Internet Press Service (Johannesburg) – 02.02.2011 (extracts)
A High Level Panel has been set up by the African Union to send a team of experts to Côte d’Ivoire and come up with a solution to the political impasse that would be binding on both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his rival for the presidency, Alassane Ouattara.
The Panel named on the final day of the AU summit (Jan. 30-31) consists of the new African Union chairperson, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in his capacity as chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), along with the leaders of leaders of Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and South Africa.
« The Panel is a welcome proposition as long as it operates within the constitution of Côte d’Ivoire, » said Ivorian Foreign Affairs Minister Alcide Djédjé in Addis Ababa. « The AU’s decision [to set up the Panel] is what Gbagbo has been asking for to resolve the crisis peacefully. We think the Panel comes with respect for the constitution. Anything that is against the constitution would not be accepted. »
Djédjé’s emphasis on the constitution is no accident. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept U.N.-certified results and concede defeat to Ouattara is founded on what the Gbagbo camp views as a grave violation of electoral procedures. The release of results by the president of the Independent Electoral Commission, Youssouf Bakayoko, was delayed several times before he finally declared Ouattara the winner at the Golf Hotel on Dec. 2, 2010. The hotel was – and is – also the headquarters of the Ouattara camp.
« We don’t exactly know why, but we know the chief of the Commission was kidnapped by French and U.S. ambassadors to announce the provisional results as final from one candidate’s office, » Djédjé said.
Bakayoko was reported in the media as having chosen the Golf Hotel for the security afforded it by the presence of U.N. peacekeepers. The Constitutional Council rejected the results, saying the IEC had missed a deadline for their release by a day.
Gbagbo’s campaign had challenged results from four northern districts, and the following day, Constitutional Council president Paul Yao N’dre announced that nearly a tenth of votes cast were fraudulent in the council’s view; the revised total swung the totals from 54.1 percent for Ouattara into a narrow win for Gbagbo with 51 percent of the vote.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said the United Nations will support the Panel’s work. « The Panel should work in close coordination with the U.N. in all aspects and every stage of the process. In this regard the U.N. is prepared to provide a senior official to work with the team of experts that will support the Panel. »
Ban has called for the lifting of the siege on the Golf Hotel, full support for the legitimate government and a « peaceful and honourable exit » for Gbagbo; however, he rejects the challenge to the results announced by the IEC.
« Reopening the results… would be a grave injustice and set an unfortunate precedent, » he told African leaders in Addis Ababa.
But AU members are not entirely unanimously in support. South Africa, which is a member of the High Level Panel, has adopted a more cautiously neutral position and avoided endorsing the published results. Former president Thabo Mbeki, who visited Côte d’Ivoire as a mediator, argued in favour of a power-sharing agreement, saying the elections were flawed.
« All peaceful solutions to end the crisis are welcome. We are against all forms of violence which will only worsen the crisis, » André Kamaté, President of the Abidjan based Ivorian League for Human Rights, told IPS over the phone.