The West African nation of Côte d'Ivoire is again on the brink of civil war. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power after losing to rival Alassane Ouattara in last November's presidential runoff. Armed supporters of both men have clashed in Abidjan, the largest city, and in the west of the country. Loyalties are settling along the same lines that fueled Côte d'Ivoire's civil war in the early 2000s, with the rebel Forces Nouvelles, who control the north, backing Ouattara. According to a recent report from the International Crisis Group, Côte d'Ivoire: Is War the Only Option?, at least 300 people have been killed, dozens raped, and many more disappeared.
Claiming that Ouattara's supporters falsified the vote, Gbagbo used the country's highest court to throw out results from polls in north and central Côte d'Ivoire, where Ouattara enjoys strong support. International observers declared the election free and fair, however, and international bodies -- including the UN, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) -- have recognized Ouattara as the victor. Yet Gbagbo seems determined to hold on to power through force and shrill propaganda, no matter the cost to his country.
To prevent a full scale war, Crisis Group recommends that the UN Security Council back the UN force already present in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) as it fulfills its mandate of civilian protection. ECOWAS should deploy a military mission to support UNOCI and to maintain the peace.
I spoke with Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group's West Africa Project Director, about Côte d'Ivoire's mounting crisis and how to keep the conflict from spilling across borders and destabilizing the entire West African region. Listen to our conversation below.