Testing time for the African Union - Briefing

IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010. Both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are laying claim to the presidency, with Gbagbo refusing to yield to international pressure to step down. The series takes a look at the UN’s position, issues of human rights, as well as the stances of the African Union, ECOWAS, western governments and the EU and World Bank.

African Union - an important test case

Formed in 2002 to replace the Organization of African Unity, the 53-state African Union (AU) has long been heavily involved in the quest for a peaceful settlement in Côte d’Ivoire.

What was the AU’s position on the elections?

An AU observer mission was in Côte d’Ivoire, headed by former Togolese Prime Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh. The AU mission report was highly critical of shortcomings in the process in the north, documenting some serious abuses in territory held by the former rebel Forces Nouvelles. The report has subsequently been seized on by Gbagbo supporters, who maintain it was deliberately overlooked. There were press reports of Koffigoh angering the AU by attending Gbagbo’s swearing-in ceremony in December.

As signs of breakdown emerged from Côte d’Ivoire, the AU Peace and Security Council expressed the organization’s “total rejection of any attempt to create a fait accompli to undermine the electoral process and the will of the people” and called on parties to show the necessary restraint and to “refrain from taking actions which will exacerbate an already fragile situation”.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, resuming his former role as AU mediator, flew to Abidjan on 5 December, accompanied by former Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, the AU’s mediator in Darfur. Mbeki held separate meetings with Gbagbo and Ouattara but failed to get a meeting between the two rivals.

AU chairman Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika announced the body’s suspension of Côte d’Ivoire “until such a time the democratically elected president effectively assumes state power”. The move was confirmed at another AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa on 9 December.

The president of the AU commission, former Gabonese Foreign Minister Jean Ping, accompanied by AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra of Algeria, and President of the ECOWAS Commission veteran Ghanaian diplomat Victor Gbeho, flew to Abidjan on 16 December.

Who to mediate?

More on the crisis

 Back to square one
 Political impasse sparks food price hikes
 The UN's mission impossible?
 Wounds reopened - the price of breakdown
 Countdown to deadlock

The choice of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has raised eyebrows. Odinga was already on the record as suggesting that a military removal of Gbagbo would be legitimate. Gbagbo allies were quick to question his selection on this basis. Other observers have questioned bringing in someone from such a politically-charged background, arguing that Kenya’s experiences of electoral violence and messy coalition government could confuse the issues in Côte d’Ivoire.

Dissenting voices

Angola, which has an embassy in Abidjan, was quick to warn against any external interference and has since clarified its position in a number of communiqués. Gbagbo was the first Ivoirian leader to seek a full working relationship with Angola, after decades of Ivoirian support to the rebel movement UNITA.

Speaking in Guinea-Bissau on 27 December, Angolan Foreign Minister Jorge Chicote said Angola’s position came from a respect for Côte d’Ivoire’s institutions and a desire “to take a position that would avoid a bloodbath”.

Angola reacted angrily to rumours of Angolan mercenaries appearing in Abidjan.

Both Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and Mbeki have voiced concerns about the viability of a military solution.


Sources: African Union Observer Mission, African union, Washington Post, AFP