Côte d’Ivoire – Intervention: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The media spotlight this year has been focused on Côte d’Ivoire following a disastrous outcome to the first election in the country after about five years of civil strife. The latter was a result of discriminatory policies separating and dividing people along ethnic lines and restricting access to equal opportunities based on such ethnic discrimination. The social construction behind this ethnic divide was borne out of political machinations to resist the threat of strong political opposition and to maintain a strong hold on power by those in charge at the time of the initiation of these policies. History of course dictates that once one starts constructing the identity of thousands of people on faulty grounds, this can only lead to disgruntlement and strong desires for change. The subsequent result of this problematic division was a civil war that plunged one of Africa’s economic strongholds into a crisis it is yet to recover from.

Throughout the civil war and the period covering peace initiatives, the international community including the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) was heavily involved in attempting not only to bring an end to fighting but also to reconcile the differences that led to the war in the first place. The UN as a result has had blue helmets based in the country from 2002 till today. Their main responsibility after successfully brokering a ceasefire and a number of peace accords was to organize elections and ensure that these were conducted in a transparent manner and respected by all. These elections were held late 2010, after years of postponement. As most analysts envisaged, the elections did not lead to the desired peaceful outcome as the results were questioned by the regime in place at the time. Despite the fact that the primary mandate for releasing and enforcing these results lay with the UN, it was unable to enforce this mandate.

Côte d’Ivoire has consequently remained mired in this conflict limbo, with the extra ironical status of being the only country with two presidents: one recognized by the international community and the other self-legitimated. In addition, armed groups across the divide began urban warfare using light and heavy weapons that increased the casualty toll most significantly on the side of the civilian population living in Abidjan. After a number of failed diplomatic initiatives, led by the AU with the support of the UN and ECOWAS, to resolve the issue, it became imperative to consider other resolution methods. As always, the conundrum faced with military intervention stayed the same: Is the use of force to achieve peace legitimate, especially when exercised by external states?

France, under the umbrella of the UN, illustrated this conundrum by deploying its military capacity to destroy the armed reserves of the self-legitimated president, paving the path for the opposing armed force to gain access to him, and thereby dismantling the organization behind armed activity in his favour. Debates have sprung up regarding this involvement and whether or not it is an infringement of Côte d’Ivoire’s sovereignty; or an exercise of undue force or if it fits within the framework of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, as observed by the International Community.

In the simplest terms Côte d’Ivoire’s riddle boils down to that old International Relations puzzle: Do external states have the right to intervene militarily within the bounded territory of a sovereign state such as Cote d’Ivoire? To what extent do we justify the killing of hundreds of people by applying a quick-fix solution to a problem that requires long term processes? Does the use of violence to promote peace not beget future violence instead? On the other hand, surely to stay silent to the plight of those already dying at the hands of militias and armed forces is as criminal as forceful intervention?

We must recognize that long term processes do require a clever mixture of short and medium term actions in order to start processes in favour of the long term. In order for the necessary reconciliation initiatives to begin in the country, there is a need for the right kind of framework to support this. This framework would necessitate an environment that ensures the safety, security and comfort of those residing within it. Given this particular context, the only way to achieve this peaceful setting was to rid the country of the various militias, mercenaries, other armed groups and regime supporting the mayhem. Experience showed that non-violent marches incited even more nefarious action on their part, with the death of civilians, and a body count that rose daily. Was the remaining option then not making use of regional and international armed forces to stop hostilities? How else could the ordinary unarmed person be protected from such violations? Given the limited resources of those on the ground, and the glaring absence of the state as a primary protector, who was to be responsible for ensuring this civilian protection? Was the international community supposed to sit by and watch the beginnings of genocide? Had the world really not learned from Germany, Serbia, Kosovo and Rwanda among others? What about the botched interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq? What lessons have we learnt from those?

Although one cannot in good conscience support military intervention as the only recourse to peace, given the current facts, one cannot in equal good conscience condone sitting back and watching the continued abuse of human rights. This even more so as all peaceful measures had failed and did not promise to succeed in time. The framework for military intervention set up by the UN and contained in Chapter 7 of its Charter permits such forceful action. As much as we should not condone violence of any kind, we need to recognize that some values are so fundamental that there is little other recourse than forceful intervention in order to protect those most vulnerable to the conflict.

Whether or not France and the International Community acted with the interest of Ivorian citizens in mind is doubtful. This recognition however does not cancel the atrocities that were occurring at the time of intervention, or the fact that said intervention, dubious as it was, brought most of these troubles to an end. At the same time one cannot ignore the potential for abuse, not only by external states in the pursuit of economic interests, but also by accepting that very seldom does violence engender peace. The clearest conclusion derived from this particular case: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The debate is moot, rather than spend energy determining the legitimacy and purpose of military intervention in Côte d’Ivoire, we should be more constructive and ask: What’s on the table for the future with regards to reconciliation and development?

Nadia Ahmadou

Nadia Ahmadou is a young African scholar who has published widely on peace and conflict related events in Africa.

13 Responses to Côte d’Ivoire – Intervention: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  1. Thanks for this article Nadia. I will confess I have not really been following the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire so it was really enlightening to get this detailed account of the reasons for the conflict. Most interesting to me has been the failure of African states to effectively take the lead in resolving the issues in Côte d’Ivoire. I have always advocated for regional integration in Africa and ‘African Solutions to African Problems’ but situations like these sort of remind me how theoretically abstract these concepts are for our contemporary position in Africa.

    African states understandably respect the (social) construct of ‘sovereignty’ because of our history in Africa and because we better than anyone else understand how the concept can be abused in the ‘interest of peace’. But do you think the situation has to stay ‘doomed if you don’t, doomed if you do?’. What are the possibilities of an effective African Union to actually ‘enforce’ peace and stability in Africa? Know these are simplified questions to very complex issues, am just worried about where the African continent is headed is we do not start devising tactical ways to solving our own issues… But great article again! Really insightful and well written.

  2. Thank you Gcobani. Like you I encourage African solutions to African problems, however the continent is very limited in its application of this due to a lack of resources and a lack of political will. Addressing these two is of course a simple approach to more complex issues but would be a beneficial start. Our leaders need to find the means to not just talk the talk but walk the walk as well.

  3. Like Gcobani said, this is a great article. And like both of you, I do encourage African solutions to African problems- but we have to be careful that this does not become a blanket cover for everything. I know that Ian Khama has been vocal regarding this issue and many other leadership concerns across the continent, even going to the extend of inviting Quattara for a state visit, but he has not received support and part of the reason is that he is young.
    As the theme of the blog goes, and what we are trying to achieve as a forum, as we celebrate our cultures, we must also be critical. Whilst people like to encourage us to respect our elders, they also tend to forget that we have sayings that encourage elders to listen to the youth.

  4. Yes, in addition African leadership has become more of a clan of ‘brothers’ at the regional level, the outcome of political processes is almost always dependent on personal relationships between heads of states (most having been in power for eons) as well as economic ties that bind them. All this to the detriment of the ideals contained in the ‘African solutions to African problems’ phrase. There needs to be a distinct political will to move beyond ‘kinship’ politics towards more institutional processes. This remains valid for Cote d’Ivoire, despite the change in leadership. A change in regime does not automatically result in an institutional change. The latter is what the continent should be aspiring to, within the broad framework of African solutions to African problems.

    The themes of the blog would eventually allow for expression of ways in which such institutionalization can occur. The voice of the youth that stays unheard on the continent but that nevertheless deserves space to influence change.

  5. And Gcobani, can you share more about Ian Khama’s invitation? I know very little about Cote d’Ivoire’s links with Botswana.

  6. The tale of Cote d’Ivoire is one that tugs at my core… It still suffers from the legacy of its earlier civil war and the previous government did little (if anything at all) to address the issue of reconciliation and proper nation building… The DDR process – slightly positive as it may have been – was essentially putting the cart before the horse. We need to seek sustainable solutions to the crisis and that can only be done if we identify the true cause of it… It is not ethnicity, it is not citizenship… for me the true cause lies in the prevailing economic inequalities, a kleptocratic culture of mis-governance and the lack of proper institutions.. All of this caused primarily by the fact that Cote d’Ivoire’s resources have historically not been left to the Ivorians…..

  7. Thanks Bose, I can only applaud the man for being vocal where most of his counterparts have remained silent. Let’s see how that turns out in the long run, hopefully others shall follow his example.

    Ottilia, salient remarks, C.I. Do you have any ideas on how reconciliation and proper nation building can happen concretely on the ground; in the form of recommendations for the new regime that has to face all these challenges you mention?

    • Pas a ce moment, non… I don’t know enough about the entire situation to formulate tailor-made solutions. I think that’s one of our many flaws, that we are so quick to try to apply “theories” that worked elsewhere to different contexts…

      When I have assessed the situation better, I might be able to come up with some suggestions :-)

  8. Nadia, a really insightful article and discussion you have led here! Many more questions you are bringing bordering on a ‘can of worms’ I dare say. Like you, Gcobani, Bose and Ottilia I am deeply worried about the implications of this Ivorian case to the strenghthening of the AU security architecture. If we can still speak of any. It is troubling to see such a dominant role of France in African affairs almost 10 years since Mbeki, Obasanjo, Wade and many led the transformation of the OAU to the AU. Despite an assertion of an ideological shift premised on “African solutions to African problems” signified by the ‘Africa’ formulated African peer review mechanism, the AU still faces accusations that it is as you say a “clan of ‘brothers’” or as others have argued a “club of dictators.” Indeed the intervention from Bose regarding age and African leadership regarding the isolation of ‘young’ voices such as Khama is imperative to ‘our’ place in the continent’s agenda.

    Accordingly then we must pay extra attention to how the AU Summit this June 2011 whose theme is “Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development” proceeds. Perhaps as young people we must push for a bigger intervention by young people not only in issues of development but especially those of peace and security. Indeed, it will be our duty to watch extremely closely that the events in North Africa and indeed Ivory Coast do not shift the focus of the summit from youth participation but be the lens to which to heighten the role of young people in the prevention and ending of conflict in the continent.

  9. Thanks Nadia for outlining the parameters of the debate “to intervene or not to intervene”, if I may say so, and linking it to Ivory Coast. Nice!

    I personally believe that a solution starts with creating a more open society. In Ivory Coast, reconciliation and development have always taken a back seat as individuals fought for political and economic control.

    I think the personal rivalry amongst four main political contenders (Gbagbo, Ouattara, Guei, and Bedie) is not to be underestimated when it comes to explaining how Ivory Coast disintegrated. The political “debate” was conducted along arbitarily constructed categories and could continue because of a lack of transparency and therefore accountability by these four.

    So let’s start with more checks and balances, including a free press and independent judiciary. That should serve as a tool to create more openness. Once the truth is on the table, lies can no longer be manufactured.

  10. Firstly thanks to all for your constructive comments. Siphokazi especially for outlining the role of the youth in the future direction of these processes on the continent. A next step would to think about how one can make more use of the AU as a platform, at the moment I believe little is known and/or made use of. The opportunity, if I can put it that way, isn’t used fully.

    Jesper, you raise a very important point about the value of putting the truth out there and making use of instituions to enforce checks and balances. How would that fit in with the truth vs. justice debate? At the moment, the previous president Gbagbo will surely face trial despite the fact that he may be as responsible as all the other presidents for crimes against humanity. Now the result of this would be sadly more divisions in the country, is Immunity the price to pay for reconciliation? Should truth telling be accompanied by justice or just be left at that? what would the implications of this be in the long term?

  11. Hello Nadia,
    Your article is very deep in a sense that it goes out from the simple context or real reasons of a specific situation to ask about the legitimacy of the International community intervention in a special conflict situation. A lot of questions are raised and all refer to what should be done and who can decide what should be done and why, how, when, with which means and for which price and/or losses. The Cote d’Ivoire situation was sadly challenging and I followed from inside the case from the “DDR process” to the elections and it was difficult to come out with a typical scenario with specific coordinated actions that could be literally followed by the International Community. That is actually the principal challenge of being involved in practical field issues driven by the politic. After the elections and the post electoral crisis, it was (again) hard to draw up a scenario with clear impacts because what it saw as an issue of sovereignty was seen also as inaction depending on positions. But then, from the time you ask for an international community intervention to follow a so sensitive issue with a so great mandate of certification, you have decided (at least) to put up on the table YOUR sovereignty. That means that you’ve a clear idea of what will be assumed by each parties. From the other side when you decided also to organize your electoral commission with political parties representatives and on a basis of a one-way cooperation, you should assume any blockade. Unfortunately that is the political game and most of the time it’s not so fare.
    When we brought out post electoral crisis scenarios, each had some blood consequences (Scenario I – Peaceful negotiated transfer of power, Scenario II-Economic incentives weaken army’s resolve, forcing Gbagbo out, Scenario III-Relapse into a full-scale conflict between the two camps, Scenario IV-Armed international intervention, Scenario V-Continued Stalemate and etc.). Finally all were about which one will the most effective, shortly implemented with a minimum risk etc.
    I liked your ending note about the future, all must be bring in perspectives and it’s important to build peace even from a so collapsed situation. Before, all efforts were focused on the northern part of the country but now the southern part of the country appears to be the most affected (incl. Abidjan) and will require urgent efforts in peace consolidation. The political crisis has resulted in severe social dislocation and increased fracture between communities along ethnic, political and even religious lines. I think the civil society is best placed to address this issue and to initiate and lead reconciliation and peace consolidation initiatives. No late on… The other priority which will need to be addressed, whatever the outcomes of the crisis were, is the reform of the army. We have seen which role it played and as an African I was asked myself about the possibility of peaceful solutions that the army could bring in some cases. Local ownership is really important (sure) but let’s not forgets our each own consciousness. We really need African organized leadership.
    Thank you for your analysis,

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