Cote d’Ivoire: Politicide Warning, Genocide Watch

In keeping with the applicable terminology from meteorology, a “watch” is in effect when favorable conditions for a certain kind of weather exist but the weather hasn’t manifested yet; a “warning” is in effect when this weather condition itself has already been spotted.  So: The Liberal Ironist is putting Cote d’Ivoire on politicide warning and genocide watch.

The politicide is on in Cote d’Ivoire right now.  My previous post mentioned the recent investigation by the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) that found that the deaths or disappearances of about 200 Ivoirians over the past month were the work of troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo.  A politicide is the deliberate killing of the members of a political party, class or other association.  Though the current wave of violence against Ouattara supporters seems to have subsided, Mr. Gbagbo and the military units loyal to him have already concluded that they can resolve this challenge to their power with violence.  This means that further political mass killing could occur at any time.

An even more-serious, but as-yet distant prospect, is the genocide watch.  Mr. Gbagbo isn’t in a position to bring wholesale violence to the ethnic groups of the Muslim north, which is Mr. Ouattara’s base of support.  They are a large-enough share of the population that wholesale murder would be counterproductive to any plan to reunify the country; additionally, genocide in practice requires military supremacy over the targeted region, a power Mr. Gbagbo hasn’t had since the 2002 northern mutiny.

Where Mr. Gbagbo does have decisive power over a population he seems to consider surplus is in the case of Cote ‘dIvoire’s immigrants, which constitute about 26% of the country’s population.  It isn’t remarkable that Youssoufou Bamba, appointed by Mr. Ouattara to be Cote d’Ivoire’s ambassador to the United Nations, claimed that “We are on the brink of genocide” and that “Something should be done.”  After all, Mr. Ouattara has been recognized as the winner of the election abroad, and he would probably be the prime beneficiary of any foreign intervention–assuming it doesn’t come too late.  But Francis Deng, who has previously written about civil war violence in South Sudan and genocide in Darfur, noted that supporters of Mr. Gbagbo have been painting signs on the doors of Ouattara supporters in Abidjan identifying their ethnicity.

This could simply be a tactic of intimidation; however, Deng reported on this development just a few days before the UN came out with its report linking as many as 200 killings or disappearances to soldiers loyal to Gbagbo.  In both Ottoman Armenia and Rwanda, killings of hundreds of the targeted minority group in seemingly-unconnected incidents were in retrospect an indicator of a sequence of rising political tensions that the regime remained unable to resolve.  There’s no reason not to take this “identifying” of regime opponents seriously.

Then there are Gbagbo’s words themselves.  In response to a recent threat by the leaders of Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Senegal that they would consider military intervention to ensure Mr. Ouattara’s succession as the new president, Mr. Gbagbo threatened retaliation against immigrants from those countries living in Cote d’Ivoire.  Such retaliation, if wholesale, would be genocide.  Complicating the situation is the unpalatable nature of intervention itself.  As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, intervention in Cote d’Ivoire may be prohibitively-costly.  Nigeria is the premiere military power of regional organizations ECOWAS (a West African organization which promotes economic integration) and the African Union (which undertakes peacekeeping responsibilities); as a result it would bear the brunt of the cost of a regional intervention in Cote d’Ivoire; meanwhile its own elections will be held in April, making the government politically-vulnerable in the event of such an intervention.  Some Nigerians living in Cote d’Ivoire have protested the talk of intervention for fear they will be targeted by Gbagbo’s forces in retaliation.  As of the day after Christmas, 14,000 people had fled Cote d’Ivoire, some so desperate that they walked 4 days just to get to Liberia.

The UN isn’t likely to escalate its current operation in Cote d’Ivoire–without provocation.  The UNOCI Blue Helmets have come under attack once already, though it is unclear whether Gbagbo himself had anything to do with the assault; the problem with an initiation of force by UNOCI, as addressed by one of the commentators in the Christian Science Monitor article, is that it will make countries experiencing conflict suspicious of hosting UN peacekeeping missions in the future.

But this is no reason for the United Nations or the African Union not to prepare for intervention.  Gbagbo appears callous-enough to sacrifice an open-ended number of innocents for no reason other than to hold on to power.  The lingering threat of intervention itself could prompt him to expel (or worse, massacre) foreigners whom he perceives as either a 5th column or the cause of foreign involvement in his country’s politics.  The timing of such an atrocity would likely be determined by the interaction of 2 factors: 1.) the desperation of his own bid to retain power, and 2.) his satisfaction that foreign powers that were threatening intervention are momentarily unwilling to follow-through.  So far Gbagbo has predictably acted to protect his rule; he should be constrained by the credible prospect of military intervention in the event of his further resort to violence.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon already warned Gbagbo supporters that if they went forward with plans to attack the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, where Ouattara is headquartered, they would be charged with war crimes.  That is a meaningless threat without serious plans to expand UNOCI’s force strength and mandate.

The Blue Helmets entered Cote d’Ivoire to pacify a civil war that would likely have dragged on to both side’s detriment; now an election that is 5 years overdue turned out a clear winner, and the incumbent’s response has been violence against his opponent’s supporters and threats of violence against his person.  The UN must be prepared to deploy more Blue Helmets if it is to protect its mandate.  Failure to prepare doesn’t just send the wrong message, it would expose neighboring countries to the prospect of a destabilizing wave of refugees.  The Liberal Ironist rejects Einstein’s dictum, and concludes that those who are not prepared for war are powerless to prevent it.  Cote d’Ivoire remains on genocide watch.


2 thoughts on “Cote d’Ivoire: Politicide Warning, Genocide Watch

  1. Kukri

    The international community is running out of options. The best tactic I’m seeing that doesn’t involve armed intervention is the fact that Gbagbo has been cut off from the finance ministry, and it’s been turned over to Ouattara. And we know what often happens when key supporters like the army are no longer getting paid…

    1. liberalironist Post author

      Do we know what happens when the army is no longer getting paid? Armies in countries that haven’t modernized are often either agents of the propertied class or else security providers for whomever is in a position to compensate them for their trouble. There is also the question of the ethnic composition of the army, as ethnic groups often have a higher degree of communication and behavioral reciprocity within them than between them; while these different social groups normally co-exist peacefully, in the context of cash-strapped post-colonial states with weak institutions these cleavages can be very important.

      My point is that Mr. Gbagbo’s inability to pay the army could result in the army recognizing Mr. Ouattara; it could also result in a coup and the army’s seizure of Mr. Ouattara’s headquarters in Abidjan and a deepened division between north and south. Considering the previous military government didn’t recognize Mr. Ouattara’s party I would be very concerned about the latter prospect; my point is that this probably depends on the ethnic composition and political context of the army.


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