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?