TRAVEL WARNING: Ivory Coast

The ongoing dispute over presidential election results makes the Cote d’Ivoire a place best avoided by travelers.

© Carsten Reisinger | Dreamstime.com

The US State Department has issued a travel warning — not an “advisory, a WARNING — to American citizens currently in or thinking about traveling to the Ivory Coast.

It doesn’t mince words, either:

“The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid any travel to Cote d’Ivoire at this time.

“Because of the increased probability of political unrest and potential violence, it is especially important for U.S. citizens residing in Cote d’Ivoire to maintain situational awareness and limit their movements.

“Security conditions within the country, and particularly in the north and in the west, can deteriorate quickly and without warning.”

If you follow the news, you know what’s been happening.

Ivorians went to the polls last month to select a new president. When the balloting was over, it appeared that opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara had won out over the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo.

The government, however, overturned the election results and gave the win to Gbagbo.

Neither man is backing down. Each has separately taken the oath of office and is forming his own government.

The army, all too often the tiebreaker in African politics, has thrown its support to Gbagbo. The international community, on the other hand, recognizes Ouattara as the country’s legitimate president.

That includes most of the country’s West African neighbors, who have suspended its membership in ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.

To say the least, things are tense.

When the election, the first democratic presidential election ever held in the Cote d’Ivoire, was held Nov. 28, it was hailed as a major step forward for the nation, especially when it was announced the Ouattara had won, despite outbreaks of election violence here and there.

That lasted about as long as it took for Gbagbo to decide he didn’t like the results.

What raises all this beyond the level of typical banana republic-style politics is that the Ivory Coast is still struggling to emerge from under the shadow of a horrible civil war that brought this once-prospering country to its knees.

Foreigners, even from neighboring West African states, became prime targets during that disaster, and the country remains ethnically divided to this day.

With Gbagbo supporters raising the bogeyman of “foreign interference” in the election, anything could happen in the coming days and weeks — and most of it isn’t good.

This is one State Department warning that needs to be taken seriously.

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