Thursday, March 31, 2011

Africa's Other War

An update now from Africa's other civil war: the ongoing battle for the Ivory Coast. If you've been following the situation in the Ivory Coast here, then you already know that this conflict dates back to last November when after losing what was certified by international observers as a “free and fair” election, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo decided that he really, really didn't want to stop being president, so he had himself sworn into another term of office, despite the fact that the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS (the Economic Council of West African States) and a host of foreign governments all recognized challenger Alassane Ouattara as the rightful president of the Ivory Coast. Gbagbo went on acting like he was President while Ouattara was holed up at a seaside resort hotel in Abidjan guarded by UN troops. There were widespread reports that military and security forces loyal to Gbagbo were conducting a campaign of terror against Ouattara's supporters, particularly in the suburbs of Abidjan, in an effort to undermine his claims to the presidency. But how quickly things can change. The BBC reported yesterday that armed forces loyal to Ouattara recaptured the Ivory Coast's capital city Yamoussoukro, a milestone victory in a military drive that has seen them wrack up victory after victory against pro-Gbagbo forces since moving south from their traditional base of support in the northern part of the Ivory Coast. The tide has changed so dramatically that Gbagbo is now asking for a cease-fire in the conflict. That's probably unlikely to happen since the only solution to this conflict would seem to be Gbagbo giving up his claim to the presidency, something he seems unlikely to do unless forced. With Yamoussoukro under their control, the pro-Ouattara forces seem to be planning a move against Abidjan, Ivory Coast's largest city and its political and economic hub. A fight in the urban heart of Abidjan could be bloody though, and more than one million residents of the city are already said to have fled the battle they expect will soon arrive. So while things are looking up for Ivory Coast's “real” president, the fight seems far from over. On a side note, other media reports on the situation in Ivory Coast referred to the forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara as “rebels”. Maybe this was just a case of using the same rhetoric from reporting on the fight in Libya, but “rebels” seems to be an odd choice of words to describe troops allied with the legitimate president of a country. A subtle choice of words can have a powerful impact on the situations they describe – something too many news editors today seem to overlook.
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