On June 8, while patrolling between the Ivorian villages of Tai and Para, seven UN peacekeepers were killed in a directed ambush by rebels situated on the Liberian border. The peacekeepers, from Niger, had arrived in the region just weeks before, after hearing news of an imminent attack in the region.
Only days earlier, Human Rights Watch had warned of a similar endemic, reporting that "armed militants hostile to the Ivorian government have recruited Liberian children and carried out deadly cross-border raids on Ivorian villages in recent months." The report was based on field work in the towns of Zwedru, Toe Town, and Tempo in Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. The report accused rebels and Liberian mercenaries as being behind the attacks. In particular, the report claimed that those attacking the frontier villages were Gbagbo sympathizers who had been hiding in Liberia. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of militants who had fought on behalf of former president Laurent Gbagbo now live in the Liberian frontier and are armed and dangerous.
To this claim, former Ivorian Ambassador to the United States, Pascal Kokora, scoffs. "Somehow, whenever there is a problem in the country, they always blame it on Gbagbo. He has been made into this ultimate criminal and no criticism is being waged against the [Alassane] Ouattara troops from the crisis who committed many atrocities."
The political turmoil which culminated in civil war in Ivory Coast started almost a decade ago on Sept. 19 2002, when President Gbagbo was away in Italy. Mutinous troops attacked several cities seizing the north of the country. As Ouattara hid in the French embassy, French troops moved into the country from their base under the pretext of protecting their own civilians in the crisis. The country fell into chaos as various warlords sprung up and seized northern and western regions of the country; the French again, increased their presence across the countryside.
Although Gbagbo's mandate expired in 2005, a deal was brokered by the African Union which extended Gbagbo's term; it was believed that due to the prevalence of armed rebel groups, an election would not be feasible. Only in November 2010 did the election take place.
The 2010 Ivorian election was controversial among many. During the first round, then president Laurent Gbagbo of the socialist Front Populaire Ivoirien, was reported to have won the election although he did not pass the 50 percent mark. Therefore, a second round was organized. It was here that Ouattara is said to have taken the lead, overcoming his opponents' previous popularity.
However, intimidation was used by both sides; the extent to which it changed the result of the election, however, will never be known. "Ouattara surely won the election. I don't think there is any doubt about that," says Professor Michael Connolly of the University of Miami, an academic who frequently visits the country. "There are rumors of intimidation on both sides [but] the rumor that Ouattara's troops intimidated voters is exaggerated."
Nevertheless, France, the United States, and subsequently, the United Nations welcomed the result that Alassane Ouattara was the new president-elect of Côte D'Ivoire. Few questions were asked. In the United States, only Senator James Inhofe (R) stood on the Senate floor highlighting potential instances of voter fraud that may have tipped the election in favor of Ouattara.
The Second Ivorian Civil War began following these results. As pro-Ouattara forces began seizing most of the country, Gbagbo remained helpless, unwilling to give up power in Abidjan. Gbagbo stubbornly did not respond to international pressure and refused to give up his presidency. Only on April 11 of this year, when pro-Ouattara forces, funded by the French, raided Gbagbo's residence, was he then arrested and removed from power. It was during this time both sides engaged in the use of disproportionate indiscriminate violence. Furthermore, former president Laurent Gbagbo is now accused of inciting ethnic tensions against foreigners.
"Gbagbo held on too long. Remember he controlled the army with the monies from the treasury and the central bank, and they committed atrocities for sure," continues Professor Connolly. "I blame Gbagbo for not accepting to step down. The country is very much divided along Catholic and Islamic lines. I am Catholic, but side with the UN and the French regarding the election results. Gbagbo set the country behind 20 years."
Since then, the country has tried to rebuild itself. But as the new president has taken the reigns, the frontier has yet to be tamed. "This has been a problem for many months. The border is not secure and the current government is unable to secure the country," says Blé Sery, a native of the region. "The French military remains here, the UN peacekeepers are here, and yet, nothing has been done when it comes to security."
Traveling through the region, much of the country's splendor still remains. The infrastructure in the major urban areas vastly remain intact and speaking with a representative for a major Malaysian palm oil company in the region we are told, "It is amazing how much of the infrastructure remains unhurt. Côte d'Ivoire has been an ideal location to invest for the last few decades and remains to be a great place of interest."
However, according to Matt Wells, a West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, "For well over a year, the Liberian government has had its head in the sand in responding to the flood of war criminals who crossed into the country at the end of the Ivorian crisis. Rather than uphold its responsibility to prosecute or extradite those involved in international crimes, Liberian authorities have stood by as many of these same people recruit child soldiers and carry out deadly cross-border attacks."
Today, many human rights activists are decrying the "victor's type of justice and unruly security forces" that have dangerously deepened the political situation in the country. "More than a hundred Ivorians previously close to former President Laurent Gbagbo, including family members, are being detained in Ivory Coast," says Nico Colombant of Voice of America. "They face charges ranging from economic crimes to orchestrating violence in the aftermath of the 2010 presidential election. And their numbers keep growing."
According to Wells, "there is the sense that the justice system is not credible and really the loss of rule of law in Cote d'Ivoire has underpinned the last decade of violence and so restoring the rule of law is crucial and will only happen when the Ouattara government shows that its own side is not above the law."