Political unrest in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (in English, the Ivory Coast) that has been steadily escalating since incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo lost the country’s November 28 election to Alassane Ouattara but refused to step down, and exploded into the media earlier this week when Gbagbo’s soldiers opened fire on a crowd of female protesters and killed six.
Although estimates of deaths due to conflict since the election range from 400 to 1,000, this violence was particularly distressing to Ivory Coast citizens because it was popularly believed that Gbagbo’s soldiers would not shoot into a crowd of peacefully protesting, unarmed women.
Gbagbo’s resistance has inspired international attention, and most leaders have called for him to step down. Although there has been significant violence, and Ouattara’s forces have stepped up their own response when it became clear that Gbagbo was willing to use war-grade weapons on his enemies, Ouattara has attempted economic protests as well. He encouraged the country’s cocoa farmers and processors to stop exporting cocoa until Gbagbo steps down. Because the Ivory Coast is one of the top cocoa producers in the world, this has caused a global spike in cocoa prices.
Peaceful pressures aside, however, many are concerned that the country is on the brink of civil war. Gbagbo rejected offers of amnesty, exile, and teaching positions in the U.S., and continues to refuse to accept the election results, which showed him losing by 9 percent.
It’s interesting that the gender of the protesters seems to have made such a difference in their reception. In a tweet, a State Department spokesman condemned Gbagbo’s “moral bankruptcy,” evidenced by his willingness to kill “women protesters.” This seems somewhat misplaced, since murdering unarmed civilians, regardless of their gender or perceived peacefulness, should be considered a horrific crime.
The impact of the women’s deaths is still unclear. We’ll keep you posted on events in the Ivory Coast as they unfold, and as Care2 blogger Jaelithe Judy reminds us in her post on chocolate, buying fair trade is a way to have some influence, however small, on the escalating humanitarian crisis.
Photo from Flickr.