ABIDJAN: In Ivory Coast, two presidents plus two governments add up to one big crisis that raises the threat of armed conflict and undermines the economy for its impoverished people, analysts say.
Clinging on after a decade in power, Laurent Gbagbo has defied pressure from much of the international community to stand aside for his rival Alassane Ouattara, whom they recognize as president.
While courting unpopularity abroad, Gbagbo’s position is well entrenched at home. His standoff with Ouattara has led to a deadlock that has grounded the economy and could last months.
"The danger for Ivory Coast is that Gbagbo will sue to maintain the status quo and the country will continue down this spiral of uncertainty," said Rolake Akinola, a London-based West Africa analyst at consultancy VoxFrontier.
"There’s a real risk of political and economic stagnation setting in."
In the turmoil of recent days when Gbagbo closed the borders and Ouattara pushed ahead setting up his own rival government, residents complained the price of essentials such as rice and butane gas had at least doubled.
The instability continues to undermine a country where more than a third of people are estimated to live below the poverty line and where the threat of armed conflict lingers following a civil war in 2002 and 2003.
"It could take several months but if there is still no political solution we cannot rule out a real risk of a return to an armed conflict," said Gilles Yabi, a senior regional analyst at the International Crisis Group.
With nominal control of the national army, Gbagbo has a strong grip on the southern half of the country, including the main port of Abidjan.
Ouattara’s side has several thousand northern New Forces troops, led by the man he has named Prime Minister, Guillaume Soro, who was warned Gbagbo they could mobilize.
"It is not likely in the short term, but at some point the New Forces will doubtless threaten to stand behind popular protests" against Gbagbo, said Yabi.
With international pressure weighing on Gbagbo, the spark could c
ome from within, with observers looking closely for signs of any divisions in Gbagbo’s own camp, particularly the military.
"There’s going to be a great deal of disruption and uncertainty even within Gbagbo’s clique if he starts to face a threat of international isolation," said Akinola. "The question is whether that trickles down to the armed forces."
Gbagbo could be further pressured if regional lenders stop recognizing his government. The World Bank and African Development Bank have threatened to withhold debt-relief programs for Ivory Coast.
On another front, "cocoa exports, the country’s key revenue generator, will face a high risk of disruption in the coming weeks, said Anne Fruhauf, an Africa analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy.
But for the time being "Gbagbo has little to lose" from hanging on, she added. "Strategic resources and sources of political patronage — cocoa, coffee and oil — are in the south," still controlled by Gbagbo.
In the meantime it is ordinary Ivorians who suffer.
"It’s really a shame. Out of my 20 staff, 19 are Ivorians" with families, said a 44-year-old French businessman, who fears he will have to abandon the business he runs in Ivory Coast.
"The whole economic system is blocked. No clients can pay at the moment," said the businessman, who asked not to be named. "It’s a waste. We have trained our staff and if we close down, there are a hundred people who will suffer."