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Published: Sunday, 3/20/2011

Ivory Coast suffers

As the United States and other countries focus on events in Libya, the agony of another African nation with three times Libya's population — Ivory Coast — is attracting scant global interest.

The suffering of Ivory Coast's 21 million people has gone on since 1999, but has grown since the West African country held failed elections last November. The two major candidates for president were incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and economist Alassane Ouattara, who won. But Mr. Gbagbo, who has been in office since 2000, refuses to step down.

Outside authorities, including the United Nations and the African Union, agree that Mr. Ouattara is the legally elected president and that Mr. Gbagbo should hand over power. The AU has sent high-powered African figures, including former South African President Thabo Mbeki and presidents of other countries in the region, to Ivory Coast to insist that Mr. Gbagbo leave.

At one point the Economic Community of West African States threatened to use military force to oust Mr. Gbagbo, but he has held on. He has retained control of some of the country's security forces to bolster his posture.

Now Mr. Ouattara has put together a militia of his own to pressure Mr. Gbagbo. An international force from the United Nations, AU countries, and France is standing between the opposing groups and maintaining order.

In the meantime, the country's civilians are paying a high price in disorder, economic misery, uncertainty about the future, and collapsed education, healthcare and other social infrastructure.

The world, including the Obama Administration, continues to pay little attention to the plight of Ivory Coast. Its principal export is cocoa, while Libya's is oil. One is a North African Arab country; the other is in sub-Saharan Africa.

As the world considers where to engage, the question remains: Why so much focus on Libya and not Ivory Coast?

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