Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Not Over in Cote d'Ivoire

The arrest of Laurent Gbagbo today has finally brought the long crisis in Cote d'Ivoire to the front pages of US newspapers.

But,a s Beth Dickinson explains very well here,this doesn't mean that things are over in Cote d'Ivoire. Yes, the recalcitrant loser of November's election has finally been detained by the forces of Alassane Ouattara but it took four long months. Much has happened since Gbagbo refused to step down after the UN and the Ivorian elections commission declared Ouattara the winner of the runoff vote.

Just to give a brief list, the Security Council agreed in December to send two thousand extra troops (they still haven't arrived), the two attack helicopters did arrive (three months late). In January-February, the international community did its best to strangle Gbagbo's resources: ECOWAS cut off his signing authority (this matters because Cote d'Ivoire is a Franc CFA country and therefore partially controlled by the regional central bank) and Ouattara announced a halt to cocoa and coffee exports. This led prices to skyrocket for cocoa futures. Meanwhile, the EU and the US froze Gbagbo's assets. South Africa, whose President seems to call for power-sharing a la Zimbabwe/Kenya every time someone tries to steal an election, finally followed suit on the asset freeze, but only ten days ago.

Last month, the Security Council finally imposed an asset freeze and travel bank on Gbagbo (they had threatened before but not named him or his family/entourage to a list). And finally, the Council told UNOCI and Licorne to really "use all necessary means" to prevent violence.

Still, Gbagbo's arrest today took a lot of support from the French Licorne forces and UNOCI, in particular by responding to the use of heavy weapons in Abidjan. On top of that, Gbagbo has been using a lot of anti-French, anti-UN and anti-foreigner (that is anti-northerner) rhetoric. Many of his supporters are still armed--the Republican Guard in particular has long refused to comply with a UN arms embargo. Not only that but he (and the head of his Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude) used the months of crisis to recruit more followers, and arm them.

Last month, several hundred people were massacred in Duekoue, which is inhabited mostly by Gbagbo supporters. If this headline didn't make you think "Rwanda", I don't know what will but about 30,000 people had taken refuge in a church compound. This kind of thing could happen again. There has been heavy fighting in Abidjan for days now so we should expect high casualty figures. On top of everything, one million people have fled the fighting and over 100,000 fled to Liberia.

So, it's nice that Cote d'Ivoire is finally getting some attention, it's nice that the Security Council finally did more than threaten sanctions and in fact threw its support behind UNOCI and Licorne (something that many UNOCI and Licorne officials felt had long been lacking) but don't count this one as over yet. Alassane Ouattara gave a nice speech (in French) on how he will work on reconciliation, but it will take a lot of work.

Oh and one more thing, the New York Times' coverage of this crisis, has been abysmal. Why is it that for the first time in months, Adam Nossiter, their West Africa-based reporter-- is actually in Abidjan? Until now, all his articles have relied on wire reports and the byline has been from the safety of Ghana. Why was no one from the times there when the BBC, Le Monde, Reuters, AP, AFP, and others were on the ground, in some cases making it to Duekoue to report on the massacre there?


  1. The only thing positive Gbagbo did for the Ivory Coast is fact that he was the leader of the movement that enable multiparti¬sim in CI. That is it.

  2. "Why was no one from the times there when the BBC, Le Monde, Reuters, AP, AFP, and others were on the ground, in some cases making it to Duekoue to report on the massacre there? "

    Maybe because the economic situation of American newspapers is a lot worse than those on the continent (more readers as %-age of the population; big tax breaks) ... ?

    Maybe because Americans don't really care for Africa, whereas the French and Brits are still interested in their old colonies, leading to broader and deeper coverage?
    (which is why I prefer to read coverage of Sudan in English papers, coverage of Algeria in Le Monde, and coverage of Latin America in El Pais ...)

  3. Positroll--that's honest on Americans not caring, though I will speculate that if Valentine's day had been affected by the rise in cocoa prices, or a lack of supply, some NGOs and college activists might be on a "conflict chocolate" roll.

    I haven't seen data on readership for Le Monde on paper vs. number of people who pay to get inside their limited paywall. I don't think that Reuters and AP get any kind of subsidies, Le Monde is also a private company so it doesn't get the kind of funding that France24 or France Television get. All this to say, I'm not sure it has anything to with subsidies, tax breaks or readership.

    On top of everything else, I find it amazing that CNN is supposedly sending 400 people to London to cover The Wedding. I don't know how many the Times is sending but given that they have a special box on their front page, I'm going to assume it's at least a few.

    If you have those kinds of resources, you can send your Ghana-based West Africa guy to live on a UN base for a while, just like the wire journalists, BBC, and Le Monde did (literally all of them have audio bits about being on patrol in a French/UN APC). I don't think in this case the resource argument is very strong, not when you have someone a short drive away.

  4. Oh and I'm with you on reading certain things in certain papers. The only problem is, not everyone knows enough (any) French and Spanish to do so. Most people rely on the Times (and other leading papers) to provide that kind of coverage when they are interested in reading about it.

  5. Proof that Americans don't do Africa can be found here:
    (click on the embedded link to Wend to see the map)

    "Most people rely on the Times (and other leading papers) to provide that kind of coverage when they are interested in reading about it."
    I'm fine with that. it's just that the coverage reflects to a large part the (perceived / sometimes artificial, see the royal wedding) interests of the readership.

    That I'm lucky enough to be in the position that I can choose the coverage according to quality without being constraint by speaking just one language was just a side remark ...


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