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April 1, 2011

Violence Escalates in the Ivory Coast

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In the West African nation of Ivory Coast a civil war is brewing after democratic elections in November 2010 declared Alassane Ouattara the new President. The struggle between Ouattara and incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has been raging for four months, ever since voters in the former French colony known as Cote d’Ivoire decisively voted for Ouattara in the Nov. 28 election. He was recognized as president by the U.N., the United States, and the European and African Unions, but Gbagbo has refused to leave.

Ouattara’s been staying in a U.N.-protected hotel in Abidjan while incumbent Gbagbo held his own inauguration ceremony in December and remains in the presidential palace. As negotiations flagged, the struggle turned violent, with pro-Gbagbo forces attacking pro-Ouattara civilian neighborhoods, and even attacking U.N. peacekeepers. Nearly 500 people have died so far, and the U.N. says as many as one million people have fled their homes, some to nearby countries.

In recent days, forces loyal to Ouattara have taken 12 cities and towns including the political capital of Yamoussoukro and the port of San Pedro, before taking the fight to the commercial capital, Abidjan. While international pressure is on Gbagbo to peacefully relinquish power, he is unrelenting despite the U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed further sanctions on Gbagbo’s government and leaders.

Admits the conflict, the Ivorian people are suffering. All major banks closed their doors in February, leaving businesses and citizens without access to their money. Once an economic powerhouse and a major world cocoa producer, Ivory Coast was seen as an African success story. But after two decades of unrest, coups and a 2002 civil war, the current crisis, born of hopes for a democratic election, is dealing this small African nation a tragic reality.

Quotes

“To all those who are hesitating, whether you are generals, superior officers, officers, subofficers, rank-and-file, there is still time to join your brothers in arms.” Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast President-elect (through translator)

“The last week has seen a dramatic deterioration of the security situation. If it weren’t for the numbers of those killed, I think we’d call this a civil war, essentially.” Jennifer Cooke, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“There is still an opportunity for Gbagbo to step aside in a fashion which will prevent widespread bloodshed and a difficult fight in Abidjan for power. We hope that he will see and seize this opportunity to step aside peacefully and encourage his supporters to lay down their arms and not to engage in urban conflict.” Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State

Warm Up Questions

1.Where is the Ivory Coast?2.What is a coup?3.Describe the fundamentals of a democracy.

Discussion Questions

1.What do you think are some reasons that countries dissolve into civil war?2.With all the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East, do you think the international community is too overwhelmed to focus on the Ivory Coast? Why or why not?3.How would you compare and contrast the situation in the Ivory Coast to the crisis in Libya, Tunisia or Egypt?

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