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Q&A with Guardian's Africa correspondent David Smith on the Ivory Coast

Q&A with Guardian's Africa correspondent David Smith on the Ivory Coast

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Published by LauraOl26
David Smith answered our readers questions on the ongoing crisis in the Ivory Coast (6 April 2011)
David Smith answered our readers questions on the ongoing crisis in the Ivory Coast (6 April 2011)

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Published by: LauraOl26 on Apr 06, 2011
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1) Onwhathappensif Ouattaratakesover  
asked whether Ouattara’s victory at the Ivory Coast’s last elections will beovershadowed by recent events: “If - as seems likely - Ouattara wins control of the wholecountry, can there be a 'loyal opposition'? Is there now going to be some kind of state of emergency where any opposition to Ouattara (even peaceful) is banned?”Davidrespondedwithhistake on what the immediate effects of an Ouattara succession might be:“Gbagbo himself was once hailed as the country's democratic saviour but evidently fellinto the big man syndrome. Ouattara will be closely scrutinised and put under pressureto hold elections sooner rather than later, so we have to hope. On the positive side,there is scope for democracy: I'm told last year's election was vibrant and exciting andseemed full of promise. Ouattara's camp also say the country is such a mix of ethnic andimmigrant inter-marriage that the faultlines don't run deep.”
2) OntheForcesNouvelles 
squestions about how the Forces Nouvelles are financed and armed, suggesting that despite the rebels seeming unity there are all ready signs of fractures:“It's worth remembering these rebels are very different from those in Libya - they haveranks, uniforms, weapons and air conditioned offices, and have effectively beencontrolling the northern half of the country for years. There are already signs of dissentand division among them; there's nothing like a common foe to concentrate the mindand instill unity, but that might not last long if and when Ouattara takes charge. He maywell struggle to hold the country together; Gbagbo did get 46% of the vote. Some saythe only solution is a consensus figure who promises not to stand at the next election,but I've not heard any viable names mentioned.”
3) OnhumanrightsandOuattarasreputation 
challenged Ouattara’s reputation when it comes to human rights abuses - David  explainedthepotentialimplicationsof thisonhissuccession : “All the evidence consistently suggests that Gbagbo's forces have carried out the mostand the worst atrocities; Human Rights Watch said they may constitute crimes againsthumanity. But yes, Human Rights Watch also warned that Ouattara's forces werepotentially on the way to facing similar charges. All of which could become awkward if the UN and company seek to anoint Ouattara as the champion of democracy.”
4) OnGbagbosfate 
Responding to
who posted a question via Twitter, Davidexplainedthelikely  scenariofor whatwouldhappentoGbagbo if he is arrested by the UN: “I went to a press conference with UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) chief YJ Choi lastmonth. His message to perpetrators of violence: "Do not have any illusion that you cancommit human rights violations with impunity; the days of reckoning are fastapproaching; UNOCI is documenting your violations." That implies he'll be arrested andmaybe sent to the International Criminal Court like Charles Taylor in neighbouringLiberia.”
5) OnBleGoude, youthminister   @tigerkilltomcat
Ble Goude
, who has been a youth minister under Gbagbo
, w
assomeone who should be ousted from Ivory Coast politics in light of recent events.Davidsaidthe  feelingwassharedbyrebelleadersinthecountry : “The other day the rebel leaders called Ble Goude an irrelevant "mosquito" who will bedealt with later. They've also claimed he would come over to their side. But he doesseem have to disappeared of late. He was elusive even when I was in Abidjan trying andfailing to interview him.”
6) Onpro-Gbagboforcesandtheir futureandtheUNsdecisiontolaunchair strikes 
Via Facebook,reader  
askedDavidaboutthedecisionsthatleadtoFrenchandUN  strikesinAbidjan and whose authority this was under. “Yes, the UN discussed the strikes and requested French assistance, given the latter'ssuperior firepower. A diplomat in Abidjan told me: "Unusual but if they did not thesituation in Abidjan would have become chaotic and out of hand. Their actions probablysaved thousands more lives than were sadly lost last night. It was good decisive actionfrom them."
also asked about what would happen to pro-Gbagbo forces if he is ousted, an issue thatDavid said is being discussed outside of the Ivory Coast:“Desmond Tutu and The Elders have called for peace and reconciliation for the pro-Gbagbo forces. But there has to be a real danger of revenge attacks, especially with thecurrent anarchy and looting in lawless Abidjan. The UN still has much to do to protectcivilians, whoever they are and whatever they're suspected of doing.”
Facebook user 
Shana Bah
also questioned France’s involvement in the crisis and asked whatwill happen to
Franco-Ivorian relations in the future if Gbagbo surrenders? Davidsuggestedthat  theserelationscouldimprovewithanOuattaragovernment : “I've heard diplomats praise France for playing this one straight, whatever their previoustrack record in Africa. Some have contrasted their slow military response with that inLibya, but of course for historical reasons they are ultra-sensitive about being seen as anaggressor here. Their relations with a Ouattara government will clearly be better than thelast few months with Gbagbo; they could hardly be worse. But I guess they will also totry and fade into the background and let the UN and African Union do the heavy lifting of the postwar aftermath.”
7) On the role of religion in this crisis
Responding to a question from user 
, DavidexplainedtheIvoryCoastsreligious  make-up and what possible effect this could have on the current situation and its future: Yes, there's a predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south, but during mytime there everyone played down the religious divide (as they did, incidentally, when Ivisited Nigeria). I had a look around the gigantic and somewhat ironically named Basilicaof Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, a European-style church reputedly built in thecapital as a bulwark against the spread of Islam. French Catholic influence is part of thestory and religion may be an implicit, not explicit, factor in the complex narrative. TheMuslim Ouattara's stronghold certainly is in the north, but we're a million miles awayfrom either side overtly waving flags for one god or another.
8) On the humanitarian situation
, who said they will soon be leaving for the Ivory Coast as part of an assessmentfor an INGO, asked what level of violence could be expected in rural and urban areas if Gbagboexits and whether food shortages and problems with medical care will increase beyond thecurrent crisis.Davidsaidaidagencieshavedescribedatotalhumanitariancatastrophe’:  “The violence is of course unpredictable but I would expect some in all settings -revenge attacks, looting, intercommunal conflicts. At its worst, it could resemble Iraqafter the fall of Saddam, but I suspect that's too pessimistic. Despite Gbagbo's significantsupport at the ballot box, I think relatively few of those people are willing to fight and diefor him or his legacy.“Everything we hear from aid agencies suggests a total humanitarian catastrophe withevery problem you can imagine. Even before the fighting truly erupted, I was told aboutschools closed, hospitals running out of medicine and, for example, HIV-positivepregnant women being turned away because there's no guarantee of a full course of drugs to prevent transmission to their unborn children. Expect food and water shortages

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