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With Africa on board, sanctions against Ivory Coast could work

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo insists that the sanctions imposed on his regime do not worry him in the slightest. Sanctions have rarely worked, but if West Africa stands united against Gbagbo, they may just work.

Ivory Coast, President Laurent Gbagbo

Bagbo may be to blase on the issue of sanctions

The European as well as the African Union and the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) have imposed sanctions against Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to force him to step down. Gbagbo, however, insists it does not concern him, as many other leaders around the world manage quite well despite those restrictions.

"Gbagbo's regime has been subject to sanctions for a few years now," Jens Hettmann, a representative from the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation told Deutsche Welle.

"But all the usual measures like travel restrictions, freezing of assets and an arms embargo, are clearly not working. More needs to be done if we're to achieve anything," he added.

Not bothered

And indeed, Ivory Coast's Interior Minister, Emile Guirieoulou, recently insisted he could not care less about the sanctions against his regime, saying that travel and visa restrictions were a red flag the EU was in the habit of waving to intimidate African politicians.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe's Mugabe has clung to power despite tough sanctions

Looking at other countries in Africa that have been subjected to sanctions, their effectiveness is doubtful at best. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has been clinging to power for more than 10 years, despite travel and financial restrictions.

Although there is an international warrant against Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, he has had few problems traveling around the world in the last two years.

New approach

But the EU may take heart from experts who say that Ivory Coast differs from Zimbabwe and Sudan in that it’s not just the West, but also its neighbors that have all spoken out against Gbagbo's regime.

"African countries are united in their willingness to challenge Gbagbo, chiming in with Western nations," Lucien Toulou, a director at the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa, told Deutsche Welle.

"That marks a turning point in the way pan-African organizations deal with African leaders - they usually tend towards compromise when it comes to disputed election results," he added.

Flags of African Union members flutter in front of the United Nations Conference Center

A united African front could help make sanctions effective

Toulou believes that sanctions are usually ineffective because the African Union cannot agree with the rest of the international community and often does not speak up against African leaders.

Guinea shows sanctions can work

One country where sanctions have had the desired effect is Guinea. In 2009, the African Union, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, and the international community imposed sanctions against the military junta there, leading to democratic regime change.

Toulou thinks it is the financial sanctions imposed by the BCEAO and the World Bank that may well do the trick, as Gbagbo would then struggle to pay his army.

"If a country has no power over its finances anymore, for example if the West African central bank does not accept its signature anymore or the World Bank freezes assets, then the international pressure starts to work," he said.

Still, risks remain if Gbagbo and his supporters find other financial sources, according to independent Togolese economics expert Yves Ekoue-Amaizo.

"China for example, or Venezuela or Angola. If there are enough multinationals that are involved in the oil and raw materials sectors, then he [Gbgabo] will have enough money - and that is where the money is coming from at the moment."

Authors: Cecile Leclerc, Ute Schaeffer/ng
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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