea of bad options. But no one, least of all the UN, ought to get behind a movement that does not have broad-based citizen support and (ideally) momentum. The absence of large-scale street protests, concerted action by civil society, or even an insurgency is the best argument against international extra-constitutional action. I don’t believe a peacekeeping force or coup can install a government capable of governing peacefully without a social movement to back it up."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.