Business, Economics and Jobs

New violence threatens Ivory Coast


Two Ivory Coast guards prepare to disperse a women's march against Laurent Gbagbo on February 28, 2011 in the Treichville suburb of Abidjan.


Sia Kambou

With all the tumult in Tunisia/Egypt/Libya and the rest of the Middle East, the world's attention slipped from Ivory Coast. But the political standoff there is still simmering and threatening to boil over into a resumption of the country's disastrous civil war.

Here's an update:

Explosions rocked Abidjan, the country's commercial center Wednesday. Fighting between insurgents seeking to oust Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo and security forces spread to new areas of the city, according to Reuters.

Security in the world's top cocoa grower is deteriorating across the country. Gun battles erupted between rival forces last week and hostilities resumed across a north-south ceasefire line that had been largely quiet since the 2002-3 civil war which was between the largely Muslim North and the mostly Christian South. That war ended with a peace accord that set up the 2010 election.

But the country has been in turmoil since the disputed presidential election on November 28 between incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, a southern Christian, and his rival Alassane Ouattara, a northerner. Ouattara won the poll according to U.N.-certified results but Gbabgo refuses to concede, leaving the country with two rival governments.

Fighting has mostly been restricted in Abidjan to the northern pro-Ouattara suburb of Abobo, where an insurgent force calling itself the invisible commandos has seized control of most of the territory and forced out pro-Gbagbo security forces.

Gunfire has also been heard much closer to Abidjan's central business district. Across the other side of town, residents of the southern suburb of Koumassi said fierce fighting had flared up there, too.

The United Nations has a peacekeeping force of 9,000 troops in Ivory Coast, sent there specifically to prevent a resumption of the civil war. U.N. troops are protecting Ouattara, who is trying to run the country from Abidjan's Golf Hotel.

There has also been a media war going on, as the BBC, Radio France International and other international radio stations have been blocked from broadcasting into Ivory Coast. Gbagbo has accused the international media of promoting propaganda against him.

On the other side, Ouattara's supporters are blamed for an attack on the Abidjan transmitter of RTI, the state broadcaster controlled by the Gbagbo camp.

Also on Wednesday, nine Ivory Coast newspapers closed down in protest over what they say is harassment by Gbagbo supporters. The papers, which are either independent or which back Ouattara, said their staffs had suffered more than two months of physical threats. The attacks have been condemned by international media rights organization Reporters Without Borders.

And the U.N. says attacks against its peacekeepers in Ivory Coast may constitute war crimes.

Increasingly the peacekeepers find themselves involved in what appears to be the country's second civil war. In the past week, as hostilities increased in the country's west, U.N. personnel in the country's commercial capital Abidjan have been shot at, blocked in the roads by angry young men, and even kidnapped.

Most of the attacks have come from soldiers and supporters of Gbagbo, and a Christian southerner. Gbagbo charges that the U.N. is an occupying army trying to impose the will of the former colonizer France. Gbagbo has ordered the peacekeepers to leave Ivory Coast immediately.

The U.N. says it won't go because it recognizes Gbagbo's opponent, Alassane Ouattara, as the winner of the November vote. The U.N. mission's chief, Young-jin Choi, says that if pro-Gbagbo forces continue to attack U.N. personnel, Gbagbo could be one day tried for war crimes.

All this has disrupted Ivory Coast's cocoa production. The country accounts for about 43 percent of the world's supply of cocoa. In an attempt to cut off Gbagbo's finances, Ouattara called for a month long ban on Ivory Coast's cocoa exports on Jan. 23. The ban was extended last week until mid-March. This is causing international cocoa prices to rise, according to Bloomberg.

Got that? Yes, the situation in Ivory Coast is very troubling. Stay tuned for more updates.