PREMISE OF THE CRISIS
In December 2010, following a disputed election result between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara, the political dispute threatened to plunge the Ivory Coast into civil conflict as militias mobilized along politicized ethnic lines throughout the country. While international observers and the nation's election commission declared Ouattara the rightful victor, Gbagbo and his supporters protested the outcome and refused to relinquish power. Rising tensions threatened to reignite ethnic rivalries from the 2002 civil war, as armed militias aligned themselves along ethnic-political lines with each claimed President. As negotiations stalled, forces loyal to both Gbagbo and Ouattara were accused of targeting civilians and committing crimes against humanity. In response, the UN, regional organizations like the African Union and the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), NGOs like Human Rights Watch, and other states called for negotiated resolution and accountability for violence against civilians.
Basis of Conflict:
Political dispute between rival Presidential candidates following a close election. Support for the candidates was also divided along ethno-geographical lines which had previously plunged the nation into civil war in 2002.
The Ivory Coast is a Presidential Republic. At the time of the crisis, the UN peacekeeping UNOCI was present to facilitate the transition to democracy following the 2002 Ivorian Civil War.
Severity of Crisis:
During the early stages of the crisis, international observers present during the election called for diplomatic resolution to preempt the widespread violent conflict of the 2002 civil war from recurring. As the crisis developed, NGOs like Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights highlighted the crimes committed by both sides of the conflict against civilians. In response, the UN, AU, and ECOWAS issued individual statements calling for resolution, and the AU and ECOWAS made attempts at mediated negotiation and mediated power-sharing agreements. However, these attempts were rejected and ECOWAS implemented more stringent measures. Declaring Ouattara the rightful winner, ECOWAS adopted targeted sanctions against Gbagbo and his supporters, and threatened the use of force if Gbagbo failed to reach peaceful settlement. Simultaneously, ECOWAS appointed former Nigeria president Olusegun Obasanjo as envoy to the Ivory Coast, and offered Gbagbo exile abroad and a monthly stipend should he step down. The US and EU joined in these sanctions and also backed ECOWAS' offer for foreign exile for Gbagbo. Finally, after these avenues failed to abate violence against civilians, UN and French troops fired on pro-Gbagbo forces in a military operation to prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians and peacekeepers. This operation culminated in the arrest of Gbagbo on April 11th.
Following the arrest of Gbagbo, Ouattara called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, and urged for the end of violence against supporters of Gbagbo. Although tensions remained, and militia violence continued in some parts of the country, large scale civil war like in 2002 was largely averted.
Although this case was ultimately resolved through military means, it still serves as a valuable demonstration of the ways in which international organizations can create pressure to end a developing humanitarian crisis before it becomes too difficult to manage. Key to the relatively hasty resolution of this conflict was the presence of UN observers from the outset of the election. Along with other NGOs, these election observers provided valuable, near instantaneous, and trustworthy information as the crisis developed. As a result, international attention was quickly directed towards the crisis. Furthermore, regional actors provided many avenues for peaceful resolution, and employed 'carrot-and-stick' strategies to coerce the parties to the negotiating table. For instance, ECOWAS' use of both targeted sanctions and the (credible) threat of military intervention placed pressure on Gbagbo to reach a peaceful settlement, which they also made possible by offering him exile and stipend. While these strategies were not fully effective at creating peaceful resolution, they are nonetheless useful tools in the toolbox for a nuanced response to crisis.