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Gbagbo Poisons the Well for Legitimate Leadership in Côte d’Ivoire

Map of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) (image: CIA Factbook)

The situation in Ivory Coast has reached something of a nervous stalemate as well. Laurent Gbagbo is holed up in the presidential bunker (in Ivory Coast, I guess they need things like a presidential bunker). He has less than 1,000 troops loyal to him. Alassane Ouattara’s troops have the presidential residence surrounded and plan to just wait until Gbagbo pops his head out. Gbagbo has defiantly vowed not to surrender. Meanwhile there are running battles throughout Abidjan between remnants of Gbagbo’s youth militia and Ouattara’s forces.

Gbagbo doesn’t have an endgame that results in anything but his surrender. Everyone has abandoned him. But each day he stubbornly holds out is another day of misery for the Ivorian people.

But in his seemingly futile resistance, Mr. Gbagbo is doing what he knows best, playing for time and living up to his nickname: “the boulanger,” or the baker, who confounds his opponents by rolling them in flour and putting them in a nearly inescapable bind.

Every day that he remains in the presidential residence in Abidjan — guarded by about 200 loyal fighters, protected in a luxurious basement redoubt that, according to one visitor, includes a grand ministerial meeting room and a well-stocked library — Mr. Gbagbo makes the country increasingly ungovernable for his rival, Alassane Ouattara, whose troops have been at the gates trying to drag Mr. Gbagbo out […]

After French and United Nations airstrikes to destroy heavy weapons at Mr. Gbagbo’s residence, offices and military bases this week, the many Ivorians who share his anti-Western and xenophobic fervor will be even more likely to see Mr. Ouattara as a foreign implant, foisted on them by outside forces.

Mr. Ouattara has also relied on an assortment of rebels to storm across the country, again at a price. Fighters allied with him have been accused of killing hundreds of people in western Ivory Coast. Now they are suspected of going door to door in Abidjan’s Angré neighborhood, searching for members of Mr. Gbagbo’s ethnic group in an ominous cycle of vengeance and retribution, said Richard Banegas, an Ivory Coast expert at the Sorbonne.

This is absolutely true. In the last 24 hours, more than 100 bodies have been found across the country, some of them burned alive. By refusing to leave, Gbagbo has turned a leader refusing the transition of power after a presidential election into a civil war, with shades of imperialism and mass atrocities in the background. Ouattara is tarnished, the legitimacy of the election process is tarnished, and tensions between the rival factions increase. Gbagbo has poisoned the well, making the country almost ungovernable.

Meanwhile, that sounds like one nice Presidential bunker.

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David Dayen

David Dayen