Prior to democratic elections in November 2010, which were delayed six times by former President Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivory Coast was a nation divided. The former government, under the leadership of Laurent Gbagbo, controlled the South of the country and the rebels (Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast) who supported Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader, were dominant in the North. The results from the democratic, UN approved election concluded that Gbagbo had lost to the opposition leader, Ouattara. In its immediate aftermath, the UN Council urged Gbagbo “to respect the will of the people and the election of Alassane Ouattara as President of the Ivory Coast”. This plea was refused.
Following this rejection and the ensuing violence by pro-Gbagbo security forces and loyalists towards civilians, the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast invaded the South, overcoming Gbagbo’s presidential palace, his last stronghold in the Ivory Coast, with the help of the UN and French forces. Gbagbo is currently under house arrest, while Ouattara has been proclaimed President of the Ivory Coast. Last month, the new government claimed that they had defeated the last of Gbagbo’s militia still actively opposing the new regime.
Ouattara has claimed that he plans to do all that he can to represent all the different regions and ethnic groups within the Ivory Coast and to repair the divisions among them. He plans to establish an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will supposedly ensure that all those guilty of bloodshed will be brought to account, no matter whose side they supported since the crisis began. The International Criminal Court is also on the brink of opening formal investigations into the post-election violence, investigations requested principally by Ouattara.
Regardless of these steps, the likelihood of violence erupting in the near future is a definite threat because of the country’s deep divisions along ethnic, religious and economic lines. Despite Ouattara’s claims, these divisions will be difficult to reconcile and Ouattara will need to walk a fine line between the Muslim North and the Christian South. The South have already expressed concerns that Ouattara will not rule in their interests, but whether their anxiety is just the result of Gbagbo’s propaganda machine or is a legitimate concern, only time will tell.
Peace within Ouattara’s coalition remains fragile because its factions have been known to fight against one another. In addition, the fact that many of his minsters were responsible for the recent rebellion and the attempted coup against Gbagbo in 2002 is cause for concern. Ouattara is likely to have difficulties in convincing the population to trust his national army, largely because the government has yet to reveal how it plans to integrate the militia that supported Gbagbo within the army. Atrocities have been carried out on both sides and it was forces supporting Ouattara who were mostly responsible for a huge massacre which took place at the end of March, in which 1,000 civilians were murdered in the district of Duekoue. The Ivoirians killed were from the Guéré tribe, seen as traditional supporters of Gbagbo.
Compounding the difficulties faced in the Ivory coast are reports that freedom of the press is still being restricted, even though it has been over a month since Gbagbo’s arrest. None of the newspapers that were loyal to Gbagbo are currently being published and one is even under armed occupation by the national army. The Communications minister defended this lack of freedom, stating, “Freedom yes, but it has its limits, you cannot destabilise the social fabric just because you are a journalist”. If the Ivory Coast is to have any hope of returning to normality and becoming a true democracy, Ouattara will need to keeps his word and represent the whole nation, or it won’t be long before conflict breaks out once more.