IOVRY COAST: Unparalleled defiance against international will in recent years

30 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, published on on 30 March 2011

In an article on the Ivory Coast dilemma in its 10 March issue, The Economist had a fantastic and realistic lead that tells today’s tragedy and tomorrow’s story in one paragraph: “WHILE the rest of the world’s attention has been fixed on the upheavals to the north, the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, France’s former colony in west Africa, has been getting rapidly nastier.”

Gerard Araud, French ambassador to the United Nations, on 25 March said in New York, ‘We are very close to a civil war in Abidjan’, as he introduced the resolution by France to ban the use of heavy weapons in Abidjan. More than its impact perhaps it may be helpful if only the UN knew what it would in case the forces of Laurent Gbagbo fire their heavy weapons.

Indeed, in spite of every thing, violence has been escalating with so many lives lost and international will transgressed with impunity. The outcome has been, the UN recently reported, loss of 462 lives since mid-December and over a million driven from their homes in Côte d’Ivoire. The source of the problem is the outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who had lost the election to Alassane Ouattara still clinging in office.

A variation of such situations is very common in Africa, with the winner easily kicked out and the loser continually staying in office. However, this thing in Ivory Coast is harsh, hard to believe it is real and still Gbagbo is standing firmly against every means the international community has utilized to persuade him to leave office, save the use of armed force. In the meantime, his crimes and vanity have become immeasurably high, if only seen what he has been responsible for in the month of March 2011 alone.

Massacre of unarmed women

This month, Ivory Coast has witnessed a great deal of outrage. As a student of the international system and also at its service for some time, I am puzzled what would excite to action the international community more than the massacre of women armed with leaves from tree branches in a peaceful protest, demanding respect for their rights and the rights of their children to live in peace.

The women believed they are half the society and as mothers, daughters and sisters, thinkers of society’s good, they thronged in the thousands in an all-women march on 4 March in the Abobo area of the commercial capital, Abidjan. In Gbagbo’s view, their mistake was: “Some also had brooms and leaves in their hands. They were cursing the rule of Gbagbo, putting a spell on him: ‘If you were born of woman, step down; if not, you can stay.’ It is said that was why the soldiers were scared (Guardian, 11 March).

Six of the women were gunned down at the spot by army machine gun. The seventh one died in hospital. Aya Virginiie Toure, principal organizer of the demonstration said, “Gbagbo’s forces have shot at men but we never thought they would shoot at women.” But it happened!

Apparently, a week later, on the International Women’s Day, hundreds of women rallied in Treichville, in southern Abidjan, dressed in black to condemn the killing of seven women and demanding the election loser to vacate the office of the president. Similarly, hundreds of women dressed in white and wearing red headbands marched in the Koumassi area of Abidjan, according to AFP reporter, to pay homage to the women killed in Abobo.

An eyewitness Toure told David Smith of the Guardian: “The women were whistling and singing and chanting and dancing to encourage Mr Gbagbo to leave. Tanks and Humvees showed up – the women started to applaud them because they thought they were there to support them. But suddenly they started shooting at them. One woman had a baby on her back. She died but the baby survived.

“When I got there it was terrible. People were going mad on the ground. Women were crying and there was blood. Some women were running and others were putting clothes on the corpses. They were saying, ‘Gbagbo killed us! Gbagbo is killing us! Please help, please help? … ‘The first feeling I had was guilt. I had called all the mothers and sisters into the street and I felt guilty for what happened. I spent all the day crying, wondering what are we going to do now?’” That is the question the international community has not been able to answer so far—coco is not as dear as oil!

In response to the March 8 massacre, a statement from the United Nations read, “With the increase in human rights violations and barbaric practices, there are grounds for wondering whether President Gbagbo is still in charge of his forces and supporters. UNOCI believes it is imperative to end this spiral of violence by finding a definitive solution to the political impasse which stemmed from the post-electoral crisis” This is a part of the United Nations (UNOCI) that is asking the member states of the Organization to take action.

UN shot at on land and air

UN helicopter was shot at on 28 March, as it flew within Ivory Coast airspace on a reconnaissance mission. The UN condemned the action, urging Ivorian “authorities concerned to do everything in their power to identify those responsible for yesterday’s firing at its helicopter so that they can be held accountable for their action.”

It shows how helpless it has become, in spite of the Chapter VII mandate it enjoys, much of which is being played down this day. I was furious about the inaction in Ivory Coast, when I wrote the article ‘UN PICKS THE GAUNTLET IN RARE USE OF FORCE ( At the time, I was also hopeful, when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke in a similar manner warning the Gbagbo camp reminding them that the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) are “authorized to use all necessary means to protect” UN staff, the government and civilians at the headquarters.”

AU Peace & Security Council paves the ground for military action

More importantly, in its 11 March session the African Union’s Peace and Security Council adopted a decision, with specific provisions. It has created great expectations for more serious action. The decision, among others, includes:

    (a) Calling on Laurent Gbagbo to leave office;
    (b) Confirming Ouattara as the legitimate winner;
    (c) Calls on Ivory Coast’s constitutional council to swear Ouattara in as president, without specifying a date;
    (d) Calls on Ouattara to appoint a government of national unity and reconciliation, which would include members of Gbagbo’s party.

On the same day, the Security Council of the United Nations welcomed this decision and called “on all parties to comply immediately with the decision of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, adopted at its 265th meeting at the level of Heads of States and Government. They further affirm their readiness to impose measures, including targeted sanctions, against all parties who obstruct the attempts of a speedy and peaceful resolution of the crisis, further obstruct the work of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and other international actors in Côte d’Ivoire, and commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Although there is nothing new in both provisions above, the only thing that the AU decision does is to give rise for hope for concerted action by throwing it back to the lap of the winner of the next election in Nigeria in April, preparing the ground for military action well ahead of time.

On his part, on 25 March President Goodluck Jonathan said, “I believe we can pass a resolution to request the UN to take a little more serious steps on the Cote d’Ivoire situation.” While this unending ping-pong is on, in the meantime the tragedy in Ivory Coast will continue against the backdrop of international silence.

As far as the United Nations is concerned, at least, it should do a little bit more to protect citizens that are being killed in front of its 10, 000 or so forces. The concern by all sides that any military action would escalate civil war may be legitimate. However, it seems it is overblown, possibly to avoid intervention. The much-anticipated effect of economic sanctions does not seem to bite. Therefore, the choice for the international community is now either firm action to stop the looming humanitarian disaster or inaction in the face of wanton destruction of lives.

Even, the UN Human Rights Council has been very late in sending an independent international commission of inquiry to Côte d’Ivoire (mid-December to announcement of the decision on 28 March) to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding allegations of serious rights abuses. In comparison to other conflict situations, the response was a bit faster, especially in Eastern Europe, even long before the Security Council was involved!

The bitterness in Ivory Coast, once Africa’s beautiful and rich countries, is deep. The NPR captured it as expressed by a mourning Ivorian a funeral, struggling with himself to make sense of what this is all about: “I heard someone say that God has left Africa,” said Yacouba Ouattara, a relative of one of the dead women. “No. It’s Ivory Coast that God has left.”

Sharing its grief from a distance, I am impelled to say it is also the world that has left Ivory Coast!

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