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December 26, 2010

Despite Growing Pressure, Ivory Coast Incumbent Gbagbo Still Has Outside Allies

by Nico Colombant

Amid growing international pressure for him to step down, embattled incumbent Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo can still count on some outside allies.  They include African leaders and activists who believe they are fighting for independence from outside interference.

While former South African President Thabo Mbeki was one of the first dignitaries to try to mediate in the month-long post-election crisis in divided Ivory Coast, U.S.-based African affairs analyst Gervais Gnaka says a report Mr. Mbeki came up with was mostly ignored.

Mr. Mbeki's visit came after the Ivory Coast constitutional council threw out votes from the rebel-held north, charging fraud and giving the victory to Mr. Gbagbo. This overruled an earlier announcement by the national election commission, which had declared former prime minister Alassane Ouattara the winner.

"(Mr.) Mbeki seems to have suggested the creation of a commission to investigate about all the electoral malpractices about the situation in Ivory Coast and as you can see there are some people who have different voices about the crisis but the international media are not reporting about those," he said.

Gnaka says this support also includes youth groups in other African countries, who feel Africans remain under the control of outside economic interests. "When you are an African leader, you talk about independence, you talk about economic independence of your country, you talk about sovereignty, you know that you have to have against you what other people call imperialism, corporate power and the international community," he said.

A sociologist from the University of Washington who is closely following the situation in Ivory Coast, Daniel Chirot, says one leader who has voiced his support for Mr. Gbagbo is Zimbabwe's long-time, post independence President Robert Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe who has faced repeated accusations of staying in power through fraudulent elections has also said he is fighting to reverse previous colonial control.

"Robert Mugabe sent a long, sort of rambling declaration or message to Gbagbo which was published in Zimbabwean newspapers supporting him, though a lot of that message actually was more about Mugabe's own resistance to power-sharing and referred more to the situation in Zimbabwe than to the situation in Cote d'Ivoire," he said.

Last week, Angola issued a statement denying Angolan mercenaries and soldiers had been sent to fight alongside the Ivory Coast army which remains loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.

Angola's government also said it felt the international community was spurring Ivory Coast towards renewed conflict.  

Chirot, who wrote a paper in 2006 called "The Debacle in Cote d'Ivoire", says Angola's government may view an analogy between Mr. Gbagbo's plight and its own. "I am sure that is has something to do with the nature of the regime there that might feel that it is in some ways similar, that is to say it controls access to the revenues from the natural resources meaning the oil and have not done a terribly good job in distributing those resources to its population, in helping its population, but maintains itself in power," he said.

Investigative journalists in Ivory Coast have also pointed out to recent deals which gave Angola's government stakes in the national Ivorian oil refinery.

The ambassador from Lebanon, which has a large merchant community in Ivory Coast, was the only ambassador other than the one from Angola who attended Mr. Gbagbo's swearing-in ceremony for a new mandate earlier this month.

Mr. Gbagbo's outside support also includes high-profile lobbyists in the United States, such as Lanny Davis, who is now on Mr. Gbagbo's payroll.  Davis says he is helping to resolve the Ivory Coast situation through dialogue and mediation.  

But it appears for most of the international community, there is little room left for such a tactic.

The United Nations, the African Union, the West African body ECOWAS, and foreign governments including the former colonial power France and the United States have all said Mr. Ouattara is the president, and that Mr. Gbagbo should step down.  They have followed up with sanctions and threats of military action.

Stephen Smith, an anthropologist at Duke University, says the clarity of comments by officials worldwide has been unprecedented. "For the first time that I can remember a special representative of the United Nations has called the bluff on an election, not only observing an election, but actually speaking out after the election and clearly certifying who was the winner and secondly being followed by the international community in an unprecedented way," he said.

Despite this international support, Mr. Ouattara has been holed up in a hotel in Abidjan, the main southern city. Rebels who still control northern Ivory Coast have pledged their support.  In southern Ivory Coast Mr. Ouattara has little power, especially over coastal ports, state media or lucrative cocoa fields, but he has tried to win influence from outside the country.

So far, Mr. Ouattara has been able to appoint a new ambassador to the United Nations, and is trying to do the same in many countries.  With his many contacts in international finance, the former International Monetary Fund official has also been able to have the West African regional bank stop making Ivorian money available to Mr. Gbagbo.

G. Pascal Zachary, a U.S-based professor and the author of a blog called Africa Works, says the balance of international support is clearly in favor of Mr. Ouattara, but that Mr. Gbagbo also knows how to play his cards well.

Zachary says the international community created a tie when it intervened after civil war broke out in Ivory Coast in 2002, and now must show it can help, rather than make the situation worse. "If the international community cannot affect a positive result in a country like Ivory Coast then we have to think the clock is really getting turned back.  The whole approach to African problems, this multi-lateral approach, civil societies, these wide open forums that African problems are trying to be solved in, it seems like that is a failure," he said.

A delegation from ECOWAS is due to meet Mr. Gbagbo Tuesday to ask him to make a peaceful exit. Analysts say they doubt that will happen.