Despite attempts at mediation, both sides in Ivory Coast are entrenched, with many commentators invoking the spectre of civil war. The 8,000 UN soldiers whose job it is to keep the opponents apart are awaiting reinforcements of an additional 2,000 troops.
The blue helmets’ already difficult task has been made even more so by provocation from the so-called ‘Young Patriots’ – supporters of Laurent Gbagbo who have set up roadblocks across the main city Abidjan.
Last Friday, the backers of Alassane Ouattara gave voice to their anger in Abidjan. They have been incensed by the deaths of seven women at an exclusively female protest calling for Laurent Gbagbo to give up his hold on power. They say the killings were the work of Gbagbo’s forces.
It is a volatile atmosphere and patience is beginning to wear thin. “It has been months now since the African Union got involved and now they are killing elderly women, we are tired, we have nothing to eat thanks to Alassane Ouattara, we are backing him, but if he can’t make it, he should quit,” was the opinion of one man in the crowd.
On the diplomatic front, there is no sign of a breakthrough.
The African Union has nominated a panel of African heads of state, but the group has decided not to travel to Abidjan to mediate between the two rivals. Instead, they have been invited to meet in Addis Abbaba in Ethiopia this week.
The group, led by Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, had until the end of February to come up with a definitive solution to the dispute. But disagreement within the group itself means that deadline has had to be put back by a month.
Meanwhile, the two opponents themselves are digging in.
The international community and the African Union said Alassane Ouattara won the presidential election in November, but for the moment he remains holed up in a hotel in Abidjan surrounded by UN troops.
Laurent Gbagbo, for his part, is holding out in a government complex. This despite EU and US sanctions and offers of political amnesty and refuge abroad.
The dispute has left Ivory Coast in a state of economic paralysis. The main banks closed more than three weeks ago, leaving many people without access to money.
Ivory Coast is also the world’s biggest cocoa producer, but production and exports are grinding to a halt. Ouattara has forbidden exports, while Gbagbo has urged companies to ignore this order. As a result, the price of cocoa is the highest it has been for 32 years.