Former South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Ivory Coast Sunday on an African Union mission to try to mediate a resolution to the election dispute between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara amid concerns over an outbreak of violence.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Ivory Coast Sunday to help mediate a political crisis that has seen election officials deliver contradictory verdicts and rival presidents inaugurated, and has exposed the deep divisions in the population of this West African nation.
The African Union, a body of 53 African member states, has dispatched Mbeki to Ivory Coast amid warnings that the crisis could have "incalculable consequences".
The mediation effort follows a bizarre day in Ivorian political history that saw incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his arch-rival Alassane Ouattara each holding inauguration ceremonies Saturday, with both men claiming victory in last week’s presidential run-off.
Mbeki called in as peacemaker in Ivory Coast
On Thursday, the UN-backed Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced provisional results showing Ouattara had won the election with more than 54 percent of the vote.
A day later, the country’s Constitutional Commission declared Gbagbo the winner and annulled results in seven regions in Ouattara strongholds in the north.
The international community – including the US, the UN and the EU – has backed Ouattara as the winner, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called on Ivorian civilian and military officials to respect the will of the people.
Saturday’s political drama began with Gbagbo’s inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Abidjan. Hours later, Ouattara swore himself in as president in the form of a handwritten letter.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro offered his resignation – not to Gbagbo, but to Ouattara, therefore recognizing the northern politician as Ivory Coast’s leader.
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Ouattara then reappointed him as prime minister in his government. The political leader of the New Forces movement that controls the north, Soro became prime minister in Gbagbo’s government under the terms of a 2007 peace deal.
Once again, Mbeki steps in help sort Ivorian crisis
Mbeki arrived in the main Ivorian city of Abidjan Sunday, entrusted by the AU to “find a legitimate and peaceful solution to the crisis". He was met at the airport by South African diplomats but no Ivorian officials, according to the AFP. Details of Mbeki’s agenda in Ivory Coast have not been released.
The former South African leader helped mediate the 2007 peace deal while he was president.
But according to FRANCE 24’s Chris Moore, reporting from Abidjan, Mbeki at that time was seen by the opposition as being “too close” to Gbagbo.
“The goal of Mbeki’s mission,” said Moore, “is to avert a situation like the deadly one which enveloped Kenya in 2007,” when rival candidates claimed victory in the presidential election.
In the Kenyan case, a compromise deal saw incumbent Mwai Kibaki take on the presidency while his opponent Raila Odinga became prime minister.
The AU has come under criticism in recent years for failing to take a strong enough stand in mediating electoral disputes when longstanding African leaders refuse to concede defeat.
Abidjan on knife-edge
Tensions have been high across the West African nation, with reports of pro-Ouattara demonstrations breaking out in the northern regions and gunfire exchanges in Abidjan.
A sprawling commercial capital comprised of distinct districts, some of which are home to largely Gbagbo loyalists, others to Ouattara supporters, while still others are mixed, Abidjan has been on a knife-edge in the past few days, according to Moore, with most residents opting to stay indoors as the crisis unfolds.
At least 17 people have been killed in post-election violence and there were fears of spiraling violence in an already divided country.
Once considered a beacon of West African stability and economic prosperity, Ivory Coast descended into a bloody civil war in 2002.
The 2010 elections, it was hoped, would bring stability to Ivory Coast and restart the Ivorian economic miracle in the world’s largest cocoa-producing nation.
But the latest post-election dispute has sparked fears that the New Forces rebels, who control the north, could take up arms, sparking bloodshed.
Date created : 2010-12-05