The deepening crisis and threatening civil war in Côte d’Ivoire has the serious potential to disrupt peace and stability in the entire region.
This will have negative consequences for the whole of Africa, including South Africa. It is therefore vital that SA and Africa act in a principled and decisive manner to help stabilise the situation and create conditions for long-term peace, stability and democracy.
The issue in the media has simplistically been depicted as a battle between Outtara, the “democratic winner”, and Gbagbo, the “despotic loser” who refuses to give up power and therefore must be removed from power.
Some major powers have driven this agenda and the UN secretary general, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union Peace and Security Committee (AUPSC) have been put under tremendous pressure to follow their dictates.
What is the truth? In terms of all the agreements between the Ivorian parties, after the civil war in 2002, which were endorsed by the UNSC and the AU, it was agreed that no elections should take place before the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of all the armed forces was completed and the unification of the country achieved.
Despite the fact that little progress was made on the DDR process, the US and French governments mobilised intense government and non-government pressures to force Gbagbo to hold elections and in the process flouted legally binding agreements. Independent observers were beginning to warn that a “regime change” agenda was unfolding in Côte d’Ivoire.
The Côte d’Ivoire presidential elections were held on October 31. There was no outright winner and according to Ivorian law, President Gbagbo and presidential candidate Ouattara had to contest a second round of elections, which were held on the November 28.
Legally, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has to declare provisional results within 72 hours. The Constitutional Council (CC) has to consider all the information from the IEC, accounting officers, observers and complaints from the candidates before they announce the final results.
The IEC failed to complete its work within the stipulated 72 hours and the CC requested it hand over information to the CC to enable it to complete the process.
Rather than handing over the documents or continuing with the work of the IEC, the chairman went on his own to Outtara’s HQ and announced that Outtara had won the elections.
The rest of the IEC only became aware of this announcement when they saw it announced live on French television.
The CC, after studying all the documents and having consulted with relevant role players, announced that Gbagbo had won the elections. Constitutionally, the CC is the only institution authorised to do so. This procedure was followed for the first round and everybody accepted the CC’s legal authority.
An orchestrated smear campaign was launched locally and internationally against Paul Yao Ndre, the president of the CC, who is highly respected in the region.
It was conveniently ignored that he was acting within the mandate of the constitution when he declared that the announcement of the IEC chairman was invalid.
There are serious discrepancies in the results announced by the chairman of the IEC. Notwithstanding this, and gross violations of the Ivorian constitution and laws, and UN procedures, major powers such as France and the US, as well as the UN representative Mr Choi, hastily supported Outtara’s “victory”.
The UN representative, who had no mandate from the UN or the AU, acted in violation of all the agreements reached by both parties to the conflict. These agreements, which were duly endorsed by the AU and the UN, clearly outlined that the role of the UN representative was to ensure that the elections were “free and fair” and not to pronounce on the results. His action is unprecedented.
Ecowas then supported this position which was later endorsed by the AU Political and Security Committee (AUPSC). Later it became very apparent they had not considered the implications of the conflicting results that had been announced. The IEC and the UN had unconstitutionally pronounced Outtara the winner.
It is noteworthy that major powers, such as France, the US, EU, AUPSC and Ecowas as well as the media houses, including those in South Africa, ignored the findings of credible observers from the African continent.
The 200-strong AU observer mission, headed by the former Togolese prime minister, Joseph Kooky Koffigoh, commented: “The mission noted with regret serious acts of violence, namely losses of human life; infringement of physical integrity, intimidation and abduction; attempts and damage to electoral material.”
The mission recorded “serious irregularities” in over 70 polling stations in the north. The report noted “these extremely serious events prove that the ballot process in Bouake, Korhogo, Frekessedougou, Samatiquila and Mankana among other localities, could not be held in a transparent way”. It concluded that it could not guarantee the “honesty of the results”.
An independent West African observer team, Oscada, in a press conference said, after visiting 620 polling stations where they recorded acts of violence and other serious violations of the electoral code, they “confirm that the credibility of the run-off (in the locations they visited) is doubtful”.
In another report Jean-Marie Ngongjibangte of Cameroon, head of the observer mission from Cameroon, Senegal, Benin, Mali, Morocco, Gabon and Togo, said there were many problems with the vailidity of the election process:“These problems were stealing of ballot boxes; arresting of candidate’s representatives; multiple voting; refusal to allow international observers to witness counting of ballots, and the murder of representatives of candidates. We hereby declare that the second round of voting was not free, fair and transparent in these localities.”
However the French and US governments and the UN Secretary General intensified their campaign for the removal of Gbagbo.
On December 20, White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told a news briefing “it was time for Gbagbo to go”. A day later the US State Department announced that it had imposed travel sanctions against Gbagbo and 30 allies.
The next day the State Department said that Outtara’s victory was irrefutable and reiterated US demands for Gbagbo to stand down.
As the crisis deepened, Gbagbo proposed that a panel of inquiry consisting of the AU, Ecowas, the EU, the Arab League and the permanent members of the Security Council should fully investigate the results and give a ruling. This should be binding on both presidential candidates. Outtara rejected this suggestion. The situation deteriorated and violence escalated. Neither side was prepared to change their positions and it was obvious that in the absence of a comprehensive political solution, a new civil war would soon break out.
The AU chairperson then requested former president Thabo Mbeki interrupt his work in Sudan and go to Côte D’Ivoire to assess the situation and propose a way forward to resolve the crisis. Mbeki met all the role players and submitted a detailed report to the AU.
Instead of responding to Mbeki’s report or the reports of the AU and other observer missions, intense pressure was mounted to influence African governments to take a “hard” line against Gbagbo.
Emissaries were dispatched to many African capitals to convince them to take the “correct” position. The message was clear: Gbagbo had to go. Unfortunately once again, sections of the South African media were co-opted to join this campaign.
The South African government has consistently taken the correct position that the AU, in the light of the conflicting results, should not take any decision without first assessing all the information. South Africa has resisted all undue pressure because it is committed to finding a lasting peaceful solution and remains opposed to any regime change agenda.
The pressures were substantially increased before the AU summit which took place in Addis Ababa from January 29-31, 2011. Despite pressures by the major powers and the UNSG, the AU summit refused to be co-opted into a regime change agenda imposed from outside Africa. The summit established a panel of heads of states comprising Presidents Jaco Zuma, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Abdel Aziz of Mauritania and Idris Déby of Chad to find a political solution. Their mandate is to complete their work within a month and their conclusions will be binding on all parties.
The independence and sovereignty of all African states is being threatened. In the interests of Africa and our efforts to consolidate the democratic processes in Africa it is vital that we do not succumb to undemocratic agendas from outside our continent.
By Mr. Aziz Pahad, former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs in South Africa from 1994 to 2008