Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, is a war zone. Security forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo are responsible for numerous murders and the spread of terror throughout the city and beyond. Despite Gbagbo’s holding on to the main centers of power, including cabinet ministries, the military, and ports, his days in power are numbered. President Alassane Ouattara has achieved a few recent victories in his campaign to assume office. Northern resistance is hitting back against the discredited Gbagbo regime and advancing on Abidjan, and the African Union (AU), after months of deliberation, announced its backing for Ouattara.
While the United States and President Ouattara have stated that the current crisis must ultimately be solved by Africans, the U.S. has assisted in weakening Gbagbo’s continued hold on power. Although Washington initially offered Gbagbo a plum fellowship at an American university in return for his leaving office, the U.S. State Department imposed travel restrictions on him and his closest allies after he refused. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) levied financial sanctions on the regime. In addition, President Obama pledged $12.6 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the violence.
Last week, in an effort to increase pressure, the African Union demanded that Gbagbo step down. This comes after considerable indecision on behalf of some AU members, especially South Africa and Angola. South African president Jacob Zuma initially called the results “inconclusive,” and Angola has been accused of sending mercenaries to fight on behalf of Gbagbo. South Africa has subsequently revised its position. While the AU has ordered Gbagbo’s withdrawal from office and directed the Constitutional Council to swear in Ouattara, there is no plan for implementation. Furthermore, Gbagbo has adamantly rejected the proposal.
The African Union’s role remains critical. The international community was swift to condemn Gbagbo’s actions and enforce limitations on his regime, yet it has taken the AU months to do what others did within days. The military’s escalating violence is the result of Gbagbo’s desperation. With dwindling funds and support, Gbagbo is left clinging to brute force. The Obama Administration must continue to support AU efforts to reverse Gbagbo’s overthrow of the democratic process.