Towards an Enduring Peace in Cote d'Ivoire

24 Jan 2011

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Guest Columnist: Odein Ajumogobia


Cote d’Ivoire is at a critical juncture in its history: faced with a complex and multi-dimensional predicament.  The present crisis of leadership and succession singlehandedly precipitated by Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, its erstwhile president unless curtailed, will inevitably lead to anarchy and chaos, or worse, a full blown civil war with the attendant impunity, violence, inconceivable humanitarian challenges and unprecedented civilian casualties.   As the impasse deepens with each passing day and the direct threat to regional peace and security becomes more imminent, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) requires unequivocal international support through an appropriate United Nations Security Council resolution to sanction the use of force.  This is the only way to legitimize the use of external force to effectively contain the increasingly volatile internal situation and ensure an enduring peace in Cote d’Ivoire and the West African sub region.   It is clear that Gbagbo is determined to defy and treat the entire international community with absolute disdain.  In the interest of global peace and security and in order to preserve and deepen the growing democratic culture in Africa, he cannot, he must not be allowed to prevail.

Nature of the Crisis

The genesis of the crisis is perhaps traceable, first, to the conflict between advocates of Ivoirien nationality by parental descent and champions of Ivoirien nationality by place of birth.  The proponents of the former currently led by Gbagbo, have strongly advocated that any Ivoirien citizen seeking presidential election must have full-blooded Ivoirien parents.  They claim that the father of Alassane Ouattara who won the 28th November, 2010 run-off election is a naturalized Ivoirien of Burkinabe descent. Naturally, Ouattara asserts his “Ivoirienesse” in accordance with the Ivoirien constitution and the law, and indeed previously served as prime minister of Cote d’Ivoire.  The distinction between native and non-native Ivoiriens however underscores the underlying issues of unity and integration in that country that it was hoped the elections would resolve. 

Disputed Election Results

The immediate cause of the conflict lies in a dispute over electoral results announced by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and purportedly overturned by the country’s Constitutional Council.  The IEC declared Ouattara the winner of the November 28, 2010 run-off presidential elections, the results having been duly certified by the representative of the United Nations Secretary General in Cote d’Ivoire under the terms of express agreement of all stakeholders in the process, including the contestants in the presidential election.  The election was itself the culmination of a long drawn out process midwifed and monitored by the UN that was expected to unify and stabilise the country after years of internal strife. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Council in an evidently contrived process purportedly overturned the declaration of the commission and proclaimed Gbagbo the winner.  

International Recognition of Ouattara

Consequently, it is Ouattara and not Gbagbo that has been recognized by the UN, EU, AU and ECOWAS as president consistent with the duly certified results of the election, and in order not to undermine democracy as that potent and peaceful instrument of change of government and development.  In a rash reaction, Gbagbo ordered the 9600 UN peacekeepers and about 900 French troops stationed there to leave Cote d’Ivoire.  The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy properly challenged Gbagbo’s authority to do so in the circumstances and have therefore, not complied with the directive.  The response of the UN and the French government is best justified by the clear and present need to maintain peace and security in accordance with a long standing mandate in Cote d’Ivoire.  The deployment of 2000 additional troops recently sanctioned by the Security Council is therefore also consistent with that mandate under these circumstances.

The Threat of Legitimate Force

The challenge now facing the ECOWAS and indeed the entire international community is how the crisis might be resolved without allowing the situation to degenerate into anarchy, violence and war.  

The ECOWAS Authority resolution to consider the use of “legitimate force” has perhaps not unexpectedly provoked some dissent. A growing number of commentators have observed that the ECOWAS has gone beyond its authority and should rather limit itself to a broad range of sanctions. 

The use of “legitimate force” is however not exclusively about military warfare in the conventional sense and therefore does not necessary connote an “invasion” by troops.  Legitimate force can include, for example, a naval blockade to enforce sanctions which might be imposed against Gbagbo. 

Gbagbo must be made to understand that there is a very real prospect of overwhelming military capability bearing down on him and his cohorts.  It is only then that he will give serious consideration to the demands that he step down immediately.    The deployment of armed force for this purpose can only however be “legitimate” pursuant to an appropriate UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution.  That was indeed the purport of the rather misunderstood resolution of the ECOWAS Heads of State led by President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria sanctioning the use of legitimate force as a last resort.  I strongly suggest that that timely communiqué of the ECOWAS leaders prevented carnage in Cote d’Ivoire and created the limited space that still exists for the relatively peaceful resolution of the conundrum which the legal, political and diplomatic situation in Cote d’Ivoire presents.

UN Security Council Resolution

Emboldened by the voices of dissent, Gbagbo and his supporters evidently do not at all believe that there is a seriousness of purpose in the threat of “legitimate force”, which in part explains his intransigence.   A UNSC resolution to authorise military force as a last option, would complement ECOWAS’ own commitment to dialogue and diplomacy, and would also reinforce the need to take steps now to protect the civilian population and stem the growing number of civilian casualties and deaths.

 The death of scores of civilians and the rumours of mass graves, the engagement of mercenaries and the rumoured supply of armaments and the increasing harassment of UN peacekeepers are all pointers that this is the time to employ all the tools of preventive diplomacy which must include the mobilization of armed forces under the auspices of the UN, if necessary to contain the threat to regional peace and security.

Peace Enforcement Measures

The UN secretary general has already complained about “egregious human rights violation” in the Cote d’Ivoire.  He has also cited  Gbagbo’s refusal to grant the UN access to alleged grave sites, even though the UNOCI had been instructed to do everything possible to gain access to the affected areas both for purposes of prevention and to investigate and record the violations so that Gbagbo and others  responsible will be held accountable.   The peacekeeping mandate of the UNOCI has now however become inadequate to guarantee peace and security in the country.

It is time to look at the prospect of applying legitimate force - peace enforcement measures within the framework of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In other words, the direct involvement of the UNSC in this regard has become an imperative in order for ECOWAS and the international community to be able to consolidate the peace efforts so far made and to prevent the complete reversal of processes in which the international community has so substantially invested.  

Offer of Amnesty

It is helpful that several world leaders have made amnesty offers to Gbagbo on the condition of his accepting to surrender power peacefully to the internationally recognised winner of the November 28, 2010 presidential election.  Prestigious international roles that Gbagbo could play, if he accepts to leave peacefully, have also been offered to the former Ivoirien leader.  Apart from these considerations, his personal security and that of his supporters is being guaranteed either within Cote d’Ivoire or outside of the country.  His financial assets are also to be protected in the event that he accepts to prevent the Cote d’Ivoire from going to another civil war. 

Gbagbo has so far scoffed at these generous proposals for a dignified exit.

Threat to Foreign Nationals

The threat by Gbagbo’s agents that the nationals of countries seeking to “invade” Cote d’Ivoire would be made to suffer in the Cote d’Ivoire cannot be ignored and must be taken seriously.  In this regard, it must be emphatically stated in the proposed resolution of the UNSC that the international community will not condone the harassment of, or violence against any immigrant or other foreigners living in Cote d’Ivoire which has a considerably large immigrant population. This should by itself be a trigger for armed intervention.  Gbagbo must also not attempt to endanger the lives of peace-loving Ivoiriens living inside Cote d’Ivoire.   

The political crisis in the Cote d’Ivoire is likely to disrupt the trend towards democracy in the sub region and create a dangerous precedent for a continent in which 20 presidential elections are to hold within the next 18 months.  Consequently, the impunity of Gbagbo must be regarded as a challenge to the entire international community.  It is indeed a test for democracy in the West African sub-region in particular and the larger African continent beyond.

Beyond Chapter VII of the UN Charter

While the consent and approval of the UNSC will be necessary for the use of force against a sovereign state, it is equally well known that the rule of unanimity can also militate against evolving the necessary consensus of opinion.

Consequently, there is the need to build an effective international public opinion for such use of limited force, as may be contemplated in Cote d’Ivoire.  International public opinion has the potential to assist in building the necessary platform within the UNSC in order to transcend all parochial or other interests in Cote d’Ivoire.  Already Russia, at the level of the UNSC and Ghana, at the ECOWAS regional level, have shown inclinations not to support a military incursion of any kind in Cote d’Ivoire.

This is unfortunate. I do believe that peace enforcement by the UNSC in Cote d’Ivoire is now the required response to the impunity that we are witnessing in Cote d’Ivoire.  The international community has universally and unequivocally rejected the nominal constitutional mandate of Gbagbo.  We cannot therefore leave Ouattara to enforce the legitimate and internationally recognized mandate given to him by the people of Cote d’Ivoire.  That would be to sanction civil war, against the very ethos of the UN.

International Responsibility to Protect

Democracy in its different forms is fast becoming a shared value in Africa and much of the world.  On one level, the ECOWAS needs international support to protect the democratic expression of the people of Cote d’Ivoire through the ballot box.  On this level the UN’s international responsibility to protect may need a re-definition to accommodate situations whereby leaders use the sheer force of arms to thwart the popular will of the people.  International responsibility to protect would then go beyond considerations of genocide and other currently recognized violations of fundamental humanitarian rights. 

On a more cogent level however, the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire goes beyond election results and the dispute between Gbagbo and Ouattara on the definition of who is a citizen of Cote d’Ivoire that is eligible for presidential election.  Both leaders have a large following that operate along ethnic lines.  Both leaders have the control of armed forces: Gbagbo the apparently divided national army and Ouattara the Nouvelle Forces formerly commanded by his newly appointed Prime Minister Guillume Soros.  The threat to the peace and security of Cote d’Ivoire and the entire sub-region is therefore at risk on account of the impunity of one man and his cohorts. 

Preventive Diplomacy

Gbagbo’s preparedness to court a gradually emerging civil war is in itself alarming.  It is alarming because of the foreseeable humanitarian crisis that will ensue.  It is alarming because economic resources that should be deployed in development efforts will be wasted on the battle fields of a needless fratricidal war.  It is also alarming for the precedent it will set amongst fledgling democracies across the African continent.

It is in view of this that the ECOWAS, in general, and the government and people of Nigeria, call upon all peace-loving nations of the world to underscore the need for preventive diplomacy in all its ramifications including the mobilization of force.  Cote d’Ivoire needs international help.  ECOWAS under the leadership of President Jonathan has taken a firm and principled stand against impunity in governance.  What is needed now is unequivocal international support to be able to enforce peace in Cote d’Ivoire.

•Ajumogobia is Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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