An alternative to military intervention in Cote d’Ivoire?

After the supine response of southern Africa’s governments to Mugabe, Gbagbo must be astonished by what has hit him

That from Paul Collier’s commentary on Cote d’Ivoire in The Guardian. Gbagbo’s initial moves make a lot of sense from a regional and historical perspective. His tenacity may yet be rewarded if international resolve is as low as his opinion of it.

To encourage him out of power, Collier proposes an idea I’ve not heard elsewhere:

Were army officers requested by regional authorities – supported by the international community and Outtara – to remove Gbagbo in an orderly fashion, his position might start to look precarious. After all, a coup can come from many different levels in the military hierarchy.

It is the senior officers who are closest to Gbagbo, but they would know that a coup from lower-ranking officers would spell their own doom – and that lower-ranking officers would find this an attractive strategy for accelerating their careers. If junior officers ousted Gbagbo, their reward would not be an unstable and high-risk presidency, but secure senior military positions.

Therefore, senior army officers might find it safer to pre-empt such a risk, while quietly being reassured by Outtara that they would keep their positions.

This move strikes me as risky, but far less risky than an outside military intervention. It can lead to compromise on both sides, and a degree of power sharing below the executive, without putting someone like Gbagbo visibly at the helm.

At the same time, I worry about measures that create uncertainty, the possibility of rapid power shifts, and first strike advantages to any miltary group. These are the ingredients for chaos. I personally would not push an internal coup without having a well-organized peacekeeping force visibly at hand, ready to deploy.

I hope it stimulates debate. Reader thoughts?

13 thoughts on “An alternative to military intervention in Cote d’Ivoire?

  1. Hi Cris,
    thanks for sharing this. I was really struck when I read Collier piece, so it’s good to debate his “new approach”. To me, what Collier advocates – in essence a “coup d’etat lite” – is an extremely irresponsible idea. Leaving asside the risk / uncertainty element which you mention, and which in a polarised situation like this one, seems rather high, the main problem is the legitmacy of this move.
    Granted politics is a messy business and often you have to make unpalatable decisions, but the reason why (if everything else fails) a UN-led (or ECOWAS-led, UN-sanctioned) international military intervention would be more advisable, is that it would at least command the support of a large part of the international community. Or would Collier advise that this “removal of power by senior officers” is voted at the UNSC?
    I think history has seen too many foreign powers covertly toppling governments in Africa, to think that this can be a less risky, and therefore, more positive thing.

  2. Hi Chris,
    The problem with palace coups is that they often create there own dynamics instead of putting back the country on the tracks of democratic legitimacy. A perfect Ivoirian illustration of the bifurcation induced by a coup, is the Gueï years (1999-2000). What exactly are the incentives for the coup perpetrators to surrender power smoothly? The upcoming elections in Niger (where a junta removed the authoritarian Tandja last year) might contradict my view – yet the military instittion in Niger is totally dependent on French cooperation (as examplified by the latest intervention against AQIM), unlike the self-financed Ivoirian military apparatus and its proxy militias. Actually some degree of knowledge of the internal organisational dynamics of the military might be needed to predict the kind of outcome a coup will yield.

  3. Hello,

    Collier have mentioned a game theory and that such games generally produce satisfactory outcomes. I would like to emphasize the words theory and generally. Perhaps the Collier’s idea is unique when we are talking about Ivory Coast but it seems to me it is just good old policy of looking for somebody who is not so bad as the guy who is in charge right now. It might work. In theory. But if we would like to support such a strategy I definitely agree with Chris’s words: I personally would not push an internal coup without having a well-organized peacekeeping force visibly at hand, ready to deploy. In fact some The questions is: Who will be willing to contribute? I have some doubts the neighboring countries are really able to provide a well-organized peacekeeping force. (in fact, we can think about deploying some well organized force just to put more pressure on Gbagbo).

  4. Based on Eric and my experience working with both Fanci (national army) and FN (northern) members, including junior officers, my sense is that Fanci members’ distrust of Ouattara and his supporters is too high for this to be a realistic scenario. If you’ve followed the tortured attempts to create an integrated armed forces, you can see that such distrust has been successfully cultivated on both sides, and when we talked to even lower ranking Fanci members about integration with FN forces, they wouldn’t even entertain the idea. So some way would be needed to resolve this commitment problem for such a plan to unfold.

  5. I agree with Manuel, totally irresponsible. The idea is absolutely ludicrous and misses the reality of the situation on the ground here. Collier suggests he used the Ivorian case for his new book, but his clear misunderstanding of the situation makes me now seriously question his past research articles and books I have read– and I already had reservations about many of them to begin with. Has he ever even stepped foot in this country? It certainly doesn’t appear so from his suggestions.

    “While getting Gbagbo out is now the key objective”… Shouldn’t finding a peaceful solution be the KEY objective? Yes, getting Gbagbo out of power is something that would be beneficial to many parties, but not having mass slaughter in the street seems like a bigger priority. Unless of course, you don’t really care about the well-being of the Ivorian people and only want to “prove” that “democracy” will win out.

    “..the ethnic divisions underlying the Ivorian election, which are typical of Africa, raise deeper issues. Rule by the majority breaks down if it implies permanent exclusion of some groups from power.” Um. Gbagbo’s ethnic group is NOT a majority group. Collier needs to do some more thorough research. He is entirely missing the layers of conflict here and is misrepresenting the divisions. He follows the common trend of painting all of Africa with the same brush of “ethnic strife”; cause after all, they are all the same, right? (please notice the sarcasm).

    As to the coup idea. Firstly, the ranks are largely stacked with Bete, as Gbagbo spent years purging any unfavorable (to him) persons from the ranks. It would not be an increase in status for them if they install Ouattara, if anything, they would lose status and responsibility in a Jula-run government and lose face among their ethnic groups and within their neighbourhoods. I’m also *sure* that any factions responsible for such a coup would then be willing to immediately turn over power to Ouattara… unlikely. What you’d have then is a power-struggle and perhaps an even more unfavorable dictator installed in his place or military rule that suppresses all opposition and may even take to slaughtering rivals more vehemently. Ambitious armed persons capable of carrying out a coup rarely stop their ambition and remain content to be reduced to mere placation with army postings. Even if certain troops were to agree to such a move, most would certainly not want Ouattara to be in charge and this move would certainly lead to infighting within the army as many are extremely loyal to Gbagbo. This type of move is a recipe for disaster.

    What was Collier thinking with this? Openly calling for a coup in a sovereign country is probably the WORST policy one could make. Any country or international body that supported this would lose all credibility entirely in the diplomatic realm. What kind of precedent would that set?

  6. I agree with this. Still not entirely sure what the answer is, but it sure ISN’T supporting a military coup. How many times are we going to do this before we learn?!

  7. Please let’s not encourage this kind of things. Do people really hate he Ivorian population so much? What on earth have we done to deserve this?
    Why are so many powers invested in the situation of our country????
    Many WHYs and no answer. Instead, we only hear threats…
    Do you all know what is really going on in our country????? This is a cry from the heart, please, check this link, it is packed with documents and information that will for sure CHANGE YOUR MINDS (we hope…):

  8. I am reassured by the comments. I hope the policy makers don’t listen only to one source. In unstable situations, ” games” can turn out right, but also lead to total collapse. On Zaire the mainstay opinion was that ” nothing can be worse than the kleptocracy under Mobutu” . With hindsight, they were wrong: total collapse and chaos was worse.

  9. Rebecca, i agree with the portion of your comments regarding Paul Collier. Collier’s scholarship represents the kind of work that always has everyday citizens thinking that academics and scholars are out of touch from reality. Personally, i have been urging in many cricles that the pragmatic step to take with the problem in Cote D’Ivoire is to form a government of national unity which, interestingly, even the Ouattara camp has started swinging around as of this week. This is largely a rethink on my part because at the beginning of the crisis i was gung-ho about teaching Gbagbo and his kind, now or in the future, a stern lesson about the new Africa. But who am i kidding? What really has changed about politicians in Africa? A Eureka moment during my morning shower brought me to my senses that the only stakeholders in this crisis are the poor innocent Ivoriens glued to the radio and other media each day waiting for a breakthrough in the crisis. The stakeholders are not Ouattara and Gbagbo. They are not suffering. As the crisis continues, they continue to dine on the finest food, drink imported drinks from Europe and probably even continue to bed a wench or two that suits their fancy. All while the poor people continue to suffer. I share Malick’s pain above because i/we went through the same experiences years ago. We suffered and waited while so-called politicians bickered and fought over crossing “Ts” in agreements and documents that they will turn around and instantly violate. In short, a government of national unity guaranteeing peace will bring respite to the people and allow cooler heads to prevail in the longer term. Who would have thought that Mugabe and Tsvangirai would have a meal together or Kibaki and Odinga (who were close buddies before allowing innocent folks to die needlessly for them in 2007). Like a Nigerian friend on a long flight from London to Chicago assured me once…”African politicians were all fathered by the same hen.” They will crow at dawn about things they will deny at dusk. It’s the politicians loss and the poor people of Ivory Coast’s gain to share power and ensure peace. Interestingly, Malick, Ivorien’s are now tasting the bitterness of war after flirting with the misery of others in Africa for so long. They use to call other West Africans “fools” for experiencing war. Foday Sankoh had a villa in Abidjan and so did Savimbi and most of the shady characters in post-independence Africa. Cocody, Abidjan was a melting pot for the bad guys on the continent. Abidjan was the only place in West Africa where South African airlines had landing permit during the apartheid years. All the same, two wrongs do not a right make so let’s help poor Ivoriens achieve peace. Hopefully, lesson learned.

  10. A military coup is probably what Gbagbo fears the most, perhaps even more than an external intervention. That is why he has balanced the strenght of the regular army with an extremely well armed and well trained presidential guard, and mercenaries hired at a high cost.
    According to some reports I read on the most recent issue of La Lettre du Continent, he is spending fortunes with foreign intelligence firms to spy on his army generals.

  11. Isn’t it the case though that the currently implemented attempt to financially asphyxiate Gbagbo so that he won’t be able to pay the army so that the army will depose him is not entirely dissimilar to what Collier is suggesting?

  12. @Kofi– It is similar, and that’s why I see great risks with that as well. You may have financial freezing result in the army siding with Ouattara, or they may just decide to take matters into their own hands in other ways. They were (and I think still are) trying to persuade military and police members over to their cause by offering incentives though I think– so not as much as coup where they come and take Gbagbo out by force, but more a coup in the sense that they abandon him and just start working for Ouattara instead. Either way, I don’t think it run as smooth as imagined.
    I think the main difference is the semantics of it. You can call for sanctions or financial freezing, because that is seen as “diplomatic”, but to call for a “coup” is seen as violent– even if they end up with the same result.