With the imminent demise of Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, all but assured, international attention is shifting to the likely aftermath of the current conflict.
Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of October’s presidential election, appear set to seize the presidential residence in Abidjan. But activists and analysts caution that a military victory will not guarantee a peaceful political settlement.
“The conflict in Ivory Coast has never been between Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo alone,” notes a regional analyst. “The conflict is largely between political and ethnic factions. A strong faction of the Abidjan population and the southern population would remain intractably opposed to Ouattara.”
Gbagbo’s supporters are still convinced that he won the poll, said Dominique Dieudonné, West Africa program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, which suggests that they will not be easily reconciled to a Ouattara presidency.
“The jury is still out” on the dispute’s implications for the region and for the forthcoming string of elections across sub-Saharan Africa, she told PBS’s Newshour.
“Elections don’t necessarily bring stability,” she said, but reassurance can be taken from the early stance taken by the Economic Community of West African States which sent a “strong signal that the rule of law matters.”
The people of Cote d’Ivoire have “paid a very high price for democracy,” said Johnnie Carson (right) the US Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs, and efforts are already underway to prevent further bloodshed.
Democracy assistance groups are preparing the serious and sustained reconciliation initiatives that are urgently required to prevent sectarian violence and promote reconciliation between Ouattara supporters in the predominantly Muslim north and pro-Gbagbo communities in the largely Christian south.
Throughout the conflict, Gbagbo claimed to be the victim of an imperialist conspiracy, led by France, the former colonial power. It was a stance which not only attracted domestic support, but also the sympathy of some other African heads of state.
“His strategy was not dissimilar to Robert Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe – to foment popular anger against the former colonial power and whip up resentment at its continuing dominance in the economy to rally support,” notes one analyst. “He labelled Mr Ouattara a French stooge, complicit in the rebellion that had split the country.”
The last-minute intervention by French military forces is likely to reinforce such chauvinist politics and Ouattara will need to assert his independence early in his presidency.
“The country is severely polarized,” said an Africa analyst. “It looks like we’re going to have a quite a rough few months of transition.” The French and UN strikes “will make it harder to convince the southern population, which has been fed a decade of virulent propaganda, that Ouattara is not a crony of the western powers.”
But it is the reluctance of the continent’s despots to cede power peacefully that often requires and justifies intercession by foreign powers.
“The truth is that our former colonizers would have little excuse to interfere in Africa’s affairs if the likes of Mugabe, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and the Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo observed basic democratic practices,” writes S’thembiso Msomi.
The conflict revealed telling differences between major African states – including the continent’s two largest democracies – in terms of their commitment to democratic norms, writes Adekeye Adebajo, executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa.
Nigeria followed most other West African states in taking a forceful stance in favor of Ouattara, while South Africa was initially ambivalent, reportedly taking advice from Angola, which provided financial and military support to Gbagbo.
“The Angolan tail was apparently wagging the South African dog, until Pretoria belatedly rediscovered its moral compass and recognized Ouattara’s victory,” Adebajo notes.
Reconciliation efforts will aim to revive and build on the pre-election initiatives of Ivorian civil society groups which, as the NED’s Dieudonné has noted, helped to ensure the peaceful conduct of the poll itself. The post-conflict settlement can only benefit from the investment made in years of diligent work by NED grantees, including the National Democratic Institute, to promote democracy after the 2002 military uprising.