March 25th, 2011
12:43 PM GMT
As international attention focuses on Libya, there is criticism that another African country, which is also sliding into civil war, has been abandoned to its fate.
The intractable violence in the Ivory Coast continues unabated.
West African leaders say that the situation is a "regional humanitarian emergency."
The U.N. peacekeeping mission warns that forces loyal to former President Laurent Gbgabo are using heavy weapons to target civilians.
Alassane Ouattara, the man recognized by African leaders as the winner of last year’s presidential election, blames the U.N. for not doing enough to protect civilians. It is estimated that hundreds of ordinary Ivorians have been killed since November’s disputed election, including defenseless women protestors mowed down by government forces and then aired on YouTube.
Ouattara remains holed up in an Abidjan hotel, protected by loyalists and U.N. troops. The longer he waits to take power, the longer the intractability of the situation.
The political stalemate between the two would-be presidents has paralyzed the country. Schools are closed. Aid agencies estimate that up to a million children might be on the streets, not attending classes. Many worry that some of children will be kidnapped by militias and forced to become child soldiers.
The free press has all but been shut down. The health system seems unable to deal with the wounded, frail and sick.
Refugees are streaming across borders, creating a crisis of displaced terrified people. There are troubling reports of xenophobic attacks against West African immigrants.
Ivory Coast is also the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Prices have spiked with the instability and are hovering around 30-year highs.
With all this to consider, the Nigerian foreign minister recently accused the international community of double standards by imposing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians but not doing anything to guard against attacks in Ivory Coast.
From Sierra Leone to Liberia to Burkina Faso, countries across West Africa view the fragility of the situation in Ivory Coast as a serious threat to regional stability.
They have advocate more robust engagement. Nigeria, a leader in the regional grouping ECOWAS, has threatened military action if Gbagbo does not go.
In a strongly worded communiqué, ECOWAS recently urged the United Nations Security Council to toughen the mandate for the 12,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. They also urged for harsher sanctions against Gbagbo and his supporters.
Meanwhile, over the past four months, the African Union has been mediating.
In a rare show of action, the AU recognized that Ouattara won the presidential election. However, no amount of African shuttle diplomacy has managed to budge Gbagbo out of the presidential palace.
What solutions are there to the crisis? It is highly unlikely African leaders, sensitive to any suggestions of neo-colonialism, would push for international military intervention a la Libya.
If the UN Security Council gives the Ivory Coast resolutions more teeth, then there would be more impetus for a Nigerian-led force marching into Abidjan. Many in Africa might be queasy at the thought, but West African leaders are clearly concerned about the implications of a failed state on their doorsteps.
Does the international community, and in particular France, have the stomach to open up the possibility of another "intervention" on the continent? However, can they stand by and watch Gbagbo’s forces terrorise ordinary West Africans for much longer?
Others suggest that the situation in Ivory Coast is not as dangerous for civilians as in Libya and that comparing the two countries is misleading.
What are your thoughts?
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