We’ve devoted significant attention to the disparity between U.S. policy in Libya and troubled allies such as Yemen and Bahrain. Instead of reflecting and reforming, U.S. officials have started defending their policy outright to counter widespread perceptions of a double-standard. But hypocrisy is a universal language.
Were the Obama administration to treat Libya and Yemen’s revolutions with equality, it would reduce the complaints in both countries.
Now African states are denouncing the double standard between Libya and Côte d'Ivoire, where acting president Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara. Earlier this week Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia accused the international community of neglecting abuses in the Côte d'Ivoire. Nigeria has worked diligently in the last few years to fulfill its political obligations as a regional hegemon, and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) took a strong stand on Côte d'Ivoire under the leadership of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Gbagbo began unleashing his military forces in February after relying heavily on paramilitary forces, and the four-month crisis has left at least 462 people dead with thousands more injured. Gbagbo’s government continues to deny using heavy weapons against civilians, and in turn accuses the UN and foreign media of spreading propaganda. These crumbling rulers must share authoritarian literature.
"I believe we can pass a resolution to request the United Nations to take a little more serious steps in the Cote d'Ivoire situation," Jonathan told a meeting attended by 12 of the 15 ECOWAS heads of state. "We must not make the mistake of underestimating the threat it poses to the peace and security of the entire sub-region."
However it’s unlikely that anyone is underestimating Gbagbo’s threat. Several holdouts such as Angola continue to side with him, but Western and African states largely agree that he must finally let go of power. They also appreciate the scale of Cote d'Ivoire’s endeavor. Although Gbagbo only controls a majority of the south, political authority and security must be implemented over a territory similar to Japan and Iraq, and larger than Britain or Italy. Lagoons and tropical forests along the coast increase the difficulty, and ECOWAS would have to secure roughly 21 million people compared to Libya’s seven million.
The delay in ECOWAS’s use of force, advocated under the cover of legitimization, cannot disguise the current reality that ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) lack the means to remove Gbagbo and secure Côte d'Ivoire. This is why they’ve also reached out the UN and Western states, hoping to increase sanctions and bolster the UN’s peacekeeping force in a slow crawl towards intervention. The AU had given Gbagbo a deadline of Thursday to step down.
"ECOWAS requests the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the mandate of the U.N. operation in Ivory Coast enabling the mission to use all necessary means to protect life and property and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr Alassane Ouattara," it said in Thursday’s communique.
Some reports mention something to the effect that ECOWAS is copying Libya’s international approval in Côte d'Ivoire. This may be true to a point, but Libya appears to be following the AU’s pattern in South Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, and Somalia. The AU is visibly over-stretched and bombarded by crises, but 2011 does offer encouraging signs of Africa’s modernization. Only three months ago Mubarak, Gaddafi, and al-Bashir conceded South Sudan to other AU members, going against a standing policy of territorial unity. Now Mubarak is gone and South Sudan is on the road to independence.
The AU has also increased its tempo in Somalia with limited Western military support. And it realized it needed to make an example out of Côte d'Ivoire to uphold its stance in Sudan.
Good intentions aren’t enough to remove Gbagbo though, and ECOWAS may not be able to overcome its hesitations and military inadequacies. ECOWAS’s 6,000-man response unit doesn’t come close to fulfilling Côte d'Ivoire’s requirements, even alongside tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers. Gbagbo has given too much time to prepare, so much that he’s grown bolder in attacking civilians and immigrants from ECOWAS states.
"The civil war is almost there, warns AU chief Jean Ping. “If there is no possibility of a peaceful solution I'm afraid the use of force might intervene."
Gbagbo’s response to electoral defeat, his violation of ECOWAS policy, and his regional spill-over has already legitimized the use of force. Again, this force may be fundamentally lacking, and perhaps ECOWAS believes Gbagbo will become easier prey once international sanctions take their toll. But if ECOWAS truly believes in its mission and rejects international double-standards, it should regain the element of surprise and consider acting immediately. Another additional weeks or months may simply entrench Cote d'Ivoire’s stalemate.
Sun Tzu wouldn't fight a battle that he couldn’t win, but when is force necessary in Cote d'Ivoire if not now?