Is Africa getting closer to taking military action to force out Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire? Perhaps. On Thursday, the legitimate ruler of the small West African nation, Alassane Ouattara, held talks with the Africa Union in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Rather than another attempt to forge a compromise between Ouattara and Gbagbo, or set up a unity government, discussions focussed instead on how to treat Gbagbo once he is removed. Proposals included an agreement to let Gbabgo stay in Cote d’Ivoire and remain politically active, or to leave without fear of being pursued for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The same day, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, one of numerous African leaders who have made repeated attempts to persuade Gbagbo to step down, declared the West African regional authority, ECOWAS, should now make good on their threat to remove Gbagbo by force. “I think that the time has come,” he told Reuters. “Mr. Gbagbo has no business continuing in power. He needs to surrender power to Mr. Ouattara.” Then on Friday, Ouattara flew from Ethiopia to Nigeria – significant, as Nigeria is expected to take the lead in any ECOWAS operation to remove Gbagbo.
It has been more than three months since Alassane Ouattara won a presidential election on November 28 but was prevented from taking power by the man he defeated, Gbagbo. Until this week, Ouattara has been holed up in a hotel in the capital, Abidjan, surrounded by troops loyal to Gbagbo. In the streets outside, repression by Gbagbo’s soldiers – including the shooting of a group of unarmed women demonstrators last week, in which seven women died – has provoked an insurgency and the deteriorating security has prompted hundreds of thousands to flee, many to neighboring Liberia. The UN, whose officials have come under attack and who have been banned from flying into Abidjan by Gbagbo, has warned of a developing humanitarian disaster and spiraling lawlessness, including rising use of rape by fighters, deteriorating into out-and-out war. November’s election had been intended to bring a final resolution to a civil war between the southern-dominated government, led by Gbagbo, and northern rebels, led by Ouattara. As so often in Africa, the loser refused to accept the result. If there is a silver lining, it is that Cote d’Ivoire is one African problem that Africans seem determined to handle themselves, even if that task increasingly looks like a bloody one.