Is it too late for a peaceful solution in Côte d’Ivoire ?

“The window is now closing for a peaceful and honorable departure of Gbagbo accompanied by an amnesty, ” warned the U.S. ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire Phillip Carter during a visit to Washington on February 4th. Adding that Gbagbo could no longer afford to pay the Ivorian armed forces and that they would inevitably move away from his regime.
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Indeed, the UN believes that the Gbagbo regime would need each month from 100 to 150 million dollars to pay its 104,000 employees and 55,000 soldiers who have remained faithful. An amount that analysts say to be far from being met by the Gbagbo camp incomes. According to Phillip Carter, Gbagbo is reduced to “steal” business through extortion of money to pay the salaries of the military. Source

On the international stage, the international community and the ECOWAS have managed to set very restraining  diplomatic and financial measures against the Gbagbo regime. The sanctions against individuals and companies, as well as the financial asphyxia seem to be bearing their fruits, since economic difficulties have emerged for Laurent Gbabgo. On a side note, it is not to be forgotten that as in every sanction/ embargo case, the first ones to suffer here are not Gbagbo and his direct supporters but the people of Côte d’Ivoire. Private companies as well as households are paying a heavy price as inflation, massive layoffs and shortages are increasing.

The external military intervention, however has  lost pace recently with African (South Africa, Ghana, Angola…) and international appeals against it. The African Union will give its conclusions on February 20th after its mediation in the country. But already, the recount of the votes and the power-sharing solutions seem to be discarded. It is unlikely that the African Union will come out with a radical solution. Too many disagreements and conflicts of interest will prevent a continental solution for the problem. Even if some joint military preparations were reported a couple of weeks ago, neither ECOWAS  nor the African Union will reach a consensus necessary for a major military operation. Those two months of crisis have allowed Gbagbo to acquire major deterrents against an external intervention : weapons and trained mercenaries, and perhaps more importantly, a violent  resentment within his supporting base against his opponents : Ouattara’s supporters, UN, France, United States, Burkina Faso, Nigeria… These strong capacities will make ECOWAS countries think twice before launching a military operation.

The possibility of provoking  a total financial asphyxia around Gbagbo exists, although it presents a major risk for the Ivorian economy and the regional financial stability. A diplomatic assault, whether it is from European or African countries, will reinforce Gbagbo’s strategy to present the conflict as a neo-colonial and nationalist cause: Gbagbo and Côte d’Ivoire versus the World.

The Ouattara side will probably not accept any solution involving any major compromises to the Gbagbo regime. Quite rightfully, they consider themselves as winners of the elections, and have refuse so far direct discussions unless their victory is approved. Still, another option exists, and seems more likely everyday at the sight of the skirmishes in Abobo and other localities: an internal military option, led by former rebel troops -not a coup-. The “Forces Nouvelles” still control more than half of the country and are loyal to Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro. Unlike the position they were in when they launched the rebellion in September 2002, they find themselves in a position where they have a strong support within the population, and the support, at least implicit, or the major international stakeholders in the crisis.

If the African mediation fails and the situation stalls, that military solution seems to be the most probable. Coupled with the financial weakening of Gbagbo, who will probably lose some support if he cannot pay his troops, it could be a successful for Ouattara. Nonetheless, it represents the greatest risk for the Ivorian nation, already on the brink of collapse after more than ten years of crisis.

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