Led by France, the EU responded effectively to the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. Elsewhere in West Africa its influence was less certain.
With France in the lead, the EU played an essential role in concluding a bloody crisis in Côte d’Ivoire in April. Europe’s overall level of engagement in West Africa continued to be significant, with an increased focus on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But EU member states clashed with the US over the cost of continuing UN peacekeeping in Liberia, which held tense but relatively peaceful presidential elections.
The Ivorian crisis began after elections in 2010, when President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat by Alassane Ouattara. French and UN forces in Côte d’Ivoire were initially cautious and the AU took the lead in mediation. However, the EU implemented a series of targeted sanctions aimed at the “economic asphyxia” of Gbagbo, as an EU spokesperson put it. France, still by far Côte d’Ivoire’s main trading partner, was decisive in ensuring that these sanctions proved effective. In March, Ouattara launched an offensive against Gbagbo and the UNSC backed a French resolution approving the use of force by international troops to prevent Gbagbo’s remaining supporters slaughtering civilians. France launched significant ground and helicopter operations, which contributed to Gbagbo’s final defeat. However, Côte d’Ivoire’s longer-term stability is far from assured.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Liberia remained stable. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won re-election as president after her main rival withdrew alleging fraud. Unlike in the past, the EU did not send electoral observers, but other monitors declared the polls credible. In discussions about the size of the EU peacekeeping force there, the US questioned Europe’s commitment to Liberia. France and Britain pushed unsuccessfully for the force to be cut back, possibly for financial reasons. By contrast, the EEAS promised more aid at the end of the year as part of a new strategy to help countries in the Sahel deal with al-Qaeda and there has also been talk of a CSDP mission to the region. West Africa remains an area in which the EU retains real leverage and its instability demands sustained attention.