Recent protests in the Ivory Coast have their roots in three conflicts threatening the country – a disputed election, an on-going civil war and its cocoa industry.
Elections were held in November, after which presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara was widely recognised as the victor, winning by a margin of 54% to 46%. However, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down.
Clashes have been sporadic – Ivorian dissent has been expressed in the form of protests and demonstrations rather than violent clashes. However, many of these clashes end in conflict and bloodshed.
The UN joins many international governments in declaring the elections rigged and false. The Electoral Commission was backed by the UN – however Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council rejected its assertions and kept Mr. Gbagbo in power.
Clashes between the government and its people are not uncommon in Ivory Coast but the UN hoped that the civil war which began in 2002 would end when a fair election was held.
Such elections were planned for 2005, but with violence erupting across the country, they were postponed six times, finally taking place in October 2010.
Clashes erupted after preliminary results showed victory for Mr. Ouattara; the New Force rebels fought Mr. Gbagbo’s Ivorian army.
The Ivorian civil war began in 2002, after an emergency, was passed in a referendum just before the elections due later that year. This law barred those born of non-Ivorian parents from standing for office.
Then presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara represents the principally Muslim-populated northern Ivory Coast. Many from the north are immigrant workers from Mali and Burkina Faso, who work on coffee and cocoa plantations.
Troops mutinied on 19 September 2002, in defiance of this new law. Many of them came from the north, and the root of their aggression is the fundamental debate in Côte d’Ivoire – the definition of an Ivorian.
Former president Robert Guéi was killed on the first night of the violence; Ouattara sought refuge in the French embassy as violence spread. His home was later burned down by government forces.
Both sides accused the other of acts of violence and treason, but the government’s argument seemed to have more sway with Ivoirians. Many in the government-controlled south have only state-run TV and radio to turn to for news.
When northern Ivoirians objected to being discriminated against, saying they were refused national identity cards and voting rights, they marched on Abidjan.
They were stopped by French troops; the BBC reports that the rebels would have seized control of the country had they been allowed through. Since then, the country has been divided.
The official government forces are the National Army – aka FANCI – and have been formally equipped for this war since 2003.
Also on Gbagbo’s side are the Young Patriots, various nationalist groups mainly from the south.
They are joined by mercenaries from Belarus and Libera.
The New Forces (or Forces Nouvelles, FN), control 60% of the country and are the main opposition force.
French forces, under Operation Unicorn and UN mandate, have a military presence aimed at controlling the conflict. An ECOWAS unit, under the UN, is also stationed in Côte d’Ivoire.
Rather than taking the form of an all-out total war however, the Ivoirian civil war resembled many which came before it in Africa – smaller skirmishes between tribes and peoples. Foreigners, Muslims and northerners were attacked, for the most part.
The UN estimates 365 deaths since the election results were released in November.
Most importantly though, investigations have unearthed evidence which points towards extrajudicial executions, tortures and arrests.
Mr. Gbagbo has enlisted foreign mercenaries to help Ivoirian troops; this in a conflict against those deemed to be ‘outsiders’ in his country. He’s also ordered UN and French troops to leave and cities Côte d’Ivoire’s sovereignty as a reason.
After international governments agreed that sanctions were the best way to curb Mr. Gbagbo’s influence in the country, The Central Bank of West African States froze his assets. This would make it difficult to pay his soldiers, civil servants and mercenaries – the hope is that they will resign or mutiny in response.
Further sanctions were imposed to control the cocoa industry.
Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest grower – accounting for 40% of the world’s supply, with an estimated output of over 1.3 million tonnes of cocoa.
This war threatens to destabilise West African output as well – the region as a whole makes up 70% of the world’s supply.
Cocoa futures have broken through their 30-year highs, Reuters reports. The UN fears what an all-out civil war could do to supply; this amidst calls from Ouattara for a temporary export freeze and statements from Gbagbo that the industry should be completely controlled by the government.
State television quoted Gbagbo as saying: “The export of products in the coffee and cocoa sector are to be carried out by the state, by those mandated by the state, or holders of an exporters’ licence under terms determined by the decree.”
Attacks on northerners, who grow and maintain coffee and cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire, have added to this. Further concerns stem from allegations that Côte d’Ivoire employs child labour in its cocoa production. Several reports and documentaries show that cocoa traders smuggle children from nearby Mali and Liberia, sometimes below the age of 11, to work on the fields.
Conflicts between the FN and army are ongoing, with the FN gradually claiming more territory in the west. Whether this violence will escalate into another civil war, or if this will be a war of economics, is as yet unknown.