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Ouattara calls for West African intervention force to remove Gbagbo

President-elect Alassane Ouattara has called for a West African intervention force to remove Laurent Gbagbo from power in Ivory Coast. Women face an increased risk of sexual violence in post-quake Haiti, says new Amnesty report. Police kill two protestors and detain opposition leaders in Arusha, Tanzania. All this and more in today's Security Briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
6 January 2011

Alassane Ouattara, the widely recognised president-elect of Ivory Coast, has today called for a targeted military operation to remove incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. President since 2000, Gbagbo has stubbornly clung to power since presidential elections in November, widely agreed to have been won by Ouattara.

Ouattara, who has been barricaded in an Abidjan hotel since the election, has said that the time for negotiation with Gbagbo has come and gone. He called upon Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States, a grouping of regional leaders) to mount an operation to remove Gbagbo. Ecowas, which has committed itself to mediation first and foremost, had previously threatened to force Gbagbo out, and is now reported to be drawing up plans for a regional intervention force.

Ouattara, who won 54% of the vote, was initially announced to be the winner of last year’s presidential elections by the national electoral commission. However, the result was later reversed by a Constitutional Council in favour of the incumbent president, on the grounds of alleged voting irregularities in the north.

Since then Gbagbo has refused to relinquish control of key government buildings. Despite mounting international pressure, he retains the public backing of the national army and control of the state media. The United States today announced that it was barring its citizens from financial dealing with Gbagbo and his supporters. The 10,000 United Nations troops already stationed in the country have also requested an additional 1-2,000 troops to bolster their numbers.

The openSecurity verdict: November’s election was intended to reunify Ivory Coast after civil war left the country bitterly divided between north and south. Elections initially scheduled for 2005 were repeatedly postponed by ongoing conflict and political stalling by Gbagbo. The turmoil following last year’s elections appears to have reignited tensions latent since before the civil war began in 2002. Recent warnings from Alan le Roy, the UN’s peacekeeping chief in Ivory Coast, suggest that recent strife may have destabilised parts of western Ivory Coast close to the north-south ceasefire line that divides the country. Clashes there have seen fourteen killed in the last three days, and ethnic tensions inflamed.

Ouattara’s call is his first explicit request for the removal of Gbagbo by force. While Gbagbo has been heavily criticised and threatened, by Ouattara, African leaders and by the leaders of other countries around the world, none has yet committed to the use of force. Current pressures on Gbagbo include 900 French and 10,000 UN troops on the ground. However, the French have pledged not to intervene, and the UN is likely to be heavily restricted by its mandate to staying neutral in any potential conflict. The current freeze on Gbagbo’s assets, plus the US bar on financing Gbagbo are unlikely to have an immediate effect. Asset freezes may work over the long term, but in a tense political stand-off such as that unfolding in Abidjan at present, such moves are likely to have little more than a symbolic effect.

Ouattara and his supporters are keen to keep the possibility of military intervention on the table for obvious reasons: diplomatic pressure is generally always stronger when backed up by the use of force. But how likely is a west African military intervention in reality?

Firstly and most obviously, Ecomog (or Economic Community Monitoring Group – the Ecowas body that has previously conducted military interventions in West Africa) is widely seen to lack the specialist equipment needed to mount a targeted intervention to remove Gbagbo. The hardware needed for taking control of a country in which opposing forces control the army and the main ports and airports would include attack helicopters, satellites and troops equipped with state of the art weaponry. The forces at Ecomog’s disposal are unlikely to include any – or all – of these. French support, still seen as a possibility by some commentators despite its politically explosive potential – is likely to backfire in increased support for Gbagbo.

A broader problem is that forces acting under a west African banner have never intervened militarily in a country as large as Ivory Coast, nor in one in which those controlling most of the country oppose the intervention. Previous Ecomog interventions in Sierra Leone and Liberia, for example, were in support of incumbent governments under attack by rebels. Whether Ecomog has the political appetite – let alone the resources – for a large scale conflict is not yet known.

There is also serious potential for a conflict spill over into neighbouring countries. The current refugee situation in Liberia is already serious. The track record of neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone in the Ivorian civil war is a poor omen for an intervention force: during the conflict, Ivory Coast’s neighbours took advantage of the political turmoil to seize control of several western territories. A west African intervention force might easily inflame tensions in those countries sending troops to Ivory Coast, especially if they share a border. The chances of a spill over effect that would destabilise Ivory Coast’s neighbours – many of them, like Liberia and Sierra Leone, only just recovering from their own bloody conflicts – may be too great a risk for west Africa to take.

But what are the alternatives to a west African intervention force? Intervention by a third party remains unlikely. Ouattara may have international backing – and possibly even the moral high ground – but these will not be enough against Gbagbo, who has hung onto power through war and peace for over a decade. However, the price of allowing Gbagbo to remain as de facto president, and of allowing the results of what was widely seen as a free and fair election to be blatantly disregarded, is something African and world leaders must also consider.

Unfortunately, it is not a simple choice between defending democracy in west Africa or avoiding involvement in a messy conflict for the sake of domestic stability. Politically, many west African leaders would have to think twice about sending troops to war in the name of democracy, when many are faced with democratic problems at home. Despite Ecowas’s claims to be preparing an intervention force, the question of intervention remains very much unresolved. 

Haitian women at increased risk of rape, says new report

Women and girls living in post-quake Haiti are at increased risk of sexual violence, including rape, according to a report released today by Amnesty International. As the one year anniversary of last January’s devastating earthquake approaches, the subsequent breakdown in law and order in Haiti has placed women at greater risk of attack, particularly in the sprawling camps around Port-au-Prince in which 1.3 million still live, say the report’s authors.

After the quake, which killed 250,000, displaced millions and destroyed much of the country’s fragile infrastructure, there has been a surge in crime. With security and legal buildings destroyed, and large numbers of government officials killed, the government has struggled to provide basic services or security for Haitians. In particular, a lack of policing in and around the makeshift camps is a major contributing factor to the high prevalence of sexual violence. Although sexual violence was widespread in Haiti before the earthquake, “there is anecdotal evidence that sexual violence is increasing,” according Gerardo Ducos, a Haiti researcher at Amnesty International.

The report is based on surveys conducted by local women’s groups and interviews conducted by Amnesty in March and June 2010. One organisation, SOFA, reported 114 rape cases between January and June 2010. Other organisations report countless more. It is widely accepted that reported rapes represent only a fraction of the true number, given the social stigma attached to rape survivors. One fourteen-year-old girl describes in the report how, after being raped in March in a camps in Port-au-Prince, she did not report the incident to the police because “it wouldn’t help.” While this attitude is commonplace, many others also say that even after reporting their attacks, the police take no action. 

Amnesty has called on the incoming government to take steps to ensure the safety of women and girls in the makeshift camps.  However, recent turmoil surrounding Haiti’s first round presidential election on 28 November last year make swift action on sexual violence unlikely. The run-off vote has been delayed until late February, as officials await a report on the first round vote. In such a state of political limbo, Haiti’s women are likely to be waiting a long time for security. 

Tanzanian police kill two anti-government protestors in Arusha

Two anti-government protestors have been killed by police in Tanzania after a banned opposition rally in Arusha turned violent. Agencies are reporting that a dozen protestors were wounded and 49 arrested, including ten opposition figures, in an act opposition parties are describing as “a deliberate crackdown on opposition leaders.”

The detained included Willibrod Slaa, the main challenger to President Jakaya Kikwete in last year’s disputed presidential election, and other members of his Chadema party. Leaders of the party, including Slaa, yesterday appeared before the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court on charges of illegal assembly.

The demonstration was planned as a protest against government corruption. However, when Chadema’s chairman Freeman Mbowe was detained prior to the rally, the protest turned violent. According to Tobias Andengenye, protestors attempted to enter the police station where Mbowe had been detained.

Yesterday’s protests are examples of rising political tension in Tanzania. Days before the protest, Slaa called on Kikwete to resign over a corruption scandal. A recent mayoral election in Arusha, where a ruling-party candidate won in dubious circumstances, has increased political tensions in the region. The government yesterday vowed to find a political solution to the problems pitting opposition supporters against state security forces, but did not outline what form this solution might take.

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