Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

South Africa's now-neutral stance on Ivory Coast infuriates president-elect's camp

South African President Jacob Zuma is set to go to Ivory Coast this weekend in a bid to negotiate a powersharing agreement that will pull the country back from the brink of another civil war.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer, Drew HinshawCorrespondent / February 17, 2011

Johannesburg, South Africa; and Dakar, Senegal

South Africa announced today that President Jacob Zuma will leave this weekend to help negotiate an end to the political crisis that has threatened for weeks to pull the West African nation of Ivory Coast back to civil war.

Skip to next paragraph

South Africa also announced that it is now neutral in the Ivory Coast dispute – a remarkable pullback from its initial congratulation of Ivorian President-elect Alassane Ouattara’s Nov. 28 runoff victory, which has yet to be recognized by renegade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.

That shift has infuriated Mr. Outtara's internationally recognized administration, which has had to operate from a hotel guarded by United Nations peacekeepers while Mr. Gbagbo clings to power in the presidential palace.

Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.

Mr. Zuma says that he has been invited by both sides to mediate as part of a high-level African Union team, but Ouattara’s appointed prime minister, Guillaume Soro, said today that the South African mediation process is neither welcome nor necessary.

“In Egypt, was there an African Union? Was there a panel of five heads of state?” Mr. Soro said at a press conference in Dakar, Senegal. “The Egyptians chased [former President Hosni Mubarak's regime] out. Was [the Economic Community of West African States] in Tunisia? And yet [former Tunisian President Ben Ali] was chased out. Is Gbagbo more powerful than Ben Ali or Mubarak?”

“People in [Ivory Coast] must organize themselves and take their destiny into their own hands to chase Gbagbo from power,” Mr. Soro added, noting that large numbers of Gbagbo’s own forces had voted for Ouattara, and could be counted on to join up with a citizen protest and with the northern “Forces Nouvelles” rebel group from the north, who backed Ouattara in the elections.

African pragmatism?

While human rights groups are quietly voicing concern about South Africa’s new attempt at mediation – arguing that any attempt to include Gbagbo in a new government of national unity would effectively reward him for his violent rejection of the election results, and could set a precedent – some experts say that it is simply a return of the tried-and-true African policy of pragmatism in dealing with power struggles.

“I don't see this as a U-turn” by South Africa, says Anne Fruhauf, an Africa analyst for the Eurasia Group. “They've been leaving the door open for Gbagbo to negotiate. Neutrality is the centerpiece of their approach. The question is how far the region is willing to go to establish democracy and so far stability has been the key concern.”


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story