Odinga to Return to Ivory Coast as Efforts to End Political Crisis Pick Up

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga will return to Ivory Coast this week amid increasing diplomatic efforts to resolve the West African’s nation’s political crisis that has entered its seventh week.

Odinga, the African Union’s mediator in the country, will “set up proper structures to deal with the political impasse,” according to an e-mailed statement from his office in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, today. No further details about the trip were given.

Odinga joins former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who made an unannounced visit to the country on Jan. 8, as regional powers step up attempts to find a peaceful resolution. Ivorian incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, 65, has refused to cede the presidency to Alassane Ouattara, 69, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28 vote, citing concern over fraud in some northern states.

“The messy situation and loss of faith in the transfer of power through the ballot could lead to the return of military coups in Africa,” Odinga said in the statement. With several elections scheduled in Africa this year, Odinga said the Ivorian standoff could “set a trend” of incumbents trying to “cling to power”.

Obasanjo, whose eight years in office ended with Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power in 2007, has met Gbagbo three times and Ouattara at least twice since his arrival in Ivory Coast.

Last Resort

“An election has taken place, the whole world knows the result of the election and my exploration is to see how and where we go from here,” Obasanjo said late yesterday. He also met with United Nations mission chief Young-jin Choi.

Obasanjo’s visit comes before a Jan. 17 meeting of West African defense chiefs in the Malian capital, Bamako, where a possible military mission to oust Gbagbo will be discussed, Nigerian Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Yerimah said on Jan. 1.

The “use of legitimate force, as pushed for by Ouattara, will be the very last resort because otherwise it would undoubtedly trigger widespread conflict,” said Kissy Agyeman- Togobo, an Ivory Coast analyst with Songhai Advisory based in London. About 210 people have been killed since the post- election standoff began, according to the UN.

Any attempt to use military force to remove Gbagbo from office would be a “declaration of war,” Ahoua Don Mello, a spokesman for the 65-year-old leader, said in a phone interview from Abidjan on Jan. 7.

“Neither the Ivorian people nor the army will accept” military intervention, he said. “We will defend the country.”

Eurobond

Gbagbo agreed to talks without conditions, Odinga said on Jan. 5 following his first trip to the country. His comments sparked a rally in the West African nation’s Eurobonds.

The bonds rose 0.3 percent to 38.13 cents on the dollar today, from 38 cents Jan. 7, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield dropped to 16.654 percent from 16.685 percent a day earlier.

Ivory Coast missed a $29 million interest payment on the Eurobonds on Dec. 31 and has a 30-day grace period to pay the money.

To contact the reporters on this story: Emily Bowers in Accra and Pauline Bax in Abidjan at ebowers1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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