Ivory Coast Deadlock: Solution lies with ECOWAS, not West

Two Presidents, two prime ministers, two governments now exist in the same country, Ivory Coast. This is the outcome of the runoff of the November 28 presidential election organized with a prime motive to help re-unite the country that had remained largely divided following the 2002 civil war. This is where the deadlock lies.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had declared the opposition candidate, Alassane Ouattara winner with 54.1%, while the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo followed with 45.9%.

But on allegations of frauds in areas where Ouattara was highly popular, the country’s Constitutional Council, headed by a close friend of the incumbent president overturned the results, disallowing votes from several areas, and then, declaring Gbagbo winner with 54%; and Ouattara getting 45% of the votes.

Gbagbo(L) Ouatarra (R): both claim the presidency

In the meantime, international pressures from western countries, and organizations including the United States, France, the United Nations, African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), asking the incumbent president to yield to the results of the IEC, step down and hand over power to Ouattara are seemingly not yielding the desired outcome – even though Gbagbo as of the latest information on the stalemate, has agreed to dialogue with his rival.

The United States and France, among other Western nations have been very unambiguous on this issue. U.S. president Barack Obama said Gbagbo will be held responsible for any atrocities committed should Ivory Coast be plunged into renewed fighting. In a personal letter to Gbagbo, Obama is quoted to have told the incumbent president to make a choice: respect the will of the people, hand over power and step down and be a friend to the process of democracy supported by the U.S.; or stay in power and be internationally isolated. French president Nicolas Sarkozy told both Gbagbo and the military officials – most of them friends to the incumbent – to abide to the results of the IEC and for the need of the incumbent to step down.

The United Nations endorsed the results of the IEC and UN troops are heavily guarding the hotel where Ouattara and key members of his new government are lodging – the hotel is the same venue where Ouattara was sworn in – about an hour after Gbagbo took the oath of office in a room at the presidential building. Ouattara later appointed as Prime Minister, Giulluam Soro, who tendered his resignation as prime minister from the Gbagbo administration and declared his support for Ouattara.

The African Union has suspended Ivory Coast from the organization “until such a time the democratically-elected president effectively assumes state power.” The AU’s move followed a call from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for Gbagbo to acknowledge the results of the runoff and hand over power to Ouattara. ECOWAS has also declared that it will henceforth be dealing directly with Ouattara in any matter concerning the country.

Gbagbo however is still very obstinate despite pressures from outside and within Africa. In his most recent reaction through his Minister of Interior, Emile Guirieoulou, Saturday, Gbagbo lashed out at western officials for attempting to destabilize his government by lobbying military leaders and state media to back his rival, Alassane Ouattara.

Appearing on national television, Guirieoulou said western military and civilian personnel stationed in the country “have undertaken to discretely and individually” try and persuade Ivory Coast generals to back Ouattara.

“The same steps were undertaken with officials of the state media,” said Guirieoulou.

But some political pundits see Gbagbo’s accusations as a joke aimed at inciting nationalistic feelings among patriots of the nation.

At this point, it is utmost important for the West and other international organizations – who want the incumbent president to respect the will of the people as declared by the IEC and hand over power to Ouattara – to direct all meaningful measures through ECOWAS. This organization comprising countries of the West African region stands in the best position to find a solution to the deadlock in the neighboring Ivory Coast. ECOWAS is made up of countries with similar, if not the same political institutions, mentality and a peculiar political will – a way of exhibiting political consciousness which may be best understood by Gbagbo and his army generals. Already, ECOWAS has made known its intention to have nothing to do with Gbagbo. But should there be the need of further lobbying for the president to step down; such moves should be left in the hands of ECOWAS. Only a brother can best know the secrets of another brother – at least in the African society, and this includes all spheres whether political, economic or social. Ivory Coast until now has been in the decision making bodies of ECOWAS. Definitely, the member states in the organization stand a better chance to successfully find a solution to the stalemate. The leaders in the West African Sub-region know too well the stakes and the political characteristics of the region.

So if the United States, France and other western nations, as well as international organizations really want to find lasting solutions to the crisis in Ivory Coast, then, they should not do so directly, but consult with ECOWAS. Direct involvement in the crisis by western countries and organizations may no longer be seen as an honest move for the sake of “democracy” where by the so-called will of the people is respected. Such moves may rather hinder possibilities of finding solutions to the shameful situation in Ivory Coast; and even result to widespread accusations of “foreign” intervention in the “internal” affairs of Ivory Coast.

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