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AKADIRI : THE POLITICAL DEADLOCK IN COTE D'IVOIRE

By NBF News
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IN the wake of the latest presidential elections in the Cote d'Ivoire towards the end of last year, veteran politician and incumbent President Laurent Koudou Gbagbo of the Ivorian Popular Front was declared winner by the Ivorian Constitutional Council in rather dubious circumstances, and sworn in for another term on December 4, 2010. Within hours of that ceremony, his long-standing political rival and equally experienced Ivorian nationalist, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, was also sworn in as President, having been declared winner of the election by the Ivorian Electoral Commission.  And that signalled the beginning of the current constitutional deadlock in the Cote d'Ivoire, a once-stable and peaceful West African nation, which has defied all efforts so far to find a peaceful solution, first by the neighbouring ECOWAS nations of the sub-region, then by the African Union, and finally by the United Nations Organization.

Regrettably, this is not the first such constitutional deadlock in the Cote d'Ivoire since the demise of 'Father of the Nation' Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993.  First, the influential statesman's departure was soon followed by an intense power struggle between Alassane Ouattara who had been designated Acting President by Houphouet-Boigny himself in his last days, and Henry Konan Bedie who was then President of the Ivorian National Assembly. That tussle was eventually resolved in favour of Konan Bedie, who therefore won the Presidential election of October, 1995.

Meanwhile, Alassane Ouattara had returned to his desk as Deputy Managing Director at the International Monetary Fund, where he remained till 1999. As the 2000 Presidential elections approached, however, Alassane Ouattara returned home again to try his luck, on the platform of his Republican Rally Party. Once again, he was manoeuvred out of contention, this time along with Konan Bedie, on the basis of a rather dubious nationality law which classified him as a non-Ivorian, thus leaving the field open and uncontested to Laurent Koudou Gbagbo, as sole candidate. Boisterously supported by the 'popular revolts' which were a pre-view of the recent ones, Laurent Gbagbo 'won' the presidential election of October 22, 2000. He was duly sworn in on October 26, 2000 to commence a turbulent tenure.

Perhaps as one might expect, the bitter legacies of the 2000 Presidential election soon led to an attempted coup d'etat in 2002 by ethnic forces favourable to Alassane Dramane Ouattara. The coup failed in its objective of redressing the injustice of the 2000 Presidential elections, but kindled the flames of a civil war that led to a partitioning of the Cote d'Ivoire into North and South. An uneasy peace was brokered by France, the former metropolitan power, but soon collapsed in 2004 when forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo launched an air attack on Bouake and killed a number of French soldiers. The major net effect of the civil conflict was to offer Laurent Gbagbo a plausible excuse for a tenure elongation beyond 2005 when his tenure legally expired.

And when Gbagbo was eventually constrained to call the long-overdue Presidential elections in 2010, Alassane Ouattara again presented his candidature, and, by all independent accounts (including ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations Organisation), won comfortably by a majority of 54.1% of the popular votes countrywide. The unlawful manoeuvres that ensued thereafter in Gbagbo's camp to deny Ouattara the fruits of that victory once again are now part of Cote D'Ivoire's recent political history.

True to character, and as any observer of Gbagbo's politics would have expected, the veteran politician has rebuffed all attempts from all influential quarters to persuade him to step down and yield peacefully to his political opponent. Primarily, these pressures have come from his neighbours in the ECOWAS sub-region, from the African Union, from the EU, and from the United Nations. As of the time of writing this piece, all these efforts have failed to yield any tangible results, and the Cote d'Ivoire, once Africa's most stable political economy, has remained deadlocked with two parallel governments in Abidjan. So, why have all these efforts so far failed? There are many plausible reasons, all of which must be seen as contributing to Laurent Gbagbo's reluctance to talk seriously about a peaceful settlement:-

• First, there is the positive factor of incumbency on the side of Gbagbo, arising from two terms of five years each in the Presidency, one 'legitimate' (2000-2005), and the other contrived (2005-2010).

• Next, the ubiquitous African ethnicity factor, of which Laurent Gbagbo is of course very conscious, which means that, while the intransigent incumbent is ensconced deep within the protective mass of his own ethnic grouping, his opponent depends on a numerical protection much further to the northern and middle belts of the country.

• Thirdly, President Laurent Gbagbo knows, as much as everyone else,

exactly how much importance could be attached to the threat of military intervention from a Nigeria-led ECOWAS, because the days of such reckless foreign adventures must have gone with the military dictatorship in Nigeria. And now that democracy has returned there, how many dead soldiers or wasted billions of petro-dollars would the Nigerian Senate tolerate before embarking on embarrassing public enquiries? Above all, Gbagbo knows that Nigeria is herself right now on the threshold of an unpredictable Presidential and national election.

• Fourthly, it is common knowledge that neither ECOWAS nor the

African Union has a standing army that is capable of mounting a successful invasion of the Cote d'Ivoire at short notice.

• Fifthly, and finally, the foxy veteran politician knows from contemporary international history that the U.N. and its Security Council are totally powerless, even about approving Chapter 8 sanctions, when his nation has committed no acts of aggression against other sovereign states. And he can easily recall the U.N's negligent inaction in Rwanda, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, and now Libya. Besides, he knows how hopelessly divided even the European Union could be when it comes to collective action against a defiant sovereign state.

In the circumstances thus described in the preceding sub-paragraphs, one thing seems certain, and that is that President Laurent Gbagbo is most unlikely to willingly compromise the status quo which he now enjoys. Equally, however, anyone can predict that Alassane Ouattara, for his part, is most unlikely to give up the fight for his constitutional right which has already been so recklessly violated on two previous occasions. Consequently, a resumption of the civil war in the Cote d'Ivoire is now a reality, and the civilian casualties have begun to mount on either side. So, what can/should the international community do now to stop the carnage and to find a peaceful resolution to the war and the constitutional deadlock?

Considering the analysis contained at section II above, it seems obvious that all talk about a settlement by military intervention must now be discontinued, because, even if it were realistic, the costs in human life (mostly civilian) would be astronomical and therefore most undesirable. Similarly, considering that compromise is of the very essence in a conventional diplomatic approach to a peaceful settlement, and that all such approaches have, in any case, already proved abortive up to this point, I am of the view that the time has now come for the world community to consider a combination of conventional diplomacy with some of those para-diplomatic tools which have worked in similarly difficult situations in the past. And if appropriate pressures are thereby brought to bear, to persuade the intransigent President that the game is up, he would most probably opt to seek a soft landing for himself and his family as part of a wider deal.

Such an alternative approach would require the full cooperation, notably, of the Americans who have the necessary expertise and experience of such 'negotiations', and the French who have all the necessary tools on the ground in the Cote d'Ivoire. Conceivably, that is the only approach that could avoid further bloodshed, and would also involve the full understanding and collaboration of the ECOWAS states and the African Union, particularly when it is time to bargain or conclude a deal about the quid pro quo for the one side or the other.