Alassane Ouattara

Is peace a possibility for Cote D’Ivoire in 2011? Part 2

In the previous post I spoke about some of the underlying tensions and the general situation over the past few weeks in Cote D’Ivoire. In this post, I will discuss some of the “solutions” being proposed, the likelihood of their usage and the effect I believe they will have on the population.

Sanctions

The international community was quick to suggest sanctions and have since taken steps to freeze Gbagbo’s foreign assets. The IMF has cut Gbagbo off from some $800 million in development funding and instead handed over access to their former employee, Ouattara and many other countries have taken steps to freeze Gbagbo’s assets in their country. Cote d’Ivoire has already missed its coupon payment on its $2.3 billion Eurobond (though there is debate over which President should actually pay this) that was due last Friday, but will not default for another month. Default could have serious implications on the future of international debt relationships with the country, which has already restructured twice in the past. Travel restrictions on Gbagbo and several members of his camp have also been put into place. The intention here is to financially isolate Gbagbo and his net of loyal supporters and force him to step down peacefully.

Gbagbo has been accused of paying for foreign (mostly Liberian) mercenaries to help fight his battle, and has the public support of the army and police. Many feel that without money to pay the army, police force and mercenaries, Gbagbo will quickly lose his support from these entities, which may even turn on him. This is certainly a possibility, as some reports suggest Gbagbo has only enough money to pay these forces for three months, and many of the forces are living day to day without any savings to pull them through.  Without pay, they are likely to be angered and more susceptible to go with whoever can provide a salary. State run newspapers claim however, that Gbagbo’s signature is still being recognized on state accounts at the central bank and that salaries will be paid regularly and on time.

Several governments have refused to recognize ambassadors appointed by Gbagbo, resulting in Gbagbo announcing the removal of diplomatic privileges and immunity for those who refuse him in reciprocity. Britain, whose ambassador is actually based in Ghana rather than Cote d’Ivoire, rejected the move, saying it no longer accepted Gbagbo’s authority. Canada has called the removal “illegitimate”, but may be in a more difficult position as their embassy is located within Abidjan. The US treasury has barred Americans from doing business with any of Gbagbo’s inner circle.

Imposing sanctions also poses a risk. An armed force without a salary is a dangerous thing, as they may simply take to extracting their dues from the population as has been demonstrated in other conflicts. Civil workers, many living paycheck to paycheck, face the possibility of hunger without a salary, especially considering the rising prices of food staples. Another concern is the possibility of several eastern players funding and arming Gbagbo’s camp discretely. There are unconfirmed rumours of certain groups already doing so. China is said to have just recently given at least 3 billion CFA to Cote d’Ivoire, fulfilling their promise from a recent China-Africa summit and is unlikely to break the relationship that allows them access to raw materials– whoever is in charge. In this situation, Gbagbo would likely trade their funding for local concessions—and possibly use the funding to attempt to expel those who would have him ousted.

Dialogue or recount and investigation

Dialogue is only useful if both parties are willing to come to the table and work on a solution that is best for the country. Gbagbo is very skilled at the political manipulation game and has been announcing in public that he is open to the idea of dialogue and investigation. However, many feel that this is merely another stalling technique aimed at him finding ways to stay in power. Ouattara has been reported as saying he will not accept dialogue until Gbagbo admits he was defeated. Not a likely situation. This makes the possibility of a unity government (which is highly undesirable for much of the international community) or any sort of peace arrangement unlikely, or at the very least, a long way off.

International mediators have been attempting to diffuse the situation through a series of talks, and have been offering Gbagbo the option of comfortable exile and amnesty should he step down peacefully. This may be a valid option if the sanctions work as they are intended, but have so far fallen on deaf ears. Even still, this process should be continued as the stakes might change in the coming months. The international community should be careful in its choice of mediators however, as the AU choice of Odinga, who was one of the first to call on military action against Gbagbo, left slim chance for an opportunity of meaningful diplomacy.

Recounting and investigating the votes is no longer really an option, even though the monitors did cite irregularities and intimidation across the country. The international community’s previous announcement of an undisputed winner is extremely unlikely to be retracted, as it would bring into question their past partiality and neutrality. This would only give more fodder for Gbagbo to cite corruption should the recount not be found in his favour. In all likelihood, Gbagbo would not accept defeat even in the event of a recount in Ouattara’s favour. Ouattara has also dismissed this possibility entirely, saying that military intervention is now the only option.

Investigation, however, is something that should still be considered. Though it will have little change in the current situation, it will be helpful for the international community to review their process so they can better handle this type of situation in the future. Investigation into all allegations of violence is also extremely important, so that all parties responsible for inciting violence can eventually be brought to the International Criminal Court for justice. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned three top military leaders within Gbagbo’s camp that they could be liable for war crimes prosecution and reminded them of their obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law.

Military Intervention by African parties

Intervention is an option that has been talked about, but mostly as an extreme last resort. Ouattara is strongly for it, saying that it need not trigger a civil war and although many Julas in Cote d’Ivoire are no doubt eagerly awaiting this possibility; many feel it is likely to bring a greater amount of violence upon the population.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its Monitoring Group ECOMOG has been going back and forth over the possibility of intervening militarily, most recently shelving the idea in favour of diplomacy and attempts at dialogue.

There has long been a rivalry between Anglophone and Francophone parties within ECOWAS/ECOMOG, with the Francophone countries of West Africa in the past being vehemently opposed to intervention, which they see as a tool for Anglophone domination in the region. In previous interventions, ECOWAS has sent in troops only after being invited to intervene by governments already in place. The effectiveness of their force directly depends on the political consensus within the West African community, who will have to collectively decide on how the mission is engaged and handled. Burkina Faso’s President Compaore has previously declared his total disagreement with intervention, citing that the Standing Mediation Committee of ECOWAS has “no competence to interfere in member-states’ internal conflicts, but only in conflicts breaking out between member-countries”. Compaore feared of a possible expansion of any internal conflict to neighbouring countries should intervention be used. This is a legitimate fear.

At the moment, refugees are already pouring across the borders and armed groups have been cited crossing the Liberian border to intimidate them. Gbagbo is widely suspected of hiring Liberian mercenaries to do his dirty work within the country, and more Liberian mercenaries are said to be crossing the border willing to work for the highest bidder. This fluctuation of populations is likely to bring certain levels of violence into neighbouring Liberia should invasion take place or at the very least, result in violence against other West African nationals still living within Cote d’Ivoire.

ECOWAS member states are said to be lacking the economic resources necessary to sustain large-scale military operations. Past intervention missions have focused on securing cease-fires, creating an atmosphere conducive for negotiations or the protection of non-combatants. The countries are thus lacking the type of special operations forces capable of a “decapitation strike” that would be able to remove Gbagbo from power. That leaves only the option of full-scale invasion, which has serious implications for the civilian population. There has long been a difficulty trying to operate a unified command among ECOMOG troops because of a high level of distrust between member states, resulting in troop contingents that may arrive with different and sometimes conflicting instructions, different training standards, and excessive control by their home governments. A force facing these handicaps will likely have difficulty operating a swift commando-style mission. The ECOWAS missions are also highly reliant on non-regional state sponsorship for their operations and would require logistical support of the US and France.

Nigeria, the largest military power within the community and holder of the current presidency of ECOWAS, has little incentive to wage war in a year when it will be holding its own Presidential elections and is already bogged down with its own internal strife. Dozens of people protested in Nigeria against the use of intervention, fearing they could be targeted in retaliatory violence should they invade. The other countries most likely to be the core of any force– Ghana and Senegal— have millions of their own citizens in the country and also fear reprisals. (UPDATE: Ghanian President Atta-Mills has since announced that his country would not support a military intervention in Cote d’Ivoire and has allegedly even sent military equipment and financial assistance to Gbagbo). A Nigerian analyst questioned which country would want to send troops into an urban centre like Abidjan and face a national army instead of a rebel force; and also suggested that Nigeria would not be in the position to do anything until at least after their own elections scheduled for January 22nd and the later general elections in April. ECOWAS has only a 1,500 strong rapid reaction force and a further main force of 4,000 at their disposal, which would be outnumbered by Gbagbo forces in the case of a full-scale invasion.

Military Intervention by International Parties

The new American foreign policy in Africa has led it to develop partnerships with Mali, Ghana, Morocco and other states in its “war on terrorism” and increase funding to military operations in Africa. United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has also conducted several large-scale military maneuvers and war games in West Africa. Despite America’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is said the US Navy does have an Amphibious Ready Group with three or four ships, including a large helicopter carrier, with a 2,000-man Marine Expeditionary Unit able to do the job in Cote d’Ivoire. This however, is extremely unlikely. The US has traditionally followed France’s lead within francophone Africa, and France would be unlikely to approve of  US assistance to install a new Ivorian leader. The Pentagon has just seen a tremendous slash in budget that would reduce its spending by $78 billion over the next five years, not including costs of combat operations and the cutting of approximately 47,000 troops from the Army and Marine Corps forces. They are now looking to scale back invasions and military operations, not increase them. Washington has also recently indicated it might accept Gbagbo if it would help defuse the crisis, demonstrating that they are trying to see other options than invasion. Intervention into Africa is also a highly undesirable political action for any US leaders, as many keenly remember the disastrous invasion in Somalia and fear “wasting” any military resources on a fight that serves little interest to American citizens.

African security analyst Peter Pham said there is “little chance” that the UN would allow its peacekeepers to get involved in a military strike, as the “precedent would make it very difficult to get future agreement for deployment of such missions by host countries”. It would also call into question the lack of response by the UN in several other flawed elections processes over the past few months. The UN has recently called on between 1,000 and 2,000 additional peacekeepers to augment the 9,800 troops currently in place; though these troops would be under the same mandate that disallows them from intervening.

The French Defense Minister Alain Juppe has said that France is only ready to intervene to protect French citizens and that any decision about military intervention would need to come from the UN or the AU. French President Sarkozy later announced that French troops were not in Cote d’Ivoire to interfere with internal affairs, saying that they are to “act by virtue of a UN mandate”. French intellectuals are insisting upon UN approval for any intervention to be considered legitimate. Given France’s history in Cote d’Ivoire, a military intervention would not be a politically popular choice. In 2004, in what can be described as analogous to the US’ Black Hawk Down incident, France lost nine soldiers in a bombing and retaliated on Gbagbo’s government by wiping out the entire Ivorian air force. Retaliation attacks saw much of the French population being removed militarily by helicopter and never returning. Popular French sentiment is strongly against further interfering in someone else’s fight. No other European nation is likely going to risk its forces in West Africa without France leading the charge.

Response to Intervention

Two of Africa’s most respected peace-building and governance organizations, the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG), have expressed serious reservations about any proposed military intervention within Cote d’Ivoire. The response to any intervention must be strongly weighed because the move could result in great amounts of violence faced by civilians .

The notorious Ble Goude called upon his supporters to resist any foreign occupation, saying that “no army, however powerful, can come and remove Gbagbo in order to install (Ouattara)” in front of a crowd of 5,000 who shouted they would not accept that option. Some claim that a good number of officers within Gbagbo’s camp don’t feel like going to war since they have already enriched themselves in previous years, and don’t want to risk what they have accumulated. Some have even allegedly told Gbagbo they wouldn’t order their troops to fire upon unarmed civilians to avoid any prosecution at the International Criminal Court. The EU and France are deliberately avoiding sanctioning many of these generals (including General Philippe Mangou) in an effort to capitalize on this sentiment and avoid the wrath that may be enraged should they de-legitimize portions of the armed forces.

Ouattara has been claiming that 63% of Ivorian soldiers voted for him despite the belief that Gbagbo has support of the army, though this statement seems to contradict the reality of the situation on the ground. Since Gbagbo is “just one man” with a small group of supporters, Ouattara suggests that he could be easily removed through military intervention. This claim would have the army, long staffed along ethnic lines favorable to Gbagbo, voting in higher numbers for Ouattara than they did among the average population and if true, would have likely resulted in a nationally-run coup on Gbagbo weeks ago.

Gbagbo is said to have approximately 4,000 regular FDS troops, thousands of anti-riot police, the CESOS, the infantry, the navy and other paramilitary units at his disposal. The military forces are said to number over 30,000. They also have a tiny air force of Sukhoi warplanes, drones, Mi-24, Mi-8 and Puma copters, anti-aircraft batteries, rocket launchers and a dozen armored vehicles. Ouattara’s Force Nouvelles is said to have approximately 4,000 troops, with only a couple hundred currently in the capital and are said to be mostly lightly armed with machine guns and RPGs. There are also allegedly several heavily armed pro-Ouattara “sleeper cells” in the Abidjan neighbourhoods of Abobo, Port-Bouet 2, Koumassi and Adjame, and other rumours of armed cells of Gbagbo-supporters in other neighbourhoods.

Unless a quick, highly specialized “decapitation” mission is enacted, it is possible that Gbagbo supporters will fight back, or at the very least, the armed forces will resist the invasion. This would mean armed attacks within the most populous city in the country, with civilians likely caught in the crossfire. In this situation, the ports would likely close and transportation likely slow, making commerce nearly impossible. Many of those with wages would likely be unemployed for much of the armed conflict and food prices would skyrocket even further, making the population even more food insecure than it already is. Retaliations against pro-Ouattara populations and foreigners within the southern part of the country would become increasingly likely. The alleged armed sleeper cells would no doubt join the fight, bringing another layer of unrestrained violence upon the population.

The Forces Nouvelles could seize the opportunity while the FDS and other Gbagbo armed forces are busy fighting off an invasion to attempt to take the city. This would bring even more armed factions into the city, and with it, even more armed conflict. This type of situation would likely end in wholesale slaughter of many civilians.

Do Nothing

What if the international and African community just stands back and does nothing? Though this is not a popular option, it is likely the most probable (besides current sanctioning and attempts at dialogue).

On the streets, especially during the day, things within the city have relatively returned to normal. It is possible that the political killings and disappearances could wane off if the international community stopped pushing the country for action. The average Ivorian wants peace, and merely wants to go to work, and live in safety with their families– no matter who is in charge. In this case, Ouattara and his camp would no doubt have to seek exile in another country, and the Forces Nouvelles currently residing around the Golf Hotel would have to return back north. Lingering hatreds could fester underground, and result in later violence, but the country could remain functioning. The north and south would likely return to an ad hoc division. However, it is also possible that political killings and disappearances could continue and even increase, though this would likely result in increasing resentment from the civilian population. If this were the case, sanctioning and intervention would have a better chance of having the support of the Ivorian population, however, this could result in risking the wholesale slaughter of much of the population.

What’s next?

The international community has been quick to decide what’s best for the Ivorian people. They must remember that any move they make will have a lasting result on the population, and take every effort to consult the people to ensure Ivorian voices are not being lost in the process. It is easy to sit by in the US, France or another country and assert that one move is “best” for Ivorian people, but these people do not have to live with the outcomes of their decisions each and every day. They are not the ones who will have armed forces fighting in their streets.

Peace is a possibility in Cote d’Ivoire, as much of the population is everyday struggling to return there. They get up everyday, head to work, eat, take care of their children and hope that tomorrow something will change in the political situation. Many hope that the next generation will bring new leaders who haven’t been involved in past politics and who are more focused on ensuring they have jobs, food security and peace. Here’s hoping!

Paix pour la Cote d’Ivoire!

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Is peace a possibility for Cote D’Ivoire in 2011? Part 1.

This past month or so has been a particularly stressful one for me. I have been living in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire for most of the past year and have watched as the country has been sinking deeper and deeper into violence and intense propaganda. Sadly, I’ve found I no longer believe a word I read in both local and international news, as I have read “news” that is in direct contrast to what I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. The stories seem to be escalating the situation further and further, and I’m finding myself extremely frustrated that everything seems to be so one-sided (either pro-Ouattara or pro-Gbagbo). It hurts me to think I have posted articles and comments that are seen as even slightly defensive of Gbagbo in the international sphere in an effort to elicit some form of balance in the reporting, as I have been (and still am) heavily critical of him. It hurts to try and have discussions with locals within Abidjan in defense of Ouattara, to try and bring reason to fervent Gbagbo supporters. I hate playing the “other-side” game in response to one-sided arguments, but I think it’s important to try to play devil’s advocate with those die-hard supporters who only paint one side of the story. Frankly, I wish both presidents would move on and allow a fresh batch of politicians that aren’t tainted with past violence to step forward to take the country to a more peaceful future, but this is not reality.

I was last here in 2004, during the previous civil war and saw the violence as it spread and resulted in the intense hatred of all things foreign. It was sometimes scary and devastating to watch. I heard many horrific personal stories from friends of the violence they experienced at the time. Despite this, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to come back here. I love this country. I love the mostly kind and friendly people I have encountered here. I love the rich culture and delicious food. I love the countryside, the beaches and the thick, lush forest. I love the way of life here, barring the corruption that sometimes makes things difficult. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of really amazing treasures.

The November 28th presidential elections resulted in a political crisis, with two different entities announcing two different results. Both Presidents were sworn in, in separate ceremonies and the country has been awash with reports of violence and violent-rhetoric ever since. The crisis didn’t really begin here; it has been festering for many years but it is now looking likely to outbreak into civil war, political assassinations or exiles and further inter-group hatreds.

Though I have been writing detailed personal notes throughout this situation, I must admit that I have been fearful to publish anything on the situation in the past few weeks. After writing a critique of the nearly unanimous support for Ouattara (the opposition) demonstrated by the international community on this site and several posts on the subject in a few other forums, I received some rather scary death threats from one person and many comments that broke my non-violence, non-discrimination, non-racism policy. I decided to take a bit of a break from posting on the subject.

The results of the elections sadly, is no longer even really relevant to the discussion. Whoever “really” won did so in a circumstance of intimidation and irregularity that can be attributed to both parties, depending on where one is situated in the country (with Gbagbo-supporters being intimidated mostly in the north, and Ouattara supporters being intimidated mostly in the south). The events that have happened since have only worsened the possibility of the “truth” being told. Propaganda has run wild, with increasingly violent-rhetoric being spread among both state and opposition media. Any probing of results or investigation at this point will be lost behind propaganda I’m afraid.

There has been acts of violence and the country is at real threat of returning to civil war, which it never fully recovered from in the first place. At least 150 are confirmed dead, and probably somewhere closer to several hundred. Dozens (and perhaps many more) have disappeared, and hundreds are said to have been arrested. Many thousands have fled to neighbouring Liberia, escaping violence in the south perpetrated mostly by Gbagbo-supporters, alleged mercenaries and the security forces; and violence in the north perpetrated mostly by Ouattara supporters and the Forces Nouvelles. Further investigation is needed to assess the refugees and their experiences of violence.

Some 120,000 Liberian refugees reside within Cote D’Ivoire, thousands of Burkinabes, and other West Africa refugees; and there have been hints from some sources within the UNHCR that suggest that many of those flooding out of Cote D’Ivoire are these long-term refugees who have long worked the system. They are appearing heavily at the UNHCR border office rather than being evenly distributed throughout Liberia or other neighbouring countries (this is taken from both personal communications with officials and comments made to Chris Blattman from a UNHCR official). I do however believe, that even if these refugees “know how to work the system”, they are still experiencing violence, as foreigners are often scapegoated during domestic troubles.

Regardless of who these refugees are and where they came from, they must be assisted and resettled with caution. The increase of people into Liberia, itself prone to instability, leaves an already burdened population with more mouths to feed and endangers peace in that country as well. Armed groups have been cited crossing borders to intimidate refugee populations and take the conflict to new populations as they do. Instability in the region could easily pass borders if things in Cote D’Ivoire worsen.

Besides the refugees, there are many foreigners with money who have decided to return to their home countries by more planned means (via plane with actual luggage) as their embassies sent messages urging them to quit the country before more violence came. This has had some effect on the local economy, although it appears many major business owners will be staying and instead sending their wives and families back home.

Nearly half the population was already unemployed before the conflict began and the vast majority lives on little more than $1 a day. Those that work often support large numbers of people on their meager salaries. Many workers have been laid off since the crisis, and the prices of food staples has doubled. As the population becomes more food and job insecure, so the risk for conflict increases. Strikes called by Ouattara’s camp affected some of the services of the buses, gbakas (minbuses) and taxis for a few days, but as most of the population is living day to day, long-term or full out striking is extremely unlikely. Most can simply not afford to take the time off without severe repercussions to themselves and their families.

Rallies have been held and marches planned. Ouattara’s march on the RTI television station ended without real success and resulted in much-expected clashes between security forces and protesters. Despite the violence, Ouattara was calling on his supporters to continue the attempt the following day, again without success. He has since repeatedly warned Gbagbo of imminent consequences should he not back down immediately, though it is difficult to administer consequences when one is backed into hiding and the consequences have yet to be seen. The notorious Ble Goude (Gbagbo’s Youth Minister) has been busy rallying up Gbagbo supporters and spinning them into an angry frenzy, readying them for the moment he can unleash them to try to take the Golf Hotel (where the Ouattara camp is currently residing under UN and Force Nouvelles protection) by force. Two major marches planned by Ble Goude have been canceled the night before they were even begun, allegedly to prevent further violence (though they were called using the extreme violent-rhetoric Goude is famous for).

The local political humour paper Gbich has taken the opportunity openly mock both candidates and their behaviours, much to my enjoyment. However, in the serious papers (both state and opposition); violent, inciting rhetoric makes me skeptical of the veracity of anything printed inside and angered that more peaceful dialogue is not the popular option. Rumours of local media intimidation by Gbagbo forces haven’t stopped most opposition papers from writing, as they can still be found daily in many places around the city. I’ve personally been threatened by a pro-Ouattara supporter, so I know that the intimidation definitely goes both ways, but I can also say that I fear writing anything hyper-critical of either candidate should the situation deteriorate further.

On the streets, during the day time, things are pretty normal. The streets and markets are crowded with people again going about their daily business, though people are still cautiously stocking up on supplies and keeping an eye out for any signs of coming danger. The police in many parts of the city have even returned to using radar to ticket speeders. I’ve found no trouble or signs of blatant violence while traveling throughout the city in the past two weeks, except for roadblocks and neighbourhood patrols in a few districts at night. In fact, on New Years eve, I traveled throughout several districts (including both known pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo districts) and saw drunken partying, fireworks and dancing as if nothing was wrong.  I couldn’t sleep that night as the music, cheering and fireworks of those partying around my apartment blared in through my windows.

I have detailed some of the local situation and the underlying tensions that exist in this post. I will discuss in further detail some of the proposed “solutions” to the crisis and the effects I see coming from those in the next post.

Something’s rotten in the state of Cote D’Ivoire…

Something didn’t sit right with me while watching this second round of the Presidential vote here in Cote D’Ivoire. The international community jumped on the bandwagon of unconditional, almost unanimous support for Ouattara, without real scrutiny into the results being released by the CEI (electoral commission). The UN, France, the US, the EU, the AU and ECOWAS all congratulated Alassane Ouattara for his “win” early on without question. I think the reasoning behind this move can be attributed to the on-air physical blocking of the reading of the provisional results on Tuesday (two days after the vote) that would have allowed the CEI to read its judgment within its mandated time before the vote was handed off to the Constitutional Council. I believe that they suspected this as a move to block the reading in order to prevent the results from being determined before the Wednesday night deadline and thus was essentially a coup on Gbagbo’s part. This may or may not be true. The Council figures have Gbagbo ahead with a convenient 51% of the vote, only after invalidating 500,000 ballots from Ouattara-supporting regions in seven districts.

The international media has taken occasion to one-sidedly point out flaws with the situation. They have cited that the President of the Constitutional Council is pro Gbagbo and that allowing the Constitutional Council to decide the results would sway the reality. What they aren’t saying is that the President of the CEI as well as the Permanent Secretary and Spokesman are all pro Ouattara and so their reading is also suspect. However, the statement given prior to the election by the Carter Centre would suggest that the “formal adjudication of elections petitions is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council”. There is clearly some imbalance in reporting.

There were several teams of international observers, most notably led by the EU, the Carter Centre and secured by the UN military observers. The EU sent in approximately 120 observers who assisted in observing approximately 4.7% of the polling stations, who may or may not have spoken French, the official language in Cote D’Ivoire. Speaking the local language is incredibly important in order to make impartial and accurate observations. The Carter Centre sent in 10 long term observers to help cover the 322,460 square kilometers and the UN had approximately 192 observers from 42 different countries, who again, may or may not have spoken French.

Three days prior to the vote, the EU electoral observers noted that they had seen a “lack of respect by the CEI (independent electoral commission) of its agreements with observers,” and that “(d)espite a number of requests addressed to the CEI, the EU mission continues to face significant obstacles accessing electoral operations”. The head of the EU electoral monitoring mission, Cristian Preda, then noted shortly after the vote that “(o)ur observers saw irregularities, some obstacles on the day of the vote and serious tension”.

The day after the vote, both sides were complaining of serious intimidation, such as the following statement from opposition Alassane Ouattara’s RDR party, “We have had lots of calls telling us of cases of serious human rights violations, intimidation and prevention of voting,” and statements of several voters such as, “People have not come out today because of the election…We are very afraid about the violence.” It was also reported that the EU had left the administrative capital of Yamoussoukro days before the polls after receiving death threats, making them unable to monitor this largely populated area and the EU themselves announced that barriers were observed blocking people from voting in several places on Sunday, including in Gbagbo’s hometown of Gagnoa and that some ballots were stolen.

The Carter Centre released a report on November 30th citing many problems with the conduct of the vote, which included:

  • documented incidents of violence and intimidation across the country;
  • important procedural irregularities such as the management of the voter lists, failure to check consistently for indelible ink on voter’s fingers (in over half the polling stations visited), and inking the voter’s fingers after they voted;
  • serious election crimes committed such as the destruction of election materials, and ballot box theft;
  • the slow manner which the CEI communicated the important procedural revisions adopted on November 13th, including refusing to admit the existence of the revisions;
  • significant delays in the Sassandra Valley region amid political tension and violence the night of the election;
  • confusion over last minute changes in polling station staff with replacements who did not appear to have received training;
  • following improper steps for voter signature of the voters’ list or use of indelible ink to mark fingers in at least one of ten stations visited;
  • the lack of the “ordre de mission” certificates establishing the rights of voters that was to be retained by polling staff after the voter cast his or her ballot to prevent multiple voting was absent in at least one quarter of the stations visited;
  • the potential for voter intimidation in at least five percent of the stations visited;
  • and serious election day irregularities after the closing of polling stations

The Carter Centre also stated in that report that it “believes it is essential for there to be an investigation of these incidents,” and noted that the “formal adjudication of election petitions is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council”. So why then, is the Constitutional Council no longer responsible for the formal adjudication? Why has the international community taken it on themselves to declare a winner without their consultation or without investigation into the serious irregularities noted by all parties?

There were also several local civil society organizations charged with elections observations that spoke the language fluently and had intimate knowledge of the local terrain and customs. The COFEMCI-NCEP, COSOPCI, WACSOF-CI RAIDH WANEP-CI coalition had 938 observers in both the Cote D’ivoire and France. They found significant violence, intimidation and voting impediments, particularly in the North, South and forest zone; that the presence of intrusive law enforcement was likely to intimidate voters; the confusion caused by the release of the Ministry of the Interior and that of the Prime Minister’s office showed a lack of coordination and monitoring of the process at the government level; the barring of observers from certain polling stations in Vallee du Bandama; the intrusive presence of law enforcement and disappearance of six ballot boxes in Dix-Huit Montanges; the violence against LMP activists in the Savannah region; the assault in the town of Daloa in Bas Sassandra and the snatching of ballot boxes; massive disorder in Kumasi; that counting was conducted in haste; that sometimes ballot boxes were completely abandoned after the process; and that overall it was difficult to conduct peaceful elections that would be considered free, fair and transparent. These findings were largely ignored by the international media.

Another group of civil society monitors from the CSCI (funded through the EU) had 1100 observers throughout the country who visited on average seven polling stations each or around 38% of the stations. They noted an absence of some election officials in polling stations; the late arrival and lack of election material in the polling stations; the notable absence or delay of Security Forces officials for protection in several locations; several incidents of violence at polling stations; the destruction and removal of ballot boxes; multiple voting in several locations; the impediment of voting in several locations; the absence, late arrival or departure of certain candidate representatives in several regions; the barring of monitors from observing the counting process in some locations; the insecurity of some convoys transferring results, including attacks on some of the convoys; poor quality elections ballots spotted; polling booths that breached confidentiality; insufficient ballots in some locations; and ballot boxes unsealed or only partially sealed. They also noted that the voter turnout was around 70%. Again, these findings were largely ignored in the international media, even though the local monitors had nearly ten times more observers in the country and were accessing far more stations than the international monitors were capable of. These observers are there to represent the voice of the Ivorian people (whose election this is) through their own civil society and they are being almost totally ignored.

Considering that all in all, probably less than half the stations were actually monitored at all, most for only short periods of time throughout the day, and that there were significant reports of irregularities and violence in those stations actually monitored, this election can hardly be counted as “fair and free”.

Looking through the official tally sheets provided by the CEI (electoral commission) and comparing the results for the first and second rounds, some things strike me as very odd…

  • There are 64,290 extra registered voters in the second round (5,783,349 in the first and 5,847,639 in the second) though the official total tally printed on the top of the results from the second round is still listed as the same as the first. When one actually adds up the “inscrits” in each region though, it is easily shown that the numbers don’t add up to the reported total. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General set out the criteria for the official certified final voter list as 5,725,720, yet there are clearly more than that present in the CEI’s reported second round.
  • The entire foreign French vote was removed from the second round. France had 13,881 registered voters in the first round, and Gbagbo received 53.2% of the French vote in the first round, with Ouattara receiving only 25.4% and Bedie with 16.5%.
  • They must have gotten significantly better at filling out the ballots in the second round, despite the lack of education or public awareness to this end in the country, as there were 124,957 less “null” votes counted in the second round from the first round. In fact, there was more than double the amount of “null” votes in the first round compared to the second (225,624 and 101,476 respectively). There are some reasons that *might* account for less nulls in the second round, such as the change from 14 candidates to 2 candidates on the ballot, but when one considers that in some regional cases they had nearly 15 times less null votes in the second round than in the first, it does become rather suspect. In 2000, 12.40% of votes were invalidated, in the first round of these elections there were 4.59% invalidated and only 2.16% in the second round.
  • Voter turnout was originally cited in foreign press and by observers as between 65-70%. Local reports set the turnout at 71.28%, and local observers noted an approximate 70% turnout. Despite this, the final tally of voter turnout as documented by the CEI was cited as 80.19%, only slightly (3.4%) less than the first round (83.63%). When one tallies up the actual number of counted votes, there are actually 63,327 more votes in the second round than in the first (counting “suffrages exprimes”). If there was voter intimidation in many districts, as was reported by all elections monitors, then one would expect that the voter turnout and number of votes would be significantly less than the first. By comparison voter turnout in 2000 was only 28.06%.

While I am certainly not making the case for Gbagbo’s victory, I do believe that the international community’s announcement of a winner in this case is severely flawed and is only exacerbating tensions and violence in the region. The Special Representative to the Secretary-General himself set the criteria for benchmarks to assess the fair and free nature of the vote as whether there was a secure environment that allows for the full participation of the population, that the electoral process is inclusive, that the voters lists are credible and that the results are determined through a transparent counting process and are accepted by all or are challenged peacefully through the appropriate channels. These criteria were CLEARLY not met, and instead of calling for the challenging through appropriate channels, the international community has taken sides without questioning the results one side is offering in the slightest. The international community’s response has only ensured that dialogue between the parties will now be next to impossible (when a unity government could have been proposed if a winner had not been announced), and that mediation will now be extremely suspect for any solution.

The Ivorian people should be in charge of their own destiny and international bodies should remember their place—to act as mediators, diplomats and not adjudicators.

 

 

 

 

 

International community’s response to the Ivorian situation.

I have no access to foreign tv news and radio at the moment, as it has been cut off through the government in an attempt to stop what is being termed “illegal” announcements of a Presidential winner. I have been trawling the internet searching for the international response to the current situation trying to gauge international opinion and what information is being released where.

The election happened last Sunday, and since then things have gone severely downhill. What most frustrates me about what I have so far read in the international news is that several states and bodies (the UN, the EU, the US, the French, etc.) have taken it upon themselves to declare who the winner should be. I see major problems with this bold assertion.

The elections have been marred with political intimidation and violence– and conflicting evidence has been found that makes the election at least suspect. Declaring a winner smacks of colonial imperialism. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote D’Ivoire earlier expressed that the tally sheets were being transported normally, while EU electoral commission was suggesting that there were many irregularities and serious tension at the vote. Then they seemingly unanimously stand with Ouattara and announce him as rightful President without finding the full facts first. Instead of automatically declaring a winner, I feel that a more democratic approach would have been an appeal for peace, an investigation, release of the actual results from each district and recounts or investigation into contested areas so that the true voice of the Ivorian people can be represented. By asserting a winner, the international community is overstepping its role and only increasing tensions.

I have also been inundated with email messages since posting my last entry only a few hours ago, which was quite surprising to me as I don’t usually receive so many comments immediately following a post. There are clearly very strong feelings about both candidates. Frankly, it is not for me to say which candidate should have won here and I would never make that suggestion, I am merely trying to paint the situation as I have observed from local media so far. I am saddened to see the strong cultural violence that has been reiterated in many of these messages and comments, and have to say, that unfortunately– if your comment is one-sided without a proof to back it up or contains insults or disrespect directed towards one group– I will not be re-printing your message. I am willing to engage in conversation about the subject, and if you feel I have wrongly withheld your comments, please try messaging me again and provide some backings for your claims. Sorry to anyone that this offends.

All I can hope for is peace and calm and for the voice of the Ivorian people to be respected, and that no more deaths come from this election.

Peace!

Rebecca

Return to the coup d’etat status quo: Elections in Cote D’Ivoire

Here’s a piece I just wrote for STAND Canada. I was going to write a second piece exclusively for this blog, but am still tired and weakened from my recent bout with malaria that I didn’t feel quite up to it yet. I’ll have some new pieces for you soon and should have the weekly conflict roundup posted sometime tomorrow!

Since this piece was written last night, we have had some more news: the Constitutional Council has overturned the CEI’s election results and announced that Gbagbo has won the elections with 51% of the vote, after eliminating seven regions in the Ouattara-supported North.

Peace!

Rebecca Sargent


It looked promising. A face to face debate between the two candidates days before the second round of elections featured set two minute response times to each question to curtail any cutting off or interruptions and ended in a handshake and gentle embrace between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. They laughed and joked with each other, even telling of friendly phone conversations between them over the past years, and calling for an end to some escalating violent tones within street campaigning. Onlookers might think they were old friends and not longstanding political rivals who had previously battled each other in civil war. I watched while the days progressed as people who had repeatedly talked of peace and patience quickly turned to spread hype-filled rumours, enhancing cultural violence and tensions. Today, we know a new coup was born and democracy was again denied for the people of Cote D’Ivoire.

The night before the election, tensions boiled over and clashes broke out in the streets, resulting in at least six reported deaths and many injuries. Current President Gbagbo announced a five-day curfew, later extended indefinitely, that would run from night until mornings in an attempt to reduce the violence happening in the streets. Ouattara subsequently stated that the curfew was illegal, unconstitutional and that it would open the door to electoral fraud, preventing election results from being properly delivered and counted. Angered, he and many of his supporters refused to respect the curfew and that night many youth supporters took to the streets in Abidjan against it, clashing with police as demonstrations turned violent. At least three people were reported killed.

The day of the vote was tense. Polls opened late in many areas, and eager voters were restricted from lining up at first light as they had in the previous round because the curfew prevented it. Voter intimidation was cited several regions, and many people chose to simply stay home to avoid the violence or threats. Despite the intimidation and several early complaints of irregularity, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote D’Ivoire, Y.J. Choi, expressed that he had “no doubt that no (sic) candidate will resort to undemocratic means to express his position on the results of the poll”; citing that the tally sheets were being transported normally despite the rumours and false alarms. The EU electoral commission head suggested otherwise, announcing early on that their “observers saw irregularities, some obstacles on the day of the vote and serious tension”. The streets became ghost towns and the majority of shops were closed.

Originally, we were told results would be released within 48 hours of the vote, though the CEI (electoral commission) constitutionally had until Wednesday at midnight to make their announcements before it would be turned over to the Supreme Court’s decision. On Tuesday, glued to the tv, we watched as a Gbagbo supporter within the CEI physically seized the papers of the provisional results out of the commission spokesman’s hands and tore them up in front of a crowd of journalists, claiming the results were not valid. Ouattara alleged Gbagbo was attempting to confiscate power by preventing the results from being read, while Nigerian President and head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) asked both candidates to “tone down their rhetoric and maintain peace”.  Results were to be read the following day, but as the day came and went, no new news was released. Rumours of more clashes in the street were abundant, but unconfirmed as we called our friends around the country asking for information on the happenings in their neighbourhoods. At this point the CEI constitutional right to announce the results had expired, leaving the tallying in the hands of the Ggbagbo-appointed Supreme Court. It seemed that the CEI was forbidden from making any further announcements on state television after the confiscation earlier in the day.

[continue reading]

This piece is an afterthought of a series I wrote for STAND on the elections process in Cote D’Ivoire which can viewed here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

This week in conflict… October 30th-November 5th, 2010

World

  • The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has released its 2010 Human Development Report entitled “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development” that examines progress in health, education and income. The report uses a “human development index” (HDI) which ranks 135 countries for comparable data. The report warned that a continued failure to tackle climate change was the biggest challenge to the anti-poverty drive. It listed Norway, Australia and New Zealand as the best countries in the world to live, while Zimbabwe, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were listed as least desirable places to live. Japan was listed as the country with the highest life expectancy (83.6 years), and Afghanistan had the lowest life expectancy (44.6 years).
  • The first comprehensive report into cluster bombs around the world was released by Cluster Munition Monitor on Monday. The report found that Norway, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Colombia, Moldova and Montenegro have destroyed their weapons and that 11 other countries were in the process of doing so. The UK is said to have destroyed more than a third of its stockpile.
  • Several bombings targeting embassies and major world leaders, including  US bound packages found in Dubai and Britain, a spate of mail bombs in Greece, suspicious packages to France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Germany’s Angela Merkel were intercepted this week. Intelligence agencies have cited both domestic terrorists (in some of the Greek cases), and the Yemen-based group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as possible suspects, and are conferring with the other bomb cases to determine if they were built by the same people.
  • The International Food Policy Research Institute released its 2010 Global Hunger Index this week. Four nations ranked “extremely alarming” were all based in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for generous contributions to the UN peacebuilding fund, that was set up in 2006 to support efforts to augment peace and stability in countries emerging from conflict. The Fund has so far received $342 million, exceeding its initial target of $250 million, with 46 countries contributing.
  • Companies and states investing in large-scale land deals must be held to standards of transparency and accountability to ensure that their deals are not threatening human rights or food security a new report released by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law announced on Monday. The report analyzes the immediate and anticipated impacts of large-scale land deals in parts of Africa and South Asia.
  • A report by the Open Society Justice Initiative was released on “Corporate War Crimes“. The report details how corporate pillage can be tried as a war crime as both the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions prohibit pillage, as well as most domestic jurisdictions and international courts.

Africa

  • Fresh fighting is said to have erupted in southern Darfur on Wednesday between fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and security forces, as rebels ambushed a government food and supplies convoy. JEM spokesmen announced that at least 50 people were killed in the attack. The spokesperson for the South Sudan referendum commission announced on Monday that he was resigning and spoke of deep disagreements with the head of the commission and its secretary general. He also expressed skepticism that the vote will be held on time, suggesting instead it be moved to April or May so that it can be more effective. Sudan’s southern army accused soldiers from the north of ambushing its men on its territory on Sunday, in violation of the 2005 peace deal. The northern army denied it had any troops south of the border. On Tuesday, the government shut down the Khartoum office of Radio Dabanga and arrested 13 of the staff for reporting negatively on Darfur. On Thursday, three people in a Latvian helicopter crew working for the World Food Programme in South Darfur were kidnapped at gunpoint.
  • In a strange move, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered her entire cabinet to take “administrative leave”, a euphemism for suspension, until further notice. She implied in her order that those not ordered back to work, within an unspecified time, should consider themselves dismissed.
  • Guinea’s run-off elections are in threat of being delayed again, as thousands of Guinea voters have been displaced from last month’s violence and will be denied their voting rights. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect issued a statement on Thursday saying the situation in the Guinea requires international action to prevent mass atrocities from happening during the second round.
  • Ivory Coast will be heading to a run-off election next month, after it failed to determine a majority candidate in its first Presidential election in more than a decade. Laurent Gbagbo will now face off against Alassane Ouattara on November 28th. Some 80% of registered voters peacefully cast ballots on Sunday. Third place candidate Henri Bedie called for a recount as the results went against his favor, although the elections have been widely regarded as fair and free. Experts fear an escalation of violence in the upcoming run-off elections.
  • At least 57 Muslim Brotherhood candidates have been barred from Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary election, it was announced on Wednesday. The group, who won 88 out of 444 seats in the 2005 elections, have claimed that the authorities are doing whatever they can to limit challenges to the ruling National Democratic Party, although the government has said the candidates will have an opportunity to appeal the decisions.
  • Tanzania participated in its presidential election on Sunday, with incumbent Jakaya Kikwete reported as the winner with a landslide 61% of the votes. The parliamentary polls were contested by the main opposition leader on suspected fraud, whose claims were later rejected by election officials. A second opposition party criticized the poll on Thursday after the National Electoral Commission admitted on Wednesday that there could have been irregularities in vote tallying. Clashes erupted between opposition supporters and riot police during the delay of vote counting. Some voters were shocked to find their names listed as dead on voter lists while they were still very much alive, along with other irregularities such as missing names, claims of malpractice and protests.
  • A new round of informal talks of fighting parties in the Western Sahara will take place in New York next week. Morocco and Frente Polisario will both send delegates, as well as neighbouring states Algeria and Mauritania. Moroccan authorities say they dismantled two al-Qaeda terrorist cells this week.
  • At least 15 people are dead following an attack by militants on government soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia on Sunday. On Monday, the African Union Mission in Somalia announced it will train an additional 800 policemen to provide security to Mogadishu. Somalia’s parliament approved a new Prime Minister on Sunday, in a vote of 297 to 92. The new PM, Mohamed Abdullahii Mohamed is considered as someone who could potentially bridge the gap between various groups.
  • An explosion rocked a government guest house in Nigeria’s Niger Delta on Wednesday. Officials were not immediately clear on the cause of the blast or who was responsible.
  • A Ugandan newspaper again published photographs, along with names and home addresses of gay Ugandans on Monday. A human rights group is now seeking a legal injunction against the publication.
  • The Central Intelligence Organization in Zimbabwe is said to have seized donated portable radios from villagers in Chitowa district. The radios were distributed by a civil society organization to help improve access to information for marginalized groups in the area. Violence was said to mar the conclusion of the constitutional outreach meetings, as a MDC supporter was stabbed in the head by ZANU-PF thugs. Around 52 meetings have so far been abandoned or disrupted because of ZANU-PF sponsored violence.
  • At least 21 census agents are said to have been abducted while updating votes’ rolls for upcoming elections it was announced on Monday in the Central African Republic. The agents were intercepted by members of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) who confiscated the information that had been gathered and destroyed it and are holding the agents hostage.
  • More than 600 women and girls were raped during the mass expulsion of illegal immigrants across the Congo-Angola border, the UN announced this week. Many of the victims were locked in dungeon-like conditions for several weeks and raped repeatedly by security forces. Many rape victims in the DRC, keen to keep their family reputation in tack and lacking confidence in the police, opt to take justice into their own hands and come to amicable settlements with their attackers.

Asia

  • NATO has claimed that some 30 insurgents were killed in an overnight raid on Saturday in eastern Afghanistan in an attack that wounded five coalition soldiers. Also on Saturday, two ISAF troops were killed in separate incidents in Kabul; and more than 10 suspected insurgents were killed in Helmand. On Sunday, the ISAF announced it had killed as many as 78 insurgents in air strikes. On Monday, Afghan and foreign troops announced that they had seized nearly 24 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, to be used in homemade bombs, killing at least 15 insurgents in the process; two ISAF service members were killed in a roadside bomb in Kabul; a large number of insurgents attacked and seized Khogyani district in Ghazni province; and two female Afghan aid workers were killed in Kandahar. On Tuesday, a NATO troop member was killed in an insurgent attack in Kabul; Afghan and ISAF troops killed several insurgents in the east in an operation targeting a Taliban leader; and an armed suspected insurgent was shot dead and two suspects arrested in an ISAF/Afghan raid in Helmand. On Wednesday, insurgents firing on NATO troops killed five Afghan civilians and wounded nine others in Helmand; five insurgents were killed while trying to plant a roadside bomb west of Kabul; two ISAF troops were killed in separate attacks in Kabul; and Afghan and ISAF troops killed “several” insurgents and detained several more during an operation in Helmand. On Thursday, two ISAF service members were killed following an attack in Kabul; ISAF forces fired a hellfire missile from the air at two people appearing to be carrying weapons by motorcycle in Kandahar; four insurgents were killed in an Afghan and foreign patrol in Helmand; and an ISAF service member was killed in an insurgent attack in Kabul. On Friday, a teenage suicide bomber killed at least 9 people and wounded some 30 others at a bazaar in the west; six ISAF service members were killed in insurgent attacks and roadside bombs; and a senior leader of the al-Qaeda linked Haqqani network and several insurgents were killed in a coalition air strike.  The US special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan has down played reports of reconciliation talks with the Taliban, announcing that while more were coming forward, the leaders were not. The US military’s claim that it had a successful campaign fighting the Taliban in Arghandab Valley infuriated local people who said the conflict destroyed their harvest this week. A US led campaign is also said to have destroyed or damaged hundreds of houses this week, despite a US strategy designed to weaken support for the Taliban by limiting harm to civilians. The UN mission in Afghanistan announced on Sunday that it had set up a group of experts to support the work in the newly-formed peace council. NATO faces a shortage of specialist instructors to train Afghan forces, so has begun to send hundreds to study outside Afghanistan. The Taliban’s ability to produce large numbers of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has been reported to be severely constrained this week due to an apparent shortage of ammonium nitrate. The Taliban claimed this week to have struck a deal with as many as 19 police officers who are said to have defected to the Taliban, leaving behind a burning police station.
  • On Monday, a US drone attack killed at least five people in northwest Pakistan, bringing the US drone attack count to 21 in Pakistan in the last month alone. On Tuesday, gunmen kidnapped seven employees of a state-owned oil and gas company in Pakistan. Three attacks by US drones are said to have killed at least 12 suspected fighters in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, a bomb blast damaged a building of an Islamist party in Peshawar. On Friday, a suicide bomber demolished a mosque in the north-west during prayers, killing at least 66 people; and a grenade blast killed at least three people at another mosque on the Afghan border.
  • Indian troops in Kashmir shot dead six separatist militants in firefights on Tuesday. Concerns were raised that militants may be stepping up violence ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit this week.
  • Protesters in southwestern China overturned and torched dozens of vehicles over what they say is an illegal land grab for a construction project on Thursday. Around 2,000 paramilitary and riot police were eventually deployed and around 20 people were said to have been injured.
  • The Philippines was on heightened alert this week for possible terrorist attacks after American, British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand governments warned their citizens of potential attacks. The Philippine military said it did not have similar information on an immediate threat, but took the advisories seriously.
  • Japan issued a warning to Russia following President Medvedev’s November 1st visit to disputed islands in the North Pacific that both countries make claims to. Russia rejected the warning claiming it does not take advice from anyone when traveling within Russian territory.
  • The results of the Kyrgyzstani elections were released on Monday, and were assessed by observers as positive, transparent and well organized. The parliamentary elections took place on October 10th.
  • Last week’s exchange of gunfire across the Korean border was likely an accident and not a provocation, a top lawmaker and former army general announced on Monday. Media reports have downplayed the skirmish, and there have been no signs of escalation. On Wednesday, a North Korean fishing boat allegedly straying across the Korean border in the Yellow Sea, was fired upon by the South Korean Navy with warning shots.
  • Two main opposition parties in Burma/Myanmar have accused the political group of the military government of “cheating” and “threatening” voters ahead of this weekend’s elections. The election has so-far been considered a sham, as reporters and observers are to be denied access to the country during the vote.
  • The government of Cambodia demanded the removal of the director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country and stated that the government intends to force the office’s closure. The government is claiming that the office acted as a “spokesperson for the opposition party”.

Central and North America

  • Four Americans were killed in separate attacks in Ciudad Juarez between Friday and Sunday, and the charred body of a Canadian businessman was found on Saturday inside the trunk of a car in Guerrero. Suspected drug hitmen tossed grenades at four police stations across Monterrey on Saturday, killing one civilian and wounded 17 others. Mexican authorities found at least 18 bodies in a mass grave near the resort city of Acapulco on Wednesday. Police have not yet confirmed whether the bodies are those of the tourists who went missing in late September.
  • The US military’s ban on openly gay troops is to remain in place while the Obama administration challenges a court ruling overturning the policy. Obama says he supports ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, but argues that congress and not the courts should make the decision. For the first time, US human rights practices will be under review by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday. The US has announced that it is open to fair criticism of its human rights record. On Friday it was reported that the US defended its “proud” human rights record, which included the Guantanamo scandal, obstacles to Hispanic immigration, discrimination of Muslims and children’s rights and was largely unapologetic for its behaviour.
  • Gunmen in Honduras opened fire on a group of people in a neighbourhood sports fiend, killing at least 14 on Saturday. It was not immediately clear what triggered the attack, but drug trafficking between rival gangs was suspected.

South America

  • Colombia has suspended seven army officers and soldiers for failing to control their troops in connection with the brutal murders of three impoverished children last month. One of the officers has acknowledged raping the young 14 year old girl before she was killed, and has also confessed to having raped a 13 year old girl in a separate incident on October 2nd.
  • Dilma Rousseff won Brazil’s Presidential election to become the first woman to lead the country by beating rival her rival with 55.5% of the vote in the run-off election. Rousseff vowed to eradicate poverty affecting 20 million people in the country.
  • A Peruvian blogger was sentenced to three years in prison, a fine and 120 days of social work for “aggravated defamation” of a politician after posting an article that linked to several media outlets that discussed criminal accusations against a former minister and congressman. The sentence has generated political and media uproar in the country and has been called unprecedented and unconstitutional.

Middle East

  • On Saturday, gunman attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Abu Ghraib killing two soldiers and wounding five people; gunmen wounded a policeman in Kirkuk; a sticky bomb attack killed a driver in Baghdad; an 8 year old boy was killed and two of his family wounded after a grenade he found exploded in the southwest; and a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three civilians in Mosul. More than 50 people are said to have been killed after Iraqi security forces stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday to free hostages being held by gunmen. Also on Sunday, four Iraqi soldiers were wounded after two mortars landed at an Iraqi army base in Mosul; a car bomb exploded in the north, killing one leader of a government-back militia and wounding three passers-by; a roadside bomb wounded one policeman and two civilians in Baghdad; and another roadside bomb wounded two civilians in Baghdad. On Monday, the chief of a northern police station was killed and his driver wounded in a sticky bomb attack; and Kurdistan security forces killed a gunman carrying around 25 kg of explosive materials at a checkpoint. On Tuesday, more than 36 people were killed (later reported to be as many as 63 people) in a series of apparently coordinated blasts in Baghdad; an off-duty policeman was killed in a roadside bomb in Falluja; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded four policemen in Mosul; a roadside bomb targeting another police patrol wounded three policemen in Mosul; a man was found suffocated and torched to death in Kirkuk; gunmen shot and killed a merchant in Kirkuk; gunmen shot and killed a government backed militia leader in front of his house north of Baghdad; and gunmen shot and killed a civilian in Kirkuk. On Wednesday, armed men killed a 17 year old boy in front of his home in Mosul; a roadside bomb on a motorcycle wounded two firemen in Ramadi; another roadside bomb in Ramadi wounded two civilians; a car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three soldiers in the north; and gunmen threw a hand grenade at a police patrol, wounding a woman in Mosul. On Thursday, four soldiers and two policemen were wounded in three roadside bombs in the west; three children were wounded in a bomb attack in Mosul; police found the body of a man riddled with gunshot wounds to his chest and head in Mosul; three policemen were killed and six wounded during a bomb detonation in the north; two roadside bombs killed a driver in the west; three policemen were wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint near Falluja; three other policemen were wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Falluja; and two interior ministry officers were wounded in a sticky bomb attack in Baghdad. On Friday, nine civilians were killed in a bomb attack in Baquba; and a roadside bomb killed a government-backed Sunni Sahwa militia leader in Kirkuk.
  • Iran has arrested four men it claims were paid by a British based man with Kurdish sympathies to carry out a series of assassinations. The arrests are thought to put further strain on the already troubled relations between Britain and Iran.
  • The government of Yemen has launched a major offensive against al-Qaeda, and in particular a Saudi bomb maker behind a year-long wave of bombing attempts, and is suspected of the bombing of a  major oil pipeline this week. At least two Yemeni soldiers and one attacker were said to have been killed after anti-government fighters attacked a military checkpoint on Wednesday. On Thursday, a car bomb in the south killed two people and wounded at least 13 others; a masked gunmen shot and wounded a soldier manning a checkpoint; and southern secessionists took to the streets in a weekly demonstration to protest against the detention of separatists.
  • A Palestinian leader of an extremist group was killed in an apparent Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, a Hamas police officer shot dead a Palestinian salesman and wounded his assistant in a market in a refugee camp west of Gaza City. Israeli undercover agents have been accused by human rights group B’Tselem of abusing Palestinians during questioning at a detention centre. Israel rejected the allegations.
  • Israel has suspended dialogue with the UK in protest over a British law that allows UK courts to prosecute visiting Israeli officials for alleged war crimes. The UK has said that the law needs to be changed, but have not suggested when.

Europe

  • At least 32 people were injured after a suspected suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. Kurdish fighters have denied responsibility and announced the extension of a unilateral ceasefire. On Thursday, a group connected with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • An Arab woman on vacation in France was attacked by a French retiree for wearing a full-face veil. The case has highlighted potential problems with the recent law enforcing a veil ban.
  • A suspected militant detonated an improvised grenade during a raid on a suspected rebel hideout on Monday, killing himself, and injuring at least 10 police officers in Chechnya.
  • Kosovo’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to oust the governing coalition this week and announced that its first elections since declaring independence from Serbia would be held December 12th. Kosovo entered a political deadlock when the President resigned in September.
  • Anti-government protesters were allowed to rally on Sunday in Moscow’s Triumph Square for the first time in years after authorities granted them permission. Opposition attempts at rallying have previously been broken up, with protesters detained or arrested. Russian police officers conducted an armed raid on Tuesday of a bank belonging to a billionaire. The billionaire suggested that the raid was connected to his support of opposition newspapers. Investigators said they were searching for evidence for a criminal case that was opened some time ago.
  • Georgia announced on Friday that it had detained some 15 undercover agents working in Georgia. The spies are said to have been passing on information about Georgia’s armed forces, weapons purchases, military communications and coordination with foreign armies. Relations between the two countries have remain mostly frozen since the war in August 2008.
  • Britain and France signed defense agreements on Tuesday to expand their cooperation, including the creation of a joint expeditionary force, shared use of aircraft carriers and combined efforts to improve safety and effectiveness of nuclear weapons. The cooperation pact is set to last 50 years and will transform the way the two countries fight wars and compete for defense contracts.

Election fury.

The presidential elections are less than 2 weeks away here in Cote D’Ivoire. Massive billboards began lining the highways advertising the three main candidates since campaigning began on October 15th. On the boulevard and bridge crossing the lagoon in Abidjan wave the blue, pink and white flags of current leader Gbagbo’s newly formed La Majorite Presidentielle (the Presidential Majority) party. Cell phones are bombarded with texts exclaiming the virtues of each candidate, and the papers are awash with stories of the presidential hopefuls. The police seem to be out in full force, with increased roadblocks and checkpoints.

What a choice to make.

The candidate most likely to “win” is former history professor Laurent Gbagbo, who has recently polled at around 46% of the popular vote. Gbagbo has been in the presidential role for most of the last decade and despite a constitutional rule that one can only be elected president for two five-year terms, Gbagbo is able to circumvent the constitution since he has never actually been elected to that role. Following a successful 1999 coup planned by General Robert Guei, which resulted in the overthrow of one of the other current presidential candidates, Henri Bedie, Gbagbo ran for the Presidency. According to his followers Gbagbo received some nearly 60% of the vote in that election, however Guei claimed victory and violence ensued. Gbagbo’s FPI (Ivorian Popular Front) revolted in the streets, forcing Guei to flee and allowing Gbagbo to seize power. He has remained there ever since. In an attempt to separate himself from the past violence of the FPI, Gbagbo now runs under the Majorite Presidentielle name.

We are told that Gbagbo is “L’homme de la situation” (the man for the job), even though his last ten years in office have been marred by corruption, civil war, elections stalling and political posturing, and that he has previously been jailed for inciting public violence. A 2002 coup attempt against Gbagbo resulted in a fracturing of the state into north and south divisions and the arrangement of a new temporary unity government, which was to remain in place until a 2005 election could be held. The election was repeatedly delayed, primarily it was reported because of the stalled disarmament of the northern rebels and lack of identity cards for voters, but many suspected that Gbagbo was determined to keep his place for as long as possible by stalling. The stalling worked for over 5 years.

Alassane Ouattara, a former economist with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), is the President of the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and was the Prime Minister during the Presidency of much loved first President Houphouet-Boigny. Following Houphouet-Boigny’s death, Henri Bedie (another Presidential hopeful) and Outtara battled it out for Presidency, with Bedie prevailing. Ouattara is often associated with the rebels of the north, where his base and primary support system lies, and is often suspected of inciting rebellion among the northerners. During his time as PM, Ouattara cut subsidies to farmers (as recommended by the WTO) while EU and US farmers were receiving heavy subsidies, and on IMF recommendation dismissed more than 10,000 state employees, reduced the salaries of the remaining state employees by 40%, eliminated transportation and basic health care services for students, imposed fees for basic health care services, initiated the devaluation of the currency, aggressively pursued taxes from Lebanese and Mauritian merchants, and allegedly sold off state-owned property to his wife’s clients and friends at severely devalued prices, angering students and workers, including Gbagbo, into rebellion. Rumor circulates that while Ouattara filled in for the ailing President Houphouet-Boigny, millions of dollars from the state treasury mysteriously disappeared, allowing Ouattara to amass one of the largest fortunes on earth. Some rumors suggest that he has strong ties to the Jewish lobby, even going so far as to claim that his wife is a MOSSAD agent, to the fear of many Lebanese merchants and industrialists in the region (who make up some 2% of the population and own a large percentage of industry).

Henri Bedie is a former President (1993-99) and leader of the Democratic Party of Cote D’Ivoire- African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA), who now ironically claims he will unite the country from its fractions, lower taxes and restore the economy. Under Bedie, the government began its xenophobic Ivorite (or pure Ivorianess) citizenship policies in an attempt to politically exclude his competition Ouattara from the Presidency for being the son of Burkinabe parents. The policies effectively resulted in many people from the north of the country being denied of national identity papers, passports or being harassed by security forces. The north and the south became divided and in December of 1999, the national army staged a successful coup, on the pretext of non payment of due salaries, while Bedie fled to Togo and then on to Paris. He is widely known as a drunk and corrupt politician, who has little chance of regaining the Presidency. Bedie has announced that this will be his last attempt at the power position if he loses.

So who to choose? It seems to come down to the lesser of evils. I will be spending the day before the election and election day safely within my home, and hoping that violence does not mark the transition.

Friends tell me they have received multiple texts from all the candidates. So far, I have only received ones from Bedie and Gbagbo. Here are some of the recent texts I have received from the Bedie and Gbagbo campaigns:

“Yes we can! Henri Konan Bedie l’a dit longtemps avant Obama. Avec lui le progres pour tous et le bonheur pour chacun etait une realite. Ceux d’en face ont braque le pouvoir pour nous imposer le bonheur pour eux seuls et la misere pour le …peuple. Le disordre, les coup d’etat, la chienlit, les dechets toxiques et l’ecole gratuitement chere font egalement parti de leur programme de gouvernment. Il est temps de mettre un terme a cette situation qui n’a que trop dure. Fier ivorien, le 31 octobre, le pays t;appellera pour un vote historique. Il faudra faire le meilleur des choix. Le choix du progres pour tous et du bonheur pour chacun. Choisi le candidat Henri Konan Bedie pour la construction d’une Cote d’Ivoire de valeurs. Yes you can. Faites passer le message.”

“Si tu aime la Cote D’Ivoire. Si tu veux la paix vote Bedie candidat du PDCI = RDA! Nouvelle Generation d’Attecoube pour H.K.B. Partagez ce message avec vos proches et amis. Que DIEU nous accorde cette PAIX des temps PDCI=RDA!”

“Ivoirien <ne> tu as marche pour dire NON au coup d’etat et a la rebellion, Si tu as marche pour dire NON a la barbarie francaise, alors VOTE GBAGBO pour donner un sens a ton combat. Merci de passer le sms aux autres.”