The Situation in Ivory Coast

The current events happening in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) are unfortunate and aren’t unexpected given the history of region and country.  We have a very familiar plot: an old aging leader loses an election and refuses to gracefully and peacefully relinquish power, creating an environment of uncertainty. Which in turn has a negative impact on governance (who is in charge, who gives orders) and makes investing in the country risky.  That’s where we find ourselves with President Laurent Gbagbo and President elect Alassane Ouattara from last November’s election.  The UN has accepted the credentials of Cote d’Ivoire’s new ambassador, appointed by presidential claimant Allasane Ouattara. He’s been recognized by the international community as the legitimate head of State the ousted president Gbagbo refuses to leave.

President Laurent Gbagbo vowed Friday that he would not cede power in Ivory Coast, while Obama administration officials warned that he was running out of time to accept an offer they had made to help him leave the country peacefully.Mr. Gbagbo, in an end-of-year address, mocked the intensifying calls for him to step aside as he continued to dispute that his rival, Alassane Ouattara, had won November’s presidential election, as determined by the nation’s electoral commission and certified by international observers.

“We are not going to give up,” Mr. Gbagbo said, calling the efforts to displace him a coup d’état attempt. “Our greatest duty to our country is to defend it from foreign attack.”

His remarks came as Obama administration officials provided additional details on Friday about their efforts to offer Mr. Gbagbo a graceful way out. Starting in early December, they said, officials approached Mr. Gbagbo’s representatives about the possibility of finding him a position in an international organization, as sort of a consolation prize.

They also proposed that he relocate to the United States, where relatives of his have lived, or to some other location in Europe or Africa.

“One would not rule that out, if it is a way to resolve the situation,” Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said Friday. “If he is prepared to leave, we can discuss where he might go.”

The United States and the European Union imposed travel bans on Mr. Gbagbo and his family in December, so lifting those restrictions would have to be negotiated. Mr. Gbagbo, who has been in office since 2000, is believed to have stepdaughters who have lived in Atlanta. But the offer could be withdrawn if Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters followed through on threats to take action against United Nations peacekeepers there or civilians, United States officials said.

“The longer this goes the more problematic this potentially becomes,” an Obama administration official said Friday, asking not to be identified because the diplomacy was continuing. “He has a window of opportunity. But the opportunity is a finite one.”

The pressure on Mr. Gbagbo continued to escalate Friday as Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, warned Mr. Gbagbo in a letter from Geneva that he and other Ivory Coast leaders faced possible human rights charges if they played any role in violent attacks. “No longer can heads of state, and other actors, be sure that they can commit atrocious violations and get away with it,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement, citing tougher enforcement of international law.

The United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the African Union and a 15-nation bloc of West African countries have demanded that Mr. Gbagbo step down. The West African bloc, Ecowas, has threatened military action if he does not.

French officials on Friday urged French citizens in Ivory Coast — a total of perhaps 15,000 live in the former French colony — to leave the country and delayed the reopening of French schools until Jan. 17.

The goal of American and international officials remains to rely on leaders of neighboring African countries — who plan to return to Ivory Coast on Monday — to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to leave office peacefully, and allow the election winner, Mr. Ouattara, to leave a hotel where he has been barricaded, to take over the government.

“We wish we had a crystal ball,” a United Nations Security Council official said Friday. “But I cannot really tell you what will happen. The only thing we can do is encourage everyone to act in the interest of democracy of Côte d’Ivoire and the protection of civilians.” The United Nations has its own peacekeeping forces in Ivory Coast, as do the French, who are now assigned, in part, to protect the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, where Mr. Ouattara and his supporters are sequestered.

A United Nations spokesman said Friday afternoon that the peacekeeping forces there — who had been preparing for a possible attack on the hotel by militants who support Mr. Gbagbo — believed that, at least for the moment, the threat had subsided.

“We got word this morning that the storming of the Golf Hotel has been called off for now, ostensibly to give peace a chance,” said Michel Bonnardeaux, the United Nations spokesman.

For now, United Nations vehicles are still allowed in and out of the hotel compound, and they received a commitment from Mr. Gbagbo’s army chief, Gen. Philippe Mangou, that the peacekeepers could move around Abidjan unimpeded, Mr. Bonnardeaux said. In the capital, Yamoussoukro, United Nations representatives have continued to have trouble gaining access to its southern reaches. They also have not been able to investigate two areas outside of Abidjan where there have been reports of mass graves. According to the United Nations, at least 173 people have been killed in postelection violence.

Asylum offers to displaced leaders have sometimes helped defuse volatile situations, and the Obama administration has been working since the election results were certified to help negotiate Mr. Gbagbo’s departure. President Obama sent a letter to Mr. Gbagbo on Dec. 5, and the White House tried to reach him by telephone twice, both times unsuccessfully, once before Mr. Gbagbo swore himself in to another term, and once about 10 days later. It was during those efforts that the proposal for him to relocate to the United States, Africa or France came up, as well as the idea that he could take a post at some international group.

“There is plenty of precedent, for instance, of former African leaders who have gone on to work with regional or international institutions,” an Obama administration official said Friday.

The official noted that Mr. Gbagbo also had a history as an academic, before repeating that the offer could soon be withdrawn. “The longer the stalemate ensues, and the more violence there is, the more that window closes,” the official said.

The situation is beginning to look like a Zimbabwe scenario, with the Gbagbo regime making these costly elections a farce, physically preventing the electoral body head from issuing the results within the required deadline, defying the UN and the international community, risking to plunge the country back into despair and leading to its isolation.

Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara’s PM Guillaume Soro said he was sceptical of sanctions and called on the international community to use force to oust incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.  The African Union should not back down from giving Gbagbo an ultimatum, something that The Economist says:

the AU, as the continent’s leading body, which often intones the mantra of “African solutions to African problems”, must not back down. It has done just that several times before when a well-entrenched incumbent has been defeated at the polls but insisted on staying on. In the past few years, most notably in Kenya and Zimbabwe, presidents have lost elections but, after horrendous spasms of violence, have persuaded the AU and junior regional bodies, such as the 15-country Southern African Development Community, to let them remain at the head of patchwork governments of “national unity”. Worse still, a year ago in Madagascar the AU deplored a coup and loudly insisted that the power-grabber should stand aside. But after an awkward hiatus, nothing more was done.

If Africa’s grandest transnational body has too often looked weak and above all loth to promote democracy, then Côte d’Ivoire offers it the chance to prove its worth. More African leaders in the past decade or so have sincerely striven for better governance, including decent elections. The AU should follow lead the of ECOWAS: having previously suspended two of its members for failing the democracy test, ECOWAS has added Côte d’Ivoire to that list—and may even impose economic sanctions on Mr Gbagbo’s mob if he does not go.

What the current political stalemate in Ivory coast means is that Africa’s credibility is on the line. From its leaders and institutions like the African Union.  A significant reason for an improving investment profile is the decrease in the number of wars and the increase in the number of elections. The mess in Ivory Coast doesn’t help and overshadows the first free election in neighbouring Guinea, where the two sides (eventually) agreed there would be one winner and one loser.

One thing that is clear, is that few of the leaders in Africa are worthy of running a country. They either become corrupt like Gbagbo or they are thugs like Bashir. Too many want to be president for life like Hosni Mubarak, Moamar Ghadafi and Robert Mugabe.  These leaders need to face reality and accept the changes that are taking place across the continent.  They or their supporters can no longer place blame on former colonial powers like France, England and Belgium. Similarly the cold war is over between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union and using them as the bogeymen because of their proxy wars in the ’70 and ’80’s is no longer relevant.

But, that is all past now. A new generation or two has been raised. Alas, the leaders from those more turbulent years refuse to give up power.  Until the early 1990s, most African presidents were there for life – comfortable as long as that life was not curtailed by an ambitious chief of army staff. Then came elections – some good and many not so good – under donor and popular pressure.

Democracy is not perfect, but there is nothing better that has been tried.  There should not be special adjustments to Africa, for the danger is too great that an autocrat would take himself for God and extend his rule indefinitely, “in the interest of the people”.   If Gbagbo loves his country, he should simply go and enrich the political debate by fighting the new regime in Parliament for example.

Here is in-depth discussion about the situation in Ivory Coast

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