Current headlines have focused on civil strife and international military engagement in Libya for a couple of weeks now, but until recently, the United States has paid scant attention to a similar situation unfolding in the West African nation of Ivory Coast — Côte d’Ivoire.
Since losing a presidential election last November, former President Laurent Gbagbo has stubbornly refused to cede power to the democratically elected Alassane Ouattara, which has driven a nation once known as “the Paris of West Africa” perilously close to a full-fledged civil war. Gbagbo is reportedly holed up in a bunker in the presidential residence, which is surrounded by forces loyal to Ouattara and has been under fire by French and United Nations air strikes. The Ivorian strongman may also be negotiating his surrender with the U.N.
Earlier this week, hundreds of bodies believed to be Ouattara supporters were found massacred in a western region of the country, more than 100,000 Ivoirians have sought refuge in the neighboring African nation Liberia and several thousand others have reportedly fled to Ghana, Togo and Guinea. Meanwhile, residents of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire’s economic center, are confined to their homes, too fearful to venture outdoors and risk being randomly shot, knowing that parts of the city are without electricity.
African-American lawmakers have questioned why the United States would participate in a military operation in Libya where ordinary citizens also are under siege in the midst of civil strife while taking no action in the Ivory Coast and other nations experiencing similar strife. Could it be that coffee and cocoa beans can’t heat a home or business?
President Obama issued a statement on Tuesday expressing deep concern about the violence taking place and calling for Gbagbo to accept his loss.
“To end this violence and prevent more bloodshed, former President Gbagbo must stand down immediately and direct those who are fighting on his behalf to lay down their arms,” Obama said. “Every day that the fighting persists will bring more suffering, and further delay the future of peace and prosperity that the people of Cote d’Ivoire deserve.”
Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) indicated in an interview on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Tuesday that he doesn’t believe that the president made a conscientious decision to participate in the Libyan military operation while leaving the people of sub-Saharan Africa “his family members are still living” to fend for themselves.
“But I think it is still confusing because we don’t know what separates it. Somebody needs to explain that to us,” said Cleaver. “What is our interest--the national interest we have in Libya, and why don’t we have that same interest in the Ivory Coast, for example?”
(Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESSAP)