Friday, February 25, 2011

Cote d’Ivoire Impasse Threatens African Unity

In the aftermath of the disputed elections in Cote d’Ivoire late last year, the African Union suspended Cote d’Ivoire from all AU activities until presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara was seated as the rightful winner. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also took a forthright stand in support of the election results as certified by the country’s election commission, even going so far as to threaten military action to remove sitting President Laurent Gbagbo for refusing to accept the election results.

For awhile, it looked as though Africa was united in insisting that the long-delayed election in Cote d’Ivoire had finally come to a definitive end. African envoys visited Washington and other capitals to confirm their stand against what is generally believed to be the refusal of one of the continent’s leaders to accept defeat. Unfortunately, this united stance seems to be unraveling as time goes by.

First, the threat of using “legitimate force” to remove Gbagbo evaporated when Ghana refused to send troops to such an intervention. Then Nigeria, facing April elections, had to decline to participate. With two of the largest regional armed forces standing down, no effective fulfillment of the military threat was possible.

Next, the High-Level Panel asked by the AU to resolve the Cote d’Ivoire standoff began to splinter in its resolve to maintain a united AU stance on supporting Ouattara’s widely accepted victory. At the January AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Nigeria and Burkina Faso stood firm on the AU position, but they clashed with Angola and South Africa, who are urging a resolution of the electoral dispute in a less confrontational manner.

Then, South Africa sent a warship, the SAS Drakensberg, off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire, ostensibly on a training mission that didn’t require notification of its Parliament. ECOWAS strongly criticized the presence of the South African vessel, even as the South African government explained that it was there to possibly evacuate the South African embassy or be used as a negotiating venue. The presence of the ship only further highlighted the growing split among African leaders about the proper response to the deadlock in Cote d’Ivoire.

South Africa has never endorsed the election of Ouattara, and instead backs Gbagbo’s insistence that the votes be recounted. The presumed pro-Gbagbo camp also includes Angola, Uganda, Gambia and Zimbabwe. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are joined in their support for Ouattara’ victory by Senegal and Kenya. The majority of African nations appear to favor a negotiated settlement, including Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cameroon and Tanzania.

Meanwhile, Gbagbo apparently is playing the waiting game, trying to hold out against robust international sanctions. About 90 prominent Ivoirians and 11 parastatals, including the electric company, the Abidjan port and the bodies that manage trade in coffee, cocoa and rubber, are under international sanctions. However, sanctions will take time to work effectively, and in the case of cocoa, they may have been instituted too late to make much difference. Approximately 40% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Cote d’Ivoire, and 895,000 tons of it had been shipped by the end of January. Moreover, significant cocoa smuggling into Ghana is being anticipated. Nevertheless, as cocoa represents 90% of the country’s export earning, it has to hurt at some point.

The question is: will African resolve be worn down by that point?

The West has been quick to call for governments of national unity in countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe when an election is highly questionable with no easy resolution at hand. This is partly because of the cost and logistical problems inherent in re-running elections and also the intransigence of leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The lesson learned by such leaders is that if you can wait out the international community, you can hold onto power with a fig leaf of a coalition government. Ask Kenya’s Raila Odinga or Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai whether their coalition governments work well. They will surely recommend against following their experience.

There are reports that Gbagbo has made off with US$500 million worth of CFA francs from the Central Bank of West African States, so he has some ability to hold out. Meanwhile, violence and human rights abuses reportedly are increasing. In the face of suffering and lack of movement by either side, a coalition government could look like the best alternative at some point.

But when will we reach the tipping point at which the various African camps coalesce into agreement on an expedient solution that ends the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire? Few except the fanatics have the stomach for allowing Ivoirians to suffer long so we may reach that tipping point sometime this spring at the latest.


  1. Initially, I was wondering what is wrong with Gbagbo. Once I heard that France may have has some underhanded influence with the outcomes such as the vote count or monetary support, I remembered a problem with Zimbabwe. I'm for a recount of do the election again with A.U or E.C.O,Was monitoring. See here:

    ""LEAKED: NAACP Withheld Crucial Report on Zimbabwe Elections By Jonathan Springston and Matthew Cardinale, Atlanta Progressive News (April 21, 2006)(APN) ATLANTA – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been sitting
    on an explosive report showing Zimbabwe’s 2002 elections were free and fair, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.""

  2. Neither Gbagbo or Outtara are stain-free. But credible African observers have insisted the election was largely problem-free and legitimate, and that Outtara secured a clear majority.