Africa, Global Governance, Headlines

COTE D’IVOIRE: February Month of Action by African Union

Omer Redi *

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 2 2011 (IPS) - A High Level Panel has been set up by the African Union to send a team of experts to Côte d’Ivoire and come up with a solution to the political impasse that would be binding on both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his rival for the presidency, Alassane Ouattara.

The Panel named on the final day of the AU summit (Jan. 30-31) consists of the new African Union chairperson, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in his capacity as chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), along with the leaders of Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and South Africa.

“The Panel is a welcome proposition as long as it operates within the constitution of Côte d’Ivoire,” said Ivorian Foreign Affairs Minister Alcide Djédjé in Addis Ababa.

“The AU’s decision [to set up the Panel] is what Gbagbo has been asking for to resolve the crisis peacefully. We think the Panel comes with respect for the constitution. Anything that is against the constitution would not be accepted.”

Djédjé’s emphasis on the constitution is no accident. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept U.N.-certified results and concede defeat to Ouattara is founded on what the Gbagbo camp views as a grave violation of electoral procedures.

The release of results by the president of the Independent Electoral Commission, Youssouf Bakayoko, was delayed several times before he finally declared Ouattara the winner at the Golf Hotel on Dec. 2, 2010. The hotel was – and is – also the headquarters of the Ouattara camp.

“We don’t exactly know why, but we know the chief of the Commission was kidnapped by French and U.S. ambassadors to announce the provisional results as final from one candidate’s office,” Djédjé said.

Bakayoko was reported in the media as having chosen the Golf Hotel for the security afforded it by the presence of U.N. peacekeepers. The Constitutional Council rejected the results, saying the IEC had missed a deadline for their release by a day.

Gbagbo’s campaign had challenged results from four northern districts, and the following day, Constitutional Council president Paul Yao N’dre announced that nearly a tenth of votes cast were fraudulent in the council’s view; the revised total swung the totals from 54.1 percent for Ouattara into a narrow win for Gbagbo with 51 percent of the vote.

The United Nations, ECOWAS and a large majority of governments have rejected the Constitutional Council ruling – its head is widely regarded as close to Gbagbo – and recognised Ouattara as the victor, though he remains restricted to the Golf Hotel premises where several hundred U.N. peacekeepers provide security from a blockade of Gbagbo supporters.

Several rounds of mediation between the two sides have failed, with tensions escalating steadily; Ouattara and Gbagbo have been separately sworn in as president, tens of thousands of Ivorians have been displaced and the U.N. estimates more than 200 have been killed.

The AU panel will now have a month to re-assess the situation and propose a way out of the impasse.

“We are not dealing with ‘ifs’. We are not talking about vote recounting… and we stand by our decision,” said AU Commission Chair Jean Ping said, responding to a question by IPS in a news conference late Monday night at the end of the AU summit.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said the United Nations will support the Panel’s work.

“The Panel should work in close coordination with the U.N. in all aspects and every stage of the process. In this regard the U.N. is prepared to provide a senior official to work with the team of experts that will support the Panel.”

Ban has called for the lifting of the siege on the Golf Hotel, full support for the legitimate government and a “peaceful and honourable exit” for Gbagbo; however, he rejects the challenge to the results announced by the IEC.

“Reopening the results… would be a grave injustice and set an unfortunate precedent,” he told African leaders in Addis Ababa.

Addressing heads of state on Jan. 30, the outgoing AU chair, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, called on Gbagbo to respect the will of Ivorians and hand over power to Ouattara.

“The refusal by Mr. Gbagbo to respect the result in November 2010 elections in Cote d’Ivoire poses a serious threat to democracy in Africa,” he said, adding that he wanted the African Union to maintain its suspension of Côte d’Ivoire’s membership of the AU until Ouattara assumed power.

But AU members are not entirely unanimously in support. South Africa, which is a member of the High Level Panel, has adopted a more cautiously neutral position and avoided endorsing the published results. Former president Thabo Mbeki, who visited Côte d’Ivoire as a mediator, argued in favour of a power-sharing agreement, saying the elections were flawed.

“All peaceful solutions to end the crisis are welcome. We are against all forms of violence which will only worsen the crisis,” André Kamaté, President of the Abidjan based Ivorian League for Human Rights, told IPS over the phone.

“It is a good position that the AU has set up the Panel to deal with crisis. But the final decision of the African Union should take into account the vote of the Ivorian,” Desire Assogbavi, Head of Oxfam International Liaison Office with African Union told IPS. “That position should not be negotiated.”

* Fulgence Zamblé in Abidjan contributed to this report.

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