Ivory Coast: Who has learned what and why did it take so long to oust Gbagbo?

13 Apr

At long last, Ouattara, UN & France unite to remove albatross of sufferings in Côte d’Ivoire

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, published on http://www.nazret.com on 13 April 2011

My optimism for Côte d’Ivoire began, after I listened to Mr Alassane Ouattara’s address to his nation on 7 April 2011. Mr Ouattara appeared presidential in every sense of the word—stature, depth, and confidence, governing experience—and most importantly in the priorities he set to restore his country into a functional and vibrant society within five years.

Therefore, the surrender of Mr Gbagbo is both a crowning moment to the real victor in the election and for Côte d’Ivoire to turn its attention to healing and national reconstruction. There is no doubt a lot would be expected from the new president, especially what and how he would approach the processes of closing an ugly chapter of the last decade, and taking appropriate lessons for the future. Africans also should celebrate this as evidence of the inevitable defeat of impunity. Further with popular awakening of Gbagbo’s humiliation, it marks a count down to those who muscled into power or by stealing elections.

Four days later, i.e. 11 April, Côte d’Ivoire’s major saga came to an end with the ultimate humiliation of the former president that forced him into surrender to Ivorian fighters, backed by the United Nations and French forces present in that country. Make no mistake; this is not the end of conflict or the humanitarian tragedy. Gbagbo’s capture is the beginning of it. At his surrender to the new president’s forces, the former president immediately sought protection of UN forces. Early on he bashed them constantly, accusing them of partiality and trying to force their withdrawal.

For a historian who had dared to find comparison for his stay in power in Napoleon and believed in his invincibility, unlike Napoleon’s defeat, his claim is insulting the evidence of which is his cowardice. He hid himself in a bunker stacked with everything, including French spirits and wines, from where he commanded deaths and murders. When he realized his end had come, he surrendered to his pursuers wet and terrified. It is a huge victory for defenders of human rights the world over.

The new president is on script so far

When I began writing this article on 12 April, my intention was to urge President Ouattara to ensure that Gbagbo and his closest henchmen or the members of the armed forces suspected of crimes to be tried by international tribunal. I had heard him state on7 April that he would like to see those that have committed crimes, including those on his side, to be put to trials and face justice. In the same breath, he said he would also establish “a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate alleged massacres perpetrated by both sides.” I said to myself this could not be true—having to try Gbagbo and his henchmen in Côte d’Ivoire.

I am now relieved that is not the case. In his 13 April encounter with the media, the president has made it clear that there would be international trial for the post election atrocities and violation of human rights and crimes against humanity. “I will speak shortly with the ICC’s chief prosecutor so the court can begin investigations. These massacres are unacceptable…I am revolted…I will do everything for these condemnations to set an example, not only for Ivorians, but also for Africa and the entire world,” he told the gathered journalists.

My concern arose from the fact that the first thing dictators are known to be doing when they seize power is destroying existing institutions in the name of reforms. Then they recast them in their image and interests to serve their purposes obediently. We have already seen what had happened under the Gbagbo decade and the extent of human rights violations. Law enforcement and the courts gave him a free ride. Finally, in the last controversial election, they bestowed on him another term when he had even lost the confidence of the majority of citizens. This shows that Cot D’Ivoire’s institutions of justice have been tainted by a decade of Gbagbo’s messing up of the country.

In deciding to send the authors of Côte d’Ivoire’s sufferings to the Hague or wherever they could face justice, the new president would get the time and opportunity he badly needs to focus on his presidential tasks on the security, economic front and to bring peace and reconciliation to the traumatized population. This would offer him the distance he needs from the justice done, without direct involvement by him or his party. In a polarized society, this would spare him of any accusation of playing his hands as investigator and then both judge and jury.

Mr Ouattara’s sensible direction is also visible in his 13 April statement. He said, “Mr Laurent Gbagbo is a former head of state, he must be treated with consideration.” However, Amnesty International has concerns “Armed men wearing military uniforms have been conducting house-to-house searches in areas of Abidjan that supported Gbagbo.” Mr Ouattara needs to give the charges serious attention and clear the situation. If the problem had occurred he must come out openly and say so. That would be a firm indication the problem would not repeat. This should set the difference between his government and other African states that believe the problem of human rights charges could go away by denials. Early on, President Ouattara and his prime minister had pledged there would be no revenges on Gbagbo supporters.

What has the African Union learned from Côte d’Ivoire situation?

Since the end of 2010, AU’s rage against the stolen election in Côte d’Ivoire had been uncharacteristically dramatic. It even pushed the usually slow UN Security Council machinery to roll into action in just five days of negotiations. For a while, it seemed, a firm stand on ejecting Gbagbo was struck. It played well and like a good chorus between Abuja (ECOWAS seat), Addis Ababa (AU HQs) and New York (UN HQs).

Unlike its habitual demeanour, the AU, thanks to ECOWAS, became the first to play the “autumn song” (Chanson d’automne) just as in the WWII movie The Longest Day, in a manner of the French Resistance network prior to D-Day. ECOWAS said it took a tougher stance against electoral fraud in Côte d’Ivoire’s last election, because of the “Authority” residing in it from the Extraordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government on Côte d’Ivoire. Therefore, on 7 December 2010, among other things, the ECOWAS: (a) Endorsed the results declared by the Independent Electoral Commission and certified by the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Côte d’Ivoire; and (b) Called on Mr. Laurent Gbagbo to abide by the results of the second round of Presidential elections.

After five days of negotiations, in its 8 December presidential statement the United Nations Security Council unanimously recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner by an “irrefutable margin.” The statement read, “In view of ECOWAS’ recognition of Mr Alassane Dramane Ouattara as President-elect of Côte d’Ivoire and representative of the freely expressed voice of the Ivorian people as proclaimed by the Independent Election Commission, the members of the Security Council call on all stakeholders to respect the outcome of the election.”

On 9 December 2010, the AU adopted a resolution, by which, among others, it: (a) recognized the results proclaimed by the election commission, as certified by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr Alassane Ouattara as the President-Elect of Côte d’Ivoire; and (b) decided “to suspend the participation of Côte d’Ivoire in all AU activities, until such a time the democratically-elected President effectively assumes State power.”

For a while, this enabled all sides to exert pressure on Gbagbo to leave. Unfortunately, Gbagbo’s Côte d’Ivoire has terribly exposed the AU’s (ECOWAS’s) problems and weaknesses. It only began to play its characteristically discordant tune, when Uganda took the lead in questioning integrity of Ouattara’s victory. Shortly after, Angola, Namibia and South Africa were added to the list. Nigeria too dragged its feet, indulging in word-games. Some like the leaders of Nigeria and Uganda had elections months away, others considered the impact of war on their countries or immigrant citizens in Côte d’Ivoire.

Gbagbo laughed loud and was happy when the international coalition against him fractured. The UN felt abandoned, when all that African fervour about getting Gbagbo out of the way suddenly died down. Addressing the 19th AU summit, the distressed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quoted by Financial Times (1 Feb) pleading, “We must preserve our unified position, act together and stand firm against Mr Gbagbo’s attempt to hang on to power through the use of force.”

Mr Gbagbo was convinced that the threat of use of legitimate force was just a bluff. He believed West African leaders would realize that their “economy is far too dependent on Côte D’Ivoire to function without” (VOA, 28 January). He was also convinced that the cost of a new war in the region was a deterrent. Thus, he was emboldened by economics and a good understanding of the psychology of African leaders.

Diagnosis of the problem

In post-colonial Africa, especially now in an era of human liberation, the AU is mostly known for its generosity with words. However, It has taken an avowedly spiritual position not ever to rock the boat, regardless of crimes by states before its eyes and whatever citizens in a given country say. This is evident in its election observation scorecard. Lack of confidence in its direction has gotten worse over time, especially the record of its achievements in comparison to its predecessor. At least, the OAU has its sterling record in the anti-colonial struggle.

Supposedly, words are an expression of position and a guide for action. The major difference now and then is, in post-decolonization Africa, the words the AU has employed rarely fit reality or the size of situations or problems it has been handling. This problem has been discussed since AU’s 16th session under the guise of “clarity of its decisions and documentation”, including why its documents have been incapable of fostering shared values.

Reports were prepared and the issue was discussed from 30-31 January 2011, at the 19th summit in Addis Ababa. From the statements of some delegations it is possible how some took it seriously. However, it is one thing to have an item on the agenda; and another to take it to its logical conclusion. Professional politicians misdirected it and the original purpose was systematically scuttled. In the end, the summit adopted a sterile resolution on signing and ratifying the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration.

The fact of the matter is that the AU has been so much enwrapped in an exceptional intertwinement with words. They have become the hallmark of its total divestment from reality and concrete actions. There is no doubt that the main culprits are national politics, individual leaders and governments that easily drive over their pledges in their continental organization when they find themselves in tight corners.

Has the UN learned anything?

In a Cyril Foster lecture at Oxford University on 2nd February 2011, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded with the international community for the United Nations to be allowed, “to perform its duty to protect peoples from man-made or natural calamities more effectively.” He, stressed, “When sovereign States fail in the task the international community must step in, with force if needed.”

The lecture revolved around three themes: (a) human protection in conflict, (b) complex emergencies where the United Nations serves as fire fighter in the forms of peacekeeping and disaster relief; prevention; and (c) the development of legal institutions promoting accountability. Mr Ki-mooon cited three actual cases of concerns for the Organization, of which the situation in Côte D’Ivoire is at the top of his list.

Just in reading this paragraph, I could sense how much the situation in Côte D’Ivoire has afflicted the Organization’s remaining stature, especially at a time the UN is bestowed with clear and robust mandate under Chapter VII of the Charter that authorizes it to use force to protect peacekeepers and civilian populations of Côte D’Ivoire. Failure in that has made his task untenable.

What is worrying many observers is the fact that the UN has to appear hapless, even at a time when it is given a clear mandate in Côte d’Ivoire to use force under Chapter VII of the Charter, if necessary to protect the civilian population and itself. For a long time, both ECOWAS and the secretary-general threatened former president Laurent Gbagbo, impressing on him about the possibility of use of “legitimate force to achieve the goals of the Ivorian people.” None of that materialized until a few day ago. Since December, I have been pressing for action, as was the case in my articles of 25 December 2010 (Côte d’Ivoire: UN picks the gauntlet in a rare experiment with use of force (www.ethioquestnews.com) and CÔTE D’IVOIRE: Unparalleled defiance against international will in recent years, 30 March 2011www.abugidainfo.com.

We know what happened for two weeks in a row in early March—women in white or red cloths were cruelly machine-gunned. The UN did not act in time. Elsewhere in the country numerous people had been killed and it is likely more mass graves would be discovered. Had the UN acted earlier than 5 April, more Ivorians could have been spared of untimely death.

I am disappointed that the UN had not used force earlier than the first week of April. I can understand the Organization’s preoccupation with civil war. Adding to this is also AU’s faltering position, discussed above. Already in March, we had witnessed the escalation of civil war with Gbagbo’s forces mowing down Ouattara’s supporters. Both sides had unclean hands. Women who believed in their strengths as mothers, wives and sisters to persuade Gbagbo through shame and compel him out of office were sniffed out.

This needs to be looked into why Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was hesitant to act.

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