African Union leaders divided about Ivory Coast intervention

The theme at this week's annual African Union summit is 'shared values,' but it's clear there is little shared vision for how to handle the increasingly violent post-election crisis in Ivory Coast.

Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters
Members of Ivory Coast's Young Patriots youth movement took part Wednesday in a demonstration to show support for incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo near the US embassy in the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Call it the Coalition of the Unwilling.

A growing number of African nations are backing away from calls for military intervention in Ivory Coast, as a months-long political stalemate over who should rule the country pushes that country back to the brink of civil war.

Two men, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara claim to have won the Nov. 28 runoff elections, although the country’s election commission, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, and most countries other than Zimbabwe have accepted Mr. Ouattara’s victory with 54 percent of the vote.

The stalemate has turned violent, with pro-Gbagbo forces linked to hundreds of summary executions of human rights activists and Ouattara supporters. A large United Nations peacekeeping force protects the Golf Hotel in the country’s capital of Abidjan, where Ouattara has begun taking on the responsibilities of president.

With an African Union summit planned for this coming weekend, regional leaders have begun a feverish last-minute lobbying campaign, pushing either for AU intervention or against it. With or without military intervention, success in resolving the brewing conflict in Ivory Coast could determine if Africa is prepared to solve its own problems.

Resistance to using force

Last week, as the Nigerian government urged the United Nations Security Council to sanction an AU military intervention in Ivory Coast, South African president Jacob Zuma hinted that Ivory Coast might become yet another experiment in power-sharing. In a joint press conference with visiting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Mr. Zuma told reporters he still had hope for diplomacy.

“We are hoping that the AU will be able to resolve the matter and convince the parties,” he said. “Our view is that we need to do something to help the situation and don't demand that one leader should go.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who will face elections Feb. 18, also urged restraint, noting that the Ivorian elections held Nov. 28 were not as free and fair as the European Union and AU observer teams had led the world to believe.

"Uganda differs with the UN and international community on Ivory Coast," presidential spokesman Tamale Mirundi said. "If elections are contested, you just don't declare one candidate a winner. You must investigate thoroughly what went wrong."

A middle path

Ghana’s president John Atta Mills, has taken the middle path, assuring his fellow leaders in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that he would support military action in Ivory Coast, if ECOWAS voted to intervene, but saying his country would not be able to contribute troops.

Yet Nigeria, which already is one of Africa’s biggest contributors of peacekeeping forces, with 5,700 troops currently serving in the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), continues to press the case for military intervention.

In an opinion piece that presages Nigeria’s case to the United Nations Security Council, Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia wrote:It is clear that Gbagbo is determined to defy and treat the entire international community with absolute disdain. In the interest of global peace and security and in order to preserve and deepen the growing democratic culture in Africa, he cannot, he must not be allowed to prevail.”

All of these arguments are sure to come to a head at this week's AU summit at the organization's headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The theme of this conference is “Shared Values,” and among the issues to be taken up this year are an expected vote of sympathy for Kenya’s efforts to pull out of the International Criminal Court (because of human-rights charges against top Kenyan officials) and an official statement expressing regret that the ICC hasn’t delayed a genocide trial against sitting Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.

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