Côte d'Ivoire: the re-descent into hell?
At the end of Laurent Gbagbo's official term as president of the republic, the situation in Côte d'Ivoire risks deteriorating even more. Gbagbo's constitutional mandate ends today, but he announced that he would stay in power another year as part of a transition during which presidential elections will be held. Those elections had been originally scheduled according to one of the many 'peace accords' signed by the government and the northern rebels. But intransigence and mistrust between the two parties prevented that from happening.
In an address to the nation, Gbagbo promised, "I will never allow the decapitation of the state of Ivory Coast." He also announced that he would name a new prime minister to head the government within a few days.
The Forces nouvelles (ex-?)rebel group unilaterally named its leader, Guillaume Soro, as the country's new prime minister. The announcement was ridiculed not only by Gbagbo's spokesman but by the mainstream political opposition. "The New Forces [Forces nouvelles] cannot designate a prime minister. They can propose a new prime minister. It's not the same thing," said Alphonse Djedje Mady of the G7 coalition.
Jonathan, over at The Head Heeb blog, comments on the disastrous socio-economic situation in northern Côte d'Ivoire. He notes that though the Forces nouvelles have prevented the north from descending into complete anarchy, a la Somalia, they've never really developed even a basic state infrastructure in the territory they control. The New Forces' goal remains the unification of Cote d'Ivoire under their rule, and despite occasional calls from within the movement to declare statehood, they still consider themselves a rebel army rather than a provisional government. As such, they are unable to develop the country on anything more than an ad hoc basis.
But he also lays some blame at the feet of the international community.
Like the New Forces themselves, Cote d'Ivoire's African and European interlocutors have focused on the peace process and the reunification of the country to the exclusion of restoring normalcy in daily life. Some of this may be due to oversight, but there's also a certain amount of calculation; given the prevailing attitude of the international community toward the sanctity of colonial borders, it is unwilling to encourage the New Forces to do anything that looks like state-building.
By all accounts, the Ivorian state had a relatively minimal presence in northern Côte d'Ivoire even before the war. The north was poor and underdeveloped even before the devastating conflict. The short-sightedness of the international community and the Forces nouvelles and their failure to deal with basic needs has had a terrible impact on the northern population.
The previous week, Gbagbo's regime was in hot water for other reasons. The NGO Human Rights Watch accused the government of recruiting Liberians, including children, to fight the rebels.
Update: the UN's IRIN news service offers some insight into how poorly northerners were treated when the region was under control of the Ivorian state.