As Côte d’Ivoire Recovers, Violence Persists

Since the post-election conflict in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011 came to an end with the capture of former head of state Laurent Gbagbo and the inauguration of President Alassane Ouattara, the country has been slowly recovering. A former IMF official, Ouattara has paid special attention to the private sector and has made economic recovery a priority – the Ivorian government ratified an important treaty with the EU back in May, the International Cocoa Agreement, which is meant to guarantee fair prices and encourage a sustainable economy; brokered deals to have a majority of Ivoirian international debt obligations cancelled; and the IMF is forecasting 8.6% growth in the country for 2012. Amidst this positive news, however, Côte d’Ivoire is still reeling from a crisis that has left deep scars.

Just this week, overnight attacks on policy and military installations and a power plant led to clashes between Ivoirian forces and unidentified gunmen. These attacks come in the wake of a spat between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, when the latter claimed that attacks were being launched from the Ghanaian side of the border, leading to a two week closure. The government has been blaming pro-Gbagbo insurgents for the ongoing violence, which seems to have picked up significantly this past August, with a string  of attacks against military and police installations across the country. The pro-Gbagbo opposition party denies allegations of involvement.

Ongoing disarmament efforts have yet to root out all remaining arms caches, and, clearly, whether these attacks are to blame on pro-Gbagbo insurgents or a more nebulous group, the ongoing violence and the brazenness of the attacks portend an uncertain future unless the government – with the support of the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire – is able to create the necessary conditions for peace to prevail. Indeed, over the summer, the National Commission of Enquiry released findings into 2010-2011 post-electoral violence, concluding that government forces were responsible for 700 deaths, and pro-Gbagbo forces 1,400. These findings, however, have not lead to any formal efforts at reconciliation, and have likely stoked resentment among pro-Gbagbo supporters.

In addition to this volatile internal dynamic, Côte d’Ivoire’s borders continue to represent pockets of insecurity and lawlessness – the attacks allegedly launched from Ghana, the protracted refugee situation on the border with Liberia, and the constant back and forth of militias and weapons across that porous border are serious issues that undermine the security of the country. Finally, as the situation in Mali shows no signs of amelioration, the threat of further destabilization from the north remains a real possibility.

While Ouattara’s government has come a long way towards repairing the damage done by years of misrule by Gbagbo and the violent post-election crisis, serious challenges remain in terms of ensuring long-term, genuine security within the country. The prosperity of Côte d’Ivoire depends in part in the government and the security apparatus’ ability to manage these threats without resorting to more violence and extra judicial means. The moral authority of the Ouattara government is still thin, particularly in light of the results of the independent inquiry mentioned above, and it is critical that they show strategic restraint in dealing with these ongoing attacks and security threats.