While attention is riveted on Libya, a renewed civil war is simmering in the Ivory Coast between President Laurent Gbagbo, who lost the November 28 elections to Alassane Ouattara, but refuses to relinquish his post claiming fraud and intimidation at the polls.
As is usual in Africa tribal, religious and regional differences also play a major role in the conflict. The international community views the elections as legal and Outtara as the legitimate president, but cannot budge Gbagbo from his hold over the capital region. The undeclared civil war has already caused a refugee problem, with myriads of Ivorians swamping neighboring Liberia.
Both sides have claimed atrocities perpetrated by their rivals. Given the country's history, they may both be correct. The African Union has invited both sides to it headquarters in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, for mediation on March 10. Ouattara, who is recognized as the president by the Union, has agreed; Gbagbo has refused, insisting that the Union first recognize his presidency
At first, Ouattara kept himself at arms' length from the militias fighting on his behalf, claiming that he does not want to impair the legitimacy he received as the electoral victor. As the deadlock continues, he is abandoning that stance. Ouattara also appealed to the international community, asking them to mount an armed intervention to oust Gbagbo, but the international community offered nothing more than verbal condemnations.
The result is a hodge podge, with each side encircling the other .Outtara's temporary presidential palace is the run-down Golf Hotel, where he is surrounded by pro-Gbagbo soldiers, who have shot up the homes of Outtara's ministers. Outarra's people control suburbs of the capital, pressing in on Gbagbo from without.
Outtara forces recently scored a victory by taking the border town of Toulepeu. Ouattara's defense spokesman, Capt. Leon Kouakou Alla,, a former captain in Gbagbo's paramilitary police unit, said the town of Toulepleu is strategically important because of its proximity to the Liberian border. It is a recruiting ground for Liberian mercenaries who are willing to fight for Gbagbo.
Liberia, too, is prone for civil war as during the previous civil war, the Outtara forces also recruited Liberians and may be doing so again. One ex-Liberian combatant told The Associated Press he was now serving as a "field commander" in the Ivory Coast for Ouattara's forces.
The military standoff may yield to money problems in the Gbagbo camp. Mercenaries, by definition, expect to be paid and nobody puts his life on the line for meager returns.
Gbagbo has now tried to nationalize the cocoa crop by decreeing that the state will buy cocoa at fixed prices and sell it abroad at market prices. The United States State Department has denounced the measure as tantamount "to theft".
It is doubtful whether the cocoa can prove a cash lifeline for Gbagbo. Firstly, Outtara declared a ban on exports and many foreign importers will respect the ban. Secondly, Gbagbo does not control many cocoa growing areas. Third, importers still have large stocks from last year's bumper crop and can wait out the crisis.
In the Ivory Coast, economic sanctions can work. Ivorian cocoa is not Iranian oil, where countries such as China and India might subvert the sanctions. The US and Europe remain the predominant market for cocoa and if they refuse to buy Gbagbo's product, desperation measurez will collapse.