Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The Ivorian Conflict
Greetings all. It's not easy to understand what the conflict in Ivory Coast has been about, so I wanted to do my best to explain what has been going on. In the next post, I will gives more details about what it meant for us, our team and fellow workers in the ministry in Ivory Coast; what is currently happening; and what remains ahead for us all. FYI, this is going to be a long one...
In Ivory Coast, there is a cultural divide. While many news outlets try to sell their stories by playing up the religious Muslim-north vs. Christian-south aspect of the conflict (not that it does not exist, it is simply a minor aspect), the reality is that some people groups from the south feel or claim to be more Ivorian than the people groups from the north. Because of this, the south has dominated both the political and economic life of Ivory Coast for many years.
The north grew tired and discontent with the arrangement and in 2002 there was an attempted coup-d-etat that, while failing to take over the country, did divide the country into the rebel controlled north and the government controlled south. There were sporadic conflicts over the next five years, with many attempts at peace talks. Late in 2007, they had a breakthrough and signed a peace-deal that would lead the country towards elections, that were originally scheduled for 2005. Several years went by with lots of disagreements over the voter role, disarmament of the rebels and pro-government militias and other various areas. Election dates were set and missed. Finally in 2010, they held elections with the UN overseeing.
The Election Confusion
In Ivory Coast, the presidential election consists of two rounds: round one includes all the various political parties' candidates and then round two is between the top two receivers of votes. Prior to the first round all opposition parties to the sitting president, Laurent Gbagbo, agreed to support the leading opposition candidate. The first round of elections went very smoothly with President Gbagbo receiving the most votes and his long time political rival, Alassane Ouattara, coming in a close second.
Even before the second round began, things started to get interesting. The reason being that Ouatarra comes from the north and finds his greatest support there. Gbagbo has long accused Ouattara of supporting and/or even orchestrating the 2002 coup-d-etat. In the previous election in 2000, the government refused to allow Ouattara as a candidate. This was one of the "last straws" for the north that led to the rebellion in 2002.
Nonetheless, the second round voting went relatively smoohtly, with some reports of voter intimidation by both sides. The election was overseen by the Ivorian Electoral Commission (EC - made up of one representative from each political party) and the UN. The election results were to be announced before the following Wednesday by the EC with the approval of the UN. The EC was delayed (reportedly by Gbagbo's party representative) and announced the results after the deadline, though the EC was fully supported by the UN and its decision. However, the election also must be ratified by the Constitutional Council and since the EC went past the deadline, legally the decision fell to the CC, who was headed by a close ally of Gbagbo. The CC claimed there were irregularities in the northern districts and canceled nearly all of the northern votes, declaring a narrow victory for Gbagbo.
The Electoral Crisis
Two men, both proclaiming themselves president and both having themselves sworn into office, claimed authority over Ivory Coast. Ouattara was recognised and supported by all international bodies (UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS, USA, etc.). Gbagbo however, had the support of the majority of the national Ivorian military and police heads. The international community imposed all kinds of sanctions on Gbagbo and his allies, yet Ouattara had no real access to funds nor government resources. While the sanctions did slowly chip away at Gbagbo's power and control, it also devastated the already slumping Ivorian economy.
With Gbagbo's grasp slowly slipping, military and hired mercenaries started persecuting known and suspected supporters of Ouattara. In the three months following the elections, hundreds and very possibly even thousands of people were either killed, kidnapped or disappeared at the hands of the most radical supporters of Gbagbo. Ouattara supporters were not free of similar tactics, but the numbers paled in comparison to Gbagbo's. In the western part of the country, ethnic violence was rekindled with various groups divided by their allegiance to the two men. Thousands of people began fleeing their homes, many in the west crossed the border into Liberia to refugee camps. Thousands also began leaving Abidjan as the violence continued to increase. As so many other events happened throughout the world (revolutions, earthquakes and tsunamis), the Ivorian conflict became forgotten and no progress was made, yet the humanitarian crisis grew daily.
In February the banks closed due to Gbagbo's desperation for cash. Not only did people fear violence, but people started running out of cash as well. Few people received salaries since the start of the new year. Food itself became a precious commodity. Even though security problems were primarily localized in Abidjan and the west, everyone was greatly affected.
Gbagbo continued to tighten his grip for power as some of the military refused to report to work by calling on youth militias to rise up. They continued and intensified the persecution of Ouattara supporters and began also attacking african foreigners and UN forces. There were forces that arose seeking to protect segments of the population and took control of pro-Ouattara areas of Abidjan. The conflict continued to spiral out of control, with Gbagbo and his leaders openly calling for attacks on foreigners and "enemies" of his regime.
The country was quickly moving towards an all-out civil war, yet no outside international body were prepared to intervene. Tens of thousands (nearing 100,000) of people had already been displaced from their homes. The economy had been strangled and the political crisis was dead-locked. Though the international community used lots of strong words, they failed to move Gbagbo from his position.
The Breaking Point
Finally, four months following the election the former-rebel forces from the north (who had been reinstated as a part of the national security forces... it's complicated) and who supported Ouattara began a campaign to take the country and force Gbagbo out of power. They quickly moved throughout the country, meeting little to no resistance from Gbagbo's forces, many whom either fled their posts, hid or went to regroup in Abidjan. Within three days the forces now called FRCI (Forces Republican of Cote d'Ivoire) controlled over 95% of the country and were heading towards Abidjan.
As the northern forces arrived in Abidjan, hundreds of thousands of people fled. There was intense fighting for several weeks, all the while people in Abidjan fled or holed up in their houses, some low or without food or water for anywhere from 5-10 days. The UN and France became involved in the conflict to help protect civilians by taking out Gbagbo's large artillery weapons... which also helped the FRCI take control of Abidjan and eventually arrest Gbagbo on April 11th. By the end of the fighting, nearly 1.3 million people had been displaced from their homes (1 million from Abidjan alone) and around 3,000 civilians killed (which both sides were guilty of).
Since Gbagbo's arrest, politically things have started to turn around. Little by little the military leaders and political allies of Gbagbo have publicly recognized Ouattara as the new Ivorian president. In fact, Ouattara was sworn into office last week by the very same man who had once declared Gbagbo the winner. However, the Ivorian economy remains devastated and the humanitarian crisis remains extremely serious. Few people have returned home and a spirit of mistrust lives on. The banks finally opened in the last 10 days with many people rushing to get their salaries for the first time this year.
Ouattara has an unfathomable task before him, trying to unite the country to once again make Ivory Coast a beacon of peace and prosperity. The economy that has ground to a halt looks to the cocoa harvests and prays for good yields and good prices. Many displaced and broken families search for help and the healing of physical and emotional wounds. And almost everyone prays to God that the hurting and pain will end and healing will begin.
Our Ivorian clinic administrator put it best, "well, it can't get much worse so it has to get better." The Ivorian people are mostly tired of the conflict from the past ten years and ready to move forward. There are deep wounds needing to be healed on both sides, but thankfully Africans are an incredibly resilient people. Somehow through it all, most african people remain optimists. The economy will turn around, people will be able to return home soon, hatred will fade away and tomorrow will be better. May God grant them the peace they so earnestly seek in their daily lives and the lives of their children. May God give us the strength to take part in the realization of the Lord's prayer in Ivory Coast, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven..."
Labels: culture and society