5 Things You Need to Know: The Ivory Coast Conflict

No side has a monopoly on massacre.
This picture was taken and brought home by one of the world's luckiest photographers. (Photo: STR New/ Reuters)
Apr 5, 2011
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

In our global state of perpetual war, it’s hard to keep track of everyone who is fighting, and what any of them hope to win. For instance, Ivory Coast has hardly any oil; 70 percent of its people are engaged in some form of agriculture, specializing in cocoa beans. It seems that chocolate isn’t worth waging war over, and yet Ivory Coast's people are vigorously killing one another.

The U.N. estimates 200,000 refugees have fled the fighting, many spilling into and threatening to destabilize Liberia. In one day alone, 800 seeming civilians were slain at a Roman Catholic mission in the western cocoa-town of Duekoue.

Here are five things that separate Ivory Coast violence from military operations in Libya, Algeria, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Mexico.

One: Voters take their elections seriously in Ivory Coast. Intermittent post-election violence had peppered the West African nation’s largest city, Abidjan, for the past four months. U.N.-certified results showed Alassane Ouattara as winner of a November 28 presidential vote, but incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept the role of outgoing leader. Rather than concede defeat in a contest he had won, Ouattara mounted an offensive in the northern boondocks and marched toward the seat of power—Abidjan. Troops backing the presidential claimant entered Abidjan, intending to seize the presidential palace, occupy military bases and take control of the state TV. Civil war broke out.

Two: Ethnic tensions play a role in Ivory Coast’s killings. The nation is roughly split between the Muslim north (Ouattara’s stronghold) and the Roman Catholic south (Gbagbo’s people). Approximately 40 years ago, Muslims streamed in to work on Ivory Coast’s thriving cocoa plantations. Unfortunately, world cocoa price’s tanked in the 1990s. That useful immigrant workforce of 5 million transformed overnight into an invading peril. Roving gangs began killing “foreigners”—mostly Muslims, many third-generation immigrants—on plantations and in shantytowns. The country descended into civil war, but has enjoyed a shaky peace since 2007.

Three: Being ill is not a current livable option in Ivory Coast. According to Doctors Without Borders, the one hospital still open in Abidjan treated 273 emergency patients over the three weeks leading up to the civil war; 225 of the patients had bullet wounds. Women and children died. The country’s banking system, business networks, and transportation routes are paralyzed. Supply of medicines in several regions of the country is seriously disrupted.

Four: Fighting fair is not in vogue in Ivory Coast. From the BBC: Each side used foreign mercenaries and accused the other side of using foreign support. Both sides have burned their victims alive. "You burn one, we'll burn 10," said one Gbagbo supporter. YouTube videos show the horror: Piled bodies writhe in pain after a beating. Burning tires and tables are placed on top of them to form an evening bonfire. The police—clearly in shot—help out the crowd. Women protesting peacefully are mown down by canon fire from a convoy of government vehicles, leaving seven dead. U.N. helicopters firing on Gbagbo’s loyalists are all that prevented heavy weapons being turned on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.

Five: The war is over. Or not. On Tuesday April 5, his foreign ambassador and the French prime minister said Gbagbo was negotiating his surrender. Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner, is demanding that Gbagbo sing a letter acknowledging defeat at the polls. It’s unclear if Gbagbo intends to remain in the Ivory Coast, if the new president will push to prosecute Gbagbo for war crimes in the International Court of Justice, if Gbagbo will be granted safe passage to Angola (where a 27-year civil war killed more than a half million people), or if the negotiations are a bluff.

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