The African Union will this week discuss using diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions to force Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish power following a November election the continental body says he lost.
The bloc, representing 53 nations, has for now ruled out the use of force called for by West African states to install his opponent Alassane Ouattara as president, Kenyan Prime Minister and African Union envoy Raila Odinga said Jan. 21. The group begins a meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, today that culminates in a heads-of-state summit on Jan. 30-31.
A failure to agree on decisive action may enable Gbagbo, 65, to extend his decade-long rule and undermine the group’s ability to uphold democracy on the world’s poorest continent, where more than 20 countries are due to hold elections this year.
“Ivory Coast will be seen as an example,” Anne Fruhauf, Africa analyst with Eurasia Group in London, said in e-mailed comments. “The commitment to promoting democratization has been ambivalent at best.”
Odinga said on Jan. 18 that efforts to broker a settlement had failed and time was “running out for an amicably negotiated settlement.” Three days later, he said the group would consider sanctions and isolation rather than the use of force.
A decision to impose sanctions would mark a break with the African Union’s recent handling of election crises following disputed votes in countries such as Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe retained power after using violence to force his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, to back out of the vote. An accord brokered by South Africa led to the creation of a unity government. In Kenya, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan negotiated a power-sharing accord between President Mwai Kibaki and his opponent, Odinga. That agreement followed two months of post-election ethnic fighting in which 1,500 people died.
A statement on the African Union’s resolutions is expected to be issued after the summit ends on Jan. 31.
“We have seen similar tests in the past and we have seen non-decisive action,” Steven Gruzd, an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, said in a phone interview on Jan. 20. The African Union has “bumbled through.”
The African Union previously used sanctions against the leaders of a 2008 coup in Mauritania and members of a junta that seized power in Guinea the same year. The bloc may be as resolute when it comes to dealing with Ivory Coast, said Mehari Taddele Maru, head of the African Conflict Prevention Program at the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa.
“Almost everybody is united in terms of the ultimate aim” of getting rid of Gbagbo, Mehari said in a Jan. 20 telephone interview. “There might be differences over modalities. There will be a lot of consideration as to whether military intervention will be successful.”
The UN estimates at least 260 people were killed in violent clashes in Ivory Coast since the Nov. 28 elections. While the African Union, UN and U.S. all recognized results showing Ouattara won by a clear margin, Gbagbo alleged electoral fraud and claimed victory. He was proclaimed president on Dec. 4.
The AU suspended Ivory Coast’s membership on Dec. 9, calling on Gbagbo to transfer power to Ouattara “without delay.”
The Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, said on Dec. 24 that it may use force to oust Gbagbo if he refused to leave office. The group’s 15 members include Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
“Gbagbo is determined to defy and treat the entire international community with absolute disdain,” Odein Ajumogobia, Nigeria’s foreign minister, wrote in a column published in the Lagos-based ThisDay newspaper today. “Ecowas requires unequivocal international support through an appropriate UN Security Council resolution to sanction the use of force.”
West African leaders on Jan. 22 asked Ouattara to nominate a new head for the West African Central Bank after Governor Philippe-Henri Dacoury-Tabley resigned.
The Senegal-based regional central bank said on Dec. 23 that it recognized Ouattara as president and that only people authorized by him would be allowed to access the state account. The decision was meant to starve Gbagbo of funds to pay civil servants and the military. Still, Ouattara said in an interview with Le Monde today that Gbagbo’s government managed to withdraw about 150 million euros ($202 million) from the central bank. No reason was given for the resignation.
“It was unacceptable that he allowed the illegitimate government of Gbagbo to take out money,” Meite Sindou, Ouattara’s spokesman, said in a telephone interview yesterday from the commercial capital Abidjan.
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