Sorina Toltica is a PhD Researcher based at University of Portsmouth, School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature.
Her current work is funded by the South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership and analyses remoteness & counterinsurgency in Western Africa, with a particular focus on UK&US military presence; Has previously worked for West Africa Network for Peacebuilding Senegal (WANEP), on the Early Warning and Early Response Network (WARN).
According to REUTERS, leaders from Ivory Coast’s ruling party agreed at a closed-door meeting to press President Alassane Ouattara to seek a third term in October’s election following the sudden death of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly.
This is worrying news, although Ouattara announced in March that he would not stand for re-election after 10 years in office and designated Gon Coulibaly, his closest political ally as the RHDP party’s candidate. While waiting for further developments of the situation, the below summary of the 2010-2011 Ivory Coast Crisis aims to remind political actors that such decision would destabilise the country, which has seen a positive evolution during the past decade (Fragile States Index). It will cause unnecessary instability and a possible international escalation, due to previous ECOWAS and AU inability to manage the crisis and the subsequent requirement of UN and French intervention. The findings below are part of my MA dissertation analysing ECOWAS’s role as a security actor. At the time of writing in 2017, I concluded that regionalisation took place without much integration in Western Africa. Although the first to respond in case of unrest within the African continent, the two regional organisations did not have the capacity or support to act in time of conflict. Despite a push for democratisation, leaders were unwilling to instrumentalise the policies for regional integration they have collectively agreed to, the lack of commitment and political will resulting in a vacuum of authority and capacity, as well as vulnerability to regional dominant powers and external influences.
The conflict escalated between December 2010 and April 2011, causing numerous casualties, refugees and human rights violations. Peaceful protests and rallies pro each side took place in Abidjan before the breakout of the violent conflict. The most significant took place on 8th of March, the International Day of Women, where 45 000 women protested across the country against Gbagbo decision and his forces (Reuters, 2011).
Laurent Gbagbo’s forces have been responsible of numerous attacks, murders, rape and kidnapping of opponents. On 17th of March 2011, up to 30 people were killed in a rocket attack on a pro-Ouattara suburb of Abidjan. Nonetheless, Ouattara’s forces have been accused by Human Rights Watch of burning villages in the west of the country and carrying out attacks on civilians, including the raping and killing of alleged Gbagbo supporters (ICRtoP, 2011).
On 28 March, the New Forces renamed the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (RFCI), launched a full-scale offensive across the country. According to the International committee of the Red Cross, 800 people were reported to have been killed in Duékoué alone. Although the responsibility for the massacre was unclear, the UN blamed the RFCI for the deaths (BBC, 2011). Heavy fighting took place in Abidjan, culminating with the arrest of Gbagbo on April 11, 2011, with the help of UN and French forces.
The former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reported that over 1000 civilians were dead as results of the clashes between the two fighting parts and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees declared that almost one million people were displaced within the country, over 150 000 Ivoirians having fled to neighbouring Liberia out of fear of violence (UNHCR, 2011).
ECOWAS and the AU have responded to the crisis through mediation and diplomatic pressure. Although desired, an ECOWAS or African Union military intervention has been impossible due to multiple reasons, such as lack of capacity and legitimacy. During the 7th of December ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit under the presidency of the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, the organisation confirmed the electoral results given by the CEI and endorsed by the UN, asking Gbagbo to step down immediately (Darracq, 2011-2012, p. 363). In attempting to solve the conflict, ECOWAS sent a mediation team formed by the Presidents of Benin, Cap-Vert, Sierra Leone on 28th of December 2010 and 3rd of January 2011 to meet the protagonists of the Ivorian crisis and convince Gbagbo to step down and accept the results of the election. The team did not succeed, although it offered Gbagbo exile abroad and a monthly stipend if he stepped down (ICRtoP, 2011). ECOWAS envisaged the option of using force since 24th of December, where in an official declaration stated that an intervention is possible if the negotiations are not successful (ECOWAS, 2010).
Within a few weeks, the military intervention became justified, given the evolution of the crisis into a violent conflict. During two December and January meetings between all the ECOWAS member states’ Chiefs of Staff of the Army, plans were discussed for an intervention. Nigeria officially demanded on 24th of January for a resolution of the UN Security Council allowing ECOWAS to use force in Ivory Coast if negotiations failed (Darracq, 2011-2012, p. 363). However, several obstacles made a military intervention. Within the organisation, opposing positions started to appear between Nigeria and Ghana. Whereas Nigeria supported an intervention due to its desire to project itself as a dominant regional power, Ghana announced since early January that it will stay neutral in the conflict and will not provide any help in an intervention. Some commentators argue that the reason behind Ghana’s reticence is the similarity between the socialist ideology of the leading parties, the Ivorian Popular Front and the National Democratic Congress of Ghana. Lacking resources and support from one of the biggest providers of military force in the region and the army still being loyal to Gbagbo, the intervention has been considered by the West African Chiefs of Army as logistically delicate (read impossible).
At international level, the UN Security Council never approved an ECOWAS intervention. From the permanent members, China and Russia have expressed their concerns regarding the state sovereignty and did not authorise the use of force. In addition, Nigeria’s will to support the intervention has decreased during the first months of 2011, given its ill-equipped army, the April 2011 national legislative elections requiring a large deployment (Darracq, 2011-2012, p. 365) but also the raising instability in the North caused by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Without military intervention, ECOWAS was left with the only option of diplomatic pressure. The organisation has suspended Ivory Coast’s membership on 7th of December 2010. In further declarations, the organisations urged the UN Security Council to strengthen the UNOCI (United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire) mandate and to adopt stronger targeted sanctions against Gbagbo and his supporters and stated that it would “actively support any action to bring the perpetrators to justice at the appropriate time” (ICRtoP, 2011).
Within the African Union, South Africa’s reticence on condemning Gbagbo highlighted that the organisation lacks political consensus and was able to intervene in the crisis just by diplomatic means. The AU sent former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya to hold talks between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. On 28th of January 2011, the AU’s Peace and Security Council established a High-Level Panel that was mandated to evaluate the crisis and formulate a solution. On 4th of March, the Panel proposed the formation of a government of national unity while an “honourable exit was found for incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo” (ICRtoP, 2011).
However, Gbagbo rejected the proposition. AU’s diplomatic weakness can be justified by the divergent position of South Africa, the regional dominant power within the organisation. The country remained silent until January 21st, when the President Jacob Zuma expressed his new position, declaring that it is too early to establish a winner of the elections,thus defying the UN endorsement of the first results. In this case, South-African foreign policy was marked by the a strong anti-imperialist position of the African National Congress (ANC), motivated by the presence of UN and French troops. Furthermore, by invoking the issue of national sovereignty, it reinforced relations with Russia and China in its newly BRICS membership .
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1962 on 20th of December 2010, extending the mandate of UNOCI until June 30, 2011 and provided additional troops and personnel support to the mission (UN, 2010). In its fourteenth special session held on December 23rd, 2010, the Human Rights Council passed a Resolution condemning the human rights violations (ICRtoP, 2011).
The Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck issued two joint statements on the political crisis. The first, dating 29th of December 2010, reported human rights violations by inflammatory speech inciting to violence by Gbagbo and its supporters (UN, 2010). The second statement, issues on 29th of January 2011 warned “about the possibility of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Côte d’Ivoire […] urgent steps should be taken, in line with the responsibility to protect” (UN, 2011).
Following a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Security Council unanimously voted on 19th of January 2011 to send an additional 2 000 UNOCI forces in the country. UNOCI deployed forces to the Hotel du Golf to protect Ouattara and his Government (UN, 2011). Following the deadly 17th of March attack, the UN issued a statement saying that the shelling was “an act, perpetrated against civilians, [that] could constitute a crime against humanity” (UN, 2011). The Resolution A/HRC/16/33 adopted on 25 March decided to dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations of human rights violations (ICRtoP, 2011).
On 30th of March, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1975 was issued, urging all Ivorian parties to respect the will of the people and the election of Alassane Ouattara as President of Ivory Coast, as recognised by ECOWAS, the African Union and the rest of the international community and reiterated that UNOCI could use all necessary measures in its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of attack (UN, 2011, p. 2). It issued targeted sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, which in addition to the ones imposed by the EU and US, had a direct effect on Gbagbo, as he was found in the position of not being able to pay its fighters. Military sources declared that an estimated 50 000 members of the gendarmerie and armed forces had deserted, with only some 2 000 Gbagbo loyalists remaining (Times, 2011).
On April 4th, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement in response to the seizure of Duékoué and subsequent attack where he expressed his concern about the deteriorating security situation and indicated that the violence resulted in a heavy toll on the civilian population. As Gbagbo loyalists launched targeted attacks against UNOCI peacekeepers, the Secretary-General instructed UNOCI to “take the necessary measures to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population, with the support of the French forces pursuant to paragraph 17 of Security Council Resolution 1962 (2010)” in an effort to protect civilians in Abidjan (UN, 2011).
On April 11, 2011 pro-Ouattara forces assisted by French special forces captured Gbagbo and placed him, his wife, and 50 supporters under arrest. Ouattara was sworn in as the new president of the Ivory Coast on 6th of May 2011.
 UNOCI is a 2004-2017 UN peacekeeping mission whose objective is “to facilitate the implementation by the Ivorian parties of the peace agreement signed by them in January 2003”, which aimed to end the Ivorian Civil War.
 BRICS is an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
BBC. (2011, April 3). Ivory Coast: Battle for Abidjan intensifies. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12946018
Darracq, V. (2011-2012). Jeux de puissance en Afrique : le Nigeria et l’Afrique du Sud face à la crise ivoirienne. Politique étrangère, 361-374.
ECOWAS. (2010, December 24). Session Extraordinaire de la Conference des Chefs D’Etat et de Gouvernement sur la Cote D’Ivoire. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from ECOWAS: http://news.ecowas.int/presseshow.php?nb=193&lang=fr&annee=2010
ICRtoP. (2011). The Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect: http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/crises/crisis-in-ivory-coast
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Smith, D. (2010, December 21). Death squads attacking Ivory Coast opposition, claims spokesman. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/21/ivory-coast-gbagbo-death-squads-claim
Times. (2011, April 1). Rebelswonder: Where Did Gbagbo Go? Retrieved June 21, 2017, from Times: http://www.timeslive.co.za/africa/2011/04/ 01/rebels-wonder-where-did-gbagbo-go
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UN. (2011, January 11). UN Security Council Resolution 1967. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from UN: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1967(2011)
UN. (2011, March 30). UN Security Council Resolution 1975. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from UN: http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1975%20%282011%29
UN. (2011, March 18). UN warns deadly shelling of Ivorian market may be crime against humanity. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from UN: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37814#.WaQQuyh97IU
UNHCR. (2011). A New Displacement Crisis in West Africa. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from UNHCR: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4d831f586.html