A smoldering civil conflict flared up in West Africa’s cocoa-rich Cote d’Ivoire following a disputed Nov. 28 presidential election. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, representing the country’s south, contested the U.N.-certified victory of Alassane Ouattara, from the rebellious north. In 2002 and 2003, northern rebels and southern loyalists — also divided along ethnic lines — waged a bloody civil war, spurring the deployment of a currently 9,000-man U.N. peacekeeping force and lapsing into a tenuous peace.
The November election was meant to bolster the peace process, but in the wake of Ouattara’s widely-recognized victory, Gbagbo refused to cede power. Gbagbo’s security forces and allied armed groups have surrounded the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara and his lieutenants are protected by 800 U.N. troops and hundreds of loyal militia. Crackdowns on Ouattara supporters by government troops have killed a reported 200 people and wounded a thousand more.
“All dictators are alike and all dictators will not negotiate their departure — they are made to leave,” said Guillaume Soro, prime minister under Gbagbo and a Ouattara ally. But West African nations have been slow to use force. Despite an existing political framework and historical precedent for military intervention, Cote d’Ivoire’s neighbors prefer to negotiate for Gbagbo’s departure — a tactic that has not budged the stubborn, murderous incumbent. “The political option is the best,” said Nigerian army Col. Mohammed Yerima.
Besides the U.N., which already has troops on the ground, there are two main frameworks for regional military intervention. The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, of which Cote d’Ivoire is a member, has prepared intervention plans. But the plans are on hold pending further negotiation.