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How To Resolve The Crisis In Ivory Coast: 4th Option 

By Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai*

The bellicose rhetoric of the AU and the belated threat of military action by ECOWAS, have been informed by sheer public relations, not realpolitik. As Gbagbo runs down the clock, it is time to go back to the drawing board.

Let’s face it: it is practically impossible now to get a fix on what is happening in Ivory Coast. Incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, is hanging on, thanks to an uncompromising nationalist posturing and shrewd political canniness. The crisis is now beyond political vindication between who won and who lost the election. But one thing is certain: the current stalemate is not sustainable.

Helpless in the face of the Ivorian crisis, the AU ended its 16th summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with its usual chicken-livered impotence. It set up a panel to resolve the crisis, without taking a clear position and defining its objective. The panel includes Presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Abdel Aziz of Mauritania. Raila Odinga was co-opted into the panel on the strength of his mediation effort on behalf of the AU. The panel was given one month to complete its work.

Merely setting up a high-level panel, with an open-ended mandate, is preposterous. For example, the panel is mandated "to evaluate the situation in Ivory Coast and formulate, on the basis of relevant decisions of the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an overall political solution". These are empty platitudes that really mean nothing!

The AU ought to have used the opportunity of the summit to take a firm position on how to achieve lasting peace in the country, by taking a definite stand that would have made the work of the panel easier and the result certain. But by failing to rise above the traditional rhetoric, the AU only exacerbated the political stalemate. In my view, there are four possibilities to resolving the Ivorian crisis. The first option, difficult for the international community to swallow, is to allow President Laurent Gbagbo to remain in power. The second is to insist that Gbagbo steps down for Alassane Ouatarra.

The third option is power sharing. While this option would amount to an imposition, it might bring interim peace, if that is what the AU wants, but won’t guarantee future political stability in Ivory Coast. Kenya and Zimbabwe that have power sharing "unity" governments, are in the throes of political uncertainty. The fourth is another re-run vote under international supervision.

The first two options have failed to achieve the desired peace, particularly, the first. As to the second, needless recalling that both ECOWAS and the AU have made several overtures to President Gbagbo without success. Among the envoys that have gone on mediation missions on behalf of ECOWAS and the AU, were Presidents Yayi Boni of Benin, Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde, Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, former Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. None of these men were able to convince Gbagbo to step down for Ouattara.

The third option, which is power sharing, has unpleasant implications for Ivory Coast and, indeed, Africa. As a matter of fact, the inclusion of the octogenarian Mugabe in the panel, leaves no one in doubt as to the direction the AU is towing. Mugabe, who presides over, perhaps, the most ravaged country without war in Africa, is certainly the last man that would be expected to negotiate peace in Ivory Coast. There is no peace in his country. What his prescription to the crisis would be is, therefore, not in doubt.

If at the end of the day, Ivory Coast is foisted with a Unity Government, then, the earlier threat by the ECOWAS to use "legitimate force" to remove Gbagbo from office, would have been pre-mature. It is not clear on what strength ECOWAS based its threat, in the first place. It is ridiculous and self-defeating for ECOWAS to issue empty threats, especially as Ghana and Gambia opted out of the plan. ECOWAS ought to have made a thorough assessment of the situation before making juvenile pronouncements.

The bellicose rhetoric of the AU and threat of military action by ECOWAS were informed by sheer public relations. The weakness of the AU stems from the fact that the organisation parades leaders with strong anti-democratic credentials. You don’t expect leaders who rig elections to deal with election crises in other countries. The illusion that the AU panel will convince Gbagbo to relinquish power is delusionary.

That, perhaps, leaves only the fourth option: a re-run vote under international supervision, backed by a credible threat of force through a UN Security Council Resolution. The prospects of a multinational force invading Ivory Coast might force Gbagbo to see wisdom in accepting another run-off to really prove that he indeed won the elections.

Although costly, this option is a face-saving exit strategy for the UN, AU, ECOWAS, France and other countries who support Ouattara. Cherished ideals of democracy and cold exigencies of realpolitik vindicate this option. Gbagbo is running down the clock! He has constitutional legality and republican institutions on his side – a fact the international community cannot ignore.

If the international community is not willing to finance another re-run vote in Ivory Coast, then the AU and ECOWAS should better hasten Ouattara’s departure from the Golf Hotel. They can help him board a UN chartered flight to Paris, if necessary. Sarkozy should send him a postcard from the French Riviera saying "Wish you were here."

The AU should appreciate that times are changing. Rather than wait for crisis to erupt before scampering, the AU should consider a proactive approach to promote power alternation in the continent. Africa needs to be on the right side of democracy. But it also needs to be on the right side of history. Speaking in Accra, Ghana, US President, Barack Obama, said Africa needed strong institutions, not strong men. The Ivorian crisis is a telling reminder to President Obama, if, indeed, one was needed, that in Africa, strong men and strong institutions may not always be mutually exclusive.

*Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai is a public intellectual and graduate of Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government where he was Managing Editor of the Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy. A former Research Analyst for Central Africa with Freedom House, he is a consultant and lives in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Talk back at ekinneh@yahoo.com.

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