As the world’s attention is focused elsewhere, the power struggle in Ivory Coast has escalated and now threatens a region-wide humanitarian crisis.
Laurent Gbagbo remains the de facto leader of Ivory Coast despite finishing second in the November 28 presidential elections. He contests that result and has called on the country’s youth to join him in taking up arms. Thousands of supporters answered his call.
His rival, Alassane Ouattara, is recognised by the international community as the rightful winner of the election and legitimate president of Ivory Coast. He is backed by rebel forces, whom he has adopted as his army.
According to the United Nations, at least 435 people have been killed and as many as 450,000 have fled their homes since the political crisis began. Human rights groups claim atrocities have been committed by both sides.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whose country is hosting some 90,000 Ivorian refugees, said that Ivory Coast is already “at war” and that the tensions will further destabilise a region that has struggled with bloody conflict for many years.
“It’s a serious threat to the stability of Liberia, and I might say to the stability of all neighbouring countries,” says, adding that “the crisis in Ivory Coast slipped off the radar,” given the focus on recent events in Japan, Libya and the wider Arab world.
Ouattara last week recognised the 2002-2003 rebels as his military and renamed them the Ivory Coast Republican Forces (FRCI). The FRCI has captured a fourth town in the west this week, Reuters reported. But major clashes have also been reported in the capital Abidjan.
The rebels have controlled the north of the country since the end of the civil war, although that conflict appears to have restarted. There are real fears that an Ivory Coast at war will destabilise the whole West Africa region. The International Monetary Fund has warned of “serious risks” for the region.
Ivory Coast is the world’s no.1 cocoa grower. The crisis means exports have stopped, mainly as a result of European Union sanctions. The fate of almost 200,000 tonnes of mid-crop beans that is still on tress remains unknown.
As economic conditions become bleaker, the ground becomes ever more ripe for conflict.
By Ali Sheikholeslami