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Monday, April 04, 2011 

Yeah, what about the Ivory Coast?

There are times when I just can't get my head around this internet thing. There I was, reading Sunder Katwala's latest effort on just how completely wrong "whataboutery" is, which initially seemed like the throwing down of a gauntlet to those of us still unconvinced by the international intervention in Libya (passim ad nauseam) vis-a-vis the deteriorating situation in the Ivory Coast only for it then to become clear that he isn't comparing like with like, exactly what the more egregious and unthinking of those in the "why Libya and why not fill in country here" camp is often accused of.

For if the situations in the Ivory Coast and Libya seem similar at first glance, once you look beneath the surface it's clear that they couldn't be much more different. The current conflict in Côte d'Ivoire has its roots not just in the election held at the end of October last year, but in the first civil war of 2002-2005. Unlike in Libya, where the uprising in the spirit of this year's Middle East intifada came close to overthrowing Colonel Gaddafi, only for him to regroup and turn his weaponry on his own civilians in an effort to regain territory, the Ivory Coast's problems revolve around a president who came to power in a coup refusing to cede it following an election that was repeatedly delayed and which the international community has declared his opponent won.

If it's not immediately clear exactly what Sunder's challenge is then, despite him concluding with

So it would be interesting to hear more from opponents of the Libyan intervention, about what they believe should happen in the Ivory Coast. Might it yet be the 'whatabouters' who face the charge of inconsistency?

all is explained in a comment over on Liberal Conspiracy:

The issue is about the nature of UN-authorised intervention by the best placed regional and multilateral actors to bring about an effective and legitimate outcome

The responses are about “western intervention”

The intervention being supported is what Ecowas have called for – a strengthening of the UN mandate for the current peacekeeping force, to support the political strategy to secure the removal of the democratically defeated President. This has been Ecowas and African Union led.

Here is one of the fundamental differences between the intervention in Libya, what some of us sceptical of it would have supported in the best circumstances, and the situation in the Ivory Coast. There is already a UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d'Ivoire, as there has been since 2003. The air strikes carried out this evening against Laurent Gbagbo's forces
seem to have been in self-defence as much as anything, as they've now apparently turned their guns on the UN itself. As Sunder sets out, Ecowas and the African Union have been leading the calls for Gbagbo to go, as was demanded by UN Security Council Resolution 1975. Unlike in Libya, where the African Union and the Arab League both argued for intervention to protect civilians, but where neither was prepared to put in place the no-fly zone, or only willing to patrol it once the unpleasant part of bombing Gadaffi's air defences was out of the way, in Côte d'Ivoire Ecowas would be prepared to lead a UN authorised military intervention to depose Gbagbo. If they had been so inclined, and even taking into account that many of the Arab League either have their own insurrections to deal with have, or have crushed those of neighbouring nations at their behest, the Arab League countries could have easily performed the exact same role as the West has in Libya, and would have done it with far more legitimacy.

This isn't just moaning about us having to do the work of dusky foreigners who don't want to get the military equipment they bought off us at extortionate cost dusty, it also removes from the bargain any notion that the intervention would be about anything other than protecting civilians. It would be ludicrous to suggest that we don't have some ulterior or strategic motives in Libya, as David Cameron himself has acknowledged if somewhat disingenuously. While Gaddafi could still make claims about the likes of non-oil producing nations in the region intending to take scarce resources, the revolutionary solidarity of the moment would make it ring hollow.

Sunder's mistake is to casually assume that those unconvinced of Western intervention in the region in the form it's taken in Libya would be opposed to an intervention by African nations who want to depose a president who has been democratically voted out of office. The other distinction that makes this a different case to the action authorised by UN Resolution 1973 is that the overthrow of President Gbagbo is an end in itself, from which further planning for enhanced peacekeeping can be made. In Libya the outcome still looks like stalemate and partition with an outside chance of some sort of reconciliation, leaving no end to our involvement in sight. Much as we'd like to do battle against the arguments we imagine those we disagree with would make, it's always better to actually know your enemy, or indeed those you think are your allies.

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