Missteps by the international community in Cote d’Ivoire

At first, West African states, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations spoke with one voice, insisting that Ouattara had won the election and that a power-sharing agreement (of the kind that has failed miserably in Kenya and Zimbabwe) was not an option. Such unanimity countered Gbagbo’s strategy of playing for time, hoping that African-European or inter-African schisms would provide him with some sort of mitigated legitimacy. Economic moves by the eight West African states that share the CFA currency to cut off the Gbagbo government’s access to banking channels was innovative and undercut Gbagbo’s ability to pay the salaries of civil servants and soldiers.

Yet as the endgame neared, many members of the international community acted in ways that were dangerously counterproductive. For example, when Gbagbo was hiding and refusing to give up power, one can think of few statements more unhelpful than the declaration by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, that no one in Côte d’Ivoire could receive amnesty from war crimes prosecution. With one sentence, Moreno-Ocampo ensured that Gbagbo would reject any negotiated solution and instead fight to the end.

Similarly, France’s decision to send its own attack helicopters to accompany those from the United Nations in raids to destroy Gbagbo’s weaponry in Abidjan was equally misguided. UN forces had a clear mandate to act from UN Security Council Resolution 1975; France on its own may or may not have had the same mandate, depending on how one reads Points 6 and 7 of the resolution. This is a legal question that Russia — concerned, as usual, that the Security Council not breach state sovereignty — says it is investigating. Such open and direct French participation in the attack directly played into the rhetoric of the Gbagbo regime, which long portrayed the Ivorian conflict as a proxy war waged by the French to reassert neocolonial control over Côte d’Ivoire.

Wise words from Mike McGovern, writing in Foreign Affairs. See the full article.

His book on war in Cote d’Ivoire should be coming out soon.