A divided country; a leader who refuses to recognise the writing on the wall; an opposition movement backed by global opinion; the threat of a massacre of civilians: the similarities between the situation in Libya and Ivory Coast are striking. And yet the former has dominated the world’s attention and prompted a humanitarian intervention, while the latter has elicited nothing more than an international shrug of indifference.
There are, of course, differences as well as similarities between the two emergencies. In Libya, it was the illegitimate despot, Gaddafi, who last month was threatening a massacre. In Ivory Coast the danger comes as a consequence of the United Nations-recognised opposition’s push to take control of the Abidjan stronghold of Laurent Gbagbo, who lost last month’s election but refuses to step down.
In Libya the rebels and the Arab League had explicitly requested outside military assistance. There have been no similar calls for intervention in Ivory Coast, beyond the existing UN force on the ground, from the opposition to Gbagbo or the African Union. But efforts to put the two crises in separate categories are still not convincing. The UN’s Security Council resolution 1973, authorising a no-fly zone over Libya, was passed because of the imminent danger of massacre of civilians. That same risk would appear to exist in Ivory Coast. Human Rights Watch has expressed its concern at the prospect of “mass atrocities” over the coming days.
The threat in Ivory Coast comes not from the rebel assault, but from the brutal militia groups and mercenaries that have been armed by the Gbagbo regime. Over the past three months, these forces have been responsible for executions, rapes and beatings of Ivorians believed to support the opposition. And a larger social collapse could be in store. Since last November’s election, the economy has ground to a halt. A country that only a decade ago enjoyed the highest living standards in Africa thanks to its thriving cocoa exports is on the verge of chaos. Abidjan, once known as the Paris of Africa, lives under the shadow of destruction.