23 May 2012
Negotiating a Peaceful Settlement in the Complexity of the Ivorian Political Crisis: Which Way Forward?
The resolution of the political crisis in the Cote d'Ivoire still requires greater support from regional states, leaders and institutions.
Prepared by: West Africa Network for Peacebuilding
In the evolving political crisis of Cote d'Ivoire, significant preventive diplomatic efforts have been deployed both at the level of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to end the crisis. As the political stalemate deepened following the run-off elections on 28th November 2010, the Authority of Heads of State of ECOWAS meeting in an Extraordinary Session on 7th December in the Nigerian capital Abuja, endorsed the results of the Ivorian second round elect ions as declared by the Independent Electoral Commission and certified by the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Cote d'Ivoire.
This policy brief examines the possible outcomes of the engagement of the AU High Panel in search of a peaceful end to the Ivorian political crisis. The policy brief further explores the complexity of the mediation process in Cote d'Ivoire where the underlining assumption of a peaceful settlement obliges compliance on the part of the incumbent President Laurent Gbabgo to cede power to Mr. Alassane Ouattara, the recognized winner and President Elect as declared by the Authority of Heads of State of ECOWAS. How must the AU - ECOWAS intervention facilitate a transition of political power in a peaceful manner when the key actor; the incumbent President refuses to step down or accepts the decision of ECOWAS and the Africa Union leaders backed by the United Nations? What could be the way forward in such a complicated process? Are there policy options available that can be pursued to respond to the current stalemate while at the same time recognizing that the preferred response option must deal adequately and simultaneous with the current crisis and the medium to long term threat to peace and stability in Cote d'Ivoire?
2. Implications of ECOWAS/AU Decisions and the Prospects for a Peaceful Settlement
The Heads of State after reviewing the political and security situation arising at that critical time from the declaration of the results of the run-off elections endorsed the results in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1765, dated 16th July 2007. The Authority of Heads of State went further on the basis of the certification of the results by the UN to recognize Mr. Alassane Dramane Ouattara as President-elect. The joint AU-ECOWAS mission to Cote d'Ivoire on 3rd January 2011 reiterated the positions of the Extraordinary Summits of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government and the AU Peace and Security Council and called on Mr. Gbagbo to peacefully hand over power to Mr. Ouattara.
Subsequent to these decisions and the flurry of diplomatic activity of various missions to Cote d'Ivoire, the Peace and Security Council of the AU during the 16th ordinary summit of the African Union from the 30th to 31st January 2011, took the decision to form a High Panel of five Presidents, one from each of the sub-regions of the continent to pursue a peaceful settlement of the crisis based on the principle of the respect of the will of the Ivorian people. During the four week timeframe of the work of the AU High Panel, the decisions they arrive at according to the AU must be binding on all parties. It is important to appreciate the implications of the decisions of the Authority of Heads of State of ECOWAS and the Peace and Security Council of the AU. While African leaders are trying to live up to their resolve of non indifference as outlined in the Constitutive Act of the AU, ECOWAS application of its protocols and track record for mitigating conflicts is tested to the limit. The decisions of the Peace and Security Council of the AU have set the ground rules for engagement with emphasis on pursuing a peaceful settlement. There are however underlying assumptions from these decisions that inform the on-going efforts at a peaceful settlement. In dealing with the complexity of the search for peace in Cote d'Ivoire, what kind of precedent would be set in dealing with similar post election crisis in Africa? This is even more pertinent considering that up to 17 elections are scheduled to be organized in Africa in 2011 to 2012. What are some of the implications of the decisions of the Peace and Security Council of the AU?
i. The very first general assumption is that African political leaders and indeed all political actors take seriously their commitments and obligations in treaties, agreements and protocols they sign and endorse.
ii. In this regard, the starting point for a successful engagement in Cote d'Ivoire is to uphold the decisions of the ECOWAS and AU leaders. These decisions are informed by the Constitutive Act of the AU and the provisions of Article 45 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. Further to this, the process of certification of the election results was integral in the political agreements of Pretoria and the Ouagadougou political accord as accepted by all parties in the Ivorian conflict and affirmed by UN Security Council resolution 1765. This informed the ECOWAS/AU endorsement of the results.
iii. The ECOWAS revised treaty and the relevant protocols for upholding good governance and preventing violent conflicts in West Africa have no value when they are not respected or cannot be applied. In undertaking to recognize Mr. Alassane Ouattara as Presidentelect, West African leaders also fully uphold the principle of supranationality within the context of Peace and Security and guided by the treaties and protocols that hold West African States obligated to abide by the values and principles which must be respected to prevent violent conflicts.
iv. The objective criteria that will inform a peaceful outcome of the Ivorian crisis holds all parties accountable to respect their obligations in all the political agreements since the rebellion of September 2002 and culminating in the Ouagadougou Political Accords and with the firm endorsements of the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
v. In appreciating these assumptions it is important to continue to avail to Mr. Gbagbo, the opportunity to articulate the reasons behind his current position which is the refusal to step down. The process of engagement with him could clarify the current contradictions and contribute to a peaceful settlement. While the emphasis is on a peaceful resolution of the Ivorian crisis, the situation on the ground remains in flux but could have been much worse with an escalated level of violence and a higher number in loss of human lives and destruction of property had it not been for the firm and resolute stand of African leaders. As long as the current peaceful efforts are sustained, there is no justification whatsoever for any side in the political confrontation to resort to violent means to impose its will. Preventive diplomacy it must be underscored has held the fragile political environment together and averted a blood bath at least for now. While Mr. Gbagbo has frowned and disagreed with the decisions of African leaders, he is maintaining cooperation. African leaders, unlike in the years predating the African Union, have taken ownership and are providing leadership in managing the crisis.
III. Challenges to the Mediation Process
The first obvious challenge is to determine exactly what are the issues underlying the crisis. The African diplomatic effort up to now is limited in persuading Mr. Gbagbo to step aside and cede power to Mr. Ouattara, on the basis of the evidence of the election results and its process of certification. Is this the core issue on the table that the AU High Panel has to deal with and make binding decisions after engaging with the parties? Has the election results not become a smokescreen that continues to cloud the nationality issues that have been dealt with in the Accra, Pretoria and Ouagadougou political accords?
This is a relevant question in as much as the political context and discussions especially from the Gbagbo side keep insinuating identity as a continuing contending issue . During his "investiture" by the Constitutional Court, Mr. Gbagbo proclaimed that he will not negotiate the sovereignty of Cote d'Ivoire. Subsequent pronouncements from close Gbagbo associates including the first lady Simeon Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude, leader of the Young Patriots all insinuate a nationalist "cause" that Gbagbo is fighting to prevent a “foreigner” from taking over the Presidency of Cote d'Ivoire. Statements from Mr. Gbagbo and his close associates have shifted away from the initial contestation around the results of the elections to the bigger question of identity and nationality; a central issue that was negotiated in the Linas- Marcoussis, Accra, Pretoria and Ouagadougou agreements. Should this issue be re-opened for negotiations? If yes, what becomes of all the previous negotiations which were concluded, signed, entered into force and ratified through UN Security Council resolutions? If the sensitive issue of nationality cannot be re-negotiated, Mr. Gbagbo has to consent to such understanding in which case his supporters refrain from making reference to the nationality of Ouattara as a non-Ivorian which has the potential of up-scaling the current crisis to a full blown civil war. The critical question here is whether the perplexing issue of Ivoirite was completely resolved and if not, does it have space in the terms of reference of the AU High Panel? Does this issue, if brought on board, not risk diverting attention away from the issue at stake regarding the validity of the results of the run-off elections?
In this regard, the core issue will remain the refusal to accept the election results as certified by the UN. In view of the decisions of the Peace and Security Council of the AU on the evidence of the conduct of the elections and its outcomes as well as the process of certification, a key question then is what is new that the AU High Panel brings to the negotiation table? A binding decision cannot contradict the position of the AU which recognizes Mr. Ouattara as Presidentelect. In this ominous challenge, what is the way forward? What happens if the binding decisions of the AU-High Panel are not adhered to on the basis of the principled position of the AU? Would the entire peace process revert to where the AU Peace and Security Council started on 31st January 2011 with the setting up of the High- Panel?
Against this background, the AU High Panel is confronted with a dilemma. The decisions they take must be binding on all parties as the Peace and Security Council has pronounced and yet those decisions must measure up to the undergirding principle of respecting the will of the people of Cote d'Ivoire. Mr. Gbagbo's close allies in particular Charles Ble Goude have already indicated that they will not accept the AU High Panel decisions unless such decisions conform to their position.
Another issue for the consideration of the High-Panel is how in arriving at binding decisions that all parties must adhere to, the parties are brought to appreciate how much a solution to the current crisis must be the prevention simultaneously of the bigger crisis in the medium and long term political stability and peace of Cote d'Ivoire. In other words, the level of cooperation of the political players with the AU High-Panel is not just to find a response to the immediate crisis but also to prevent the lingering of the crisis to become the future political instability of the country. Negotiating a peaceful settlement therefore would go beyond how the interest of Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara are met to include the morale highground of respecting political agreements, obligations and principles that have been entered into.
IV. Opportunities for a Peaceful Mediated Settlement
Despite all the challenges inherent in finding a peaceful and lasting settlement to the political stalemate in Cote d'Ivoire, the commitment and resolve of the ECOWAS-AU to ensure a peaceful settlement has been unprecedented. It is critical at this time to maintain the focus on a peaceful diplomatic approach as a means of galvanizing an African united front in handling the crisis. It is important to highlight at all times that the ownership of handling the crisis is African and therefore decisions have to be understood as Africa driven. In this regard, the reference to the Accra, Pretoria and Ouagadougou political Accords becomes an important reference predating the current crisis. African leaders such as President Eduado Dos Santos who are perceived to be supporters of Mr. Gbagbo have an important role to play as part of the AU High Panel engagements. The level of cooperation of Mr. Gbagbo and his willingness to cede power is more likely to be encouraged by the reassurance of his close friends who are African leaders that his political future remains unscathed.
In retrospect, there is an enviable track record in the search for peace in Cote d'Ivoire. Many peace processes have given birth to instruments that may provide an opportunity to settle the current crisis peacefully. It will be recalled that the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1633 endorsed the agreement signed by the Ivorian political forces in Linas- Marcoussis on 24 January 2003 (S/2003/99) (the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement ) approved by the conference of Heads of State on Cote d'Ivoire, held on 25 and 26 January 2003. The Agreement signed in Accra on 30 July 2004 (the Accra III Agreement) and the Agreement signed in Pretoria on 6th April 2005 (the Pretoria Agreement). UN Security Council Resolution 1633 endorsed the observation made by ECOWAS and the Peace and Security Council of the AU on the end of mandate of President Laurent Gbagbo on 30th October 2005. ECOWAS and the Peace and Security Council of the AU considered the impossibility of organizing elections on the scheduled date as stipulated in the Ivorian constitution in October 2005 and therefore took the decision that President Gbagbo shall remain Head of State from 31 October 2005 for a period not exceeding 12 months. The significance of this resolution of the Peace and Security Council is that it provided political legitimacy for President Gbagbo to have a second term mandate even when elections could not be held. In other words, Mr. Gbagbo has been a political beneficiary of AU and UN Security Council Resolutions leading up to the Ouagadougou Political Accord. It is such track record that should persuade the Ivorian political actors to respect the binding decisions of the AU High Panel even when such decisions may seem not to be in line with their personal interests. This is the time to put the national interest of Cote D'Ivoire over and above every other personal political interest or ambition.
Regardless of such a sound track record in one of the most comprehensive peace processes, this policy brief observes some drawbacks in the negotiation process involving especially the Constitution that provides lessons for further engagement with the Ivorian political actors. Mr. Gbagbo has argued that the Ivorian constitution is supreme and the critical political agreements in the peace process cannot override the constitution. The legitimate question therefore is what happened when the Ivorian constitution could not function when Mr. Gbagbo's first term mandate ended? From where did Mr. Gbagbo derive his political legitimacy in the absence of elections allowing the continuation of his mandate? Have the Institutions of State such as the Constitutional Council fully respected the Ivorian Constitution and stayed within their mandate without violating the Constitution in the handling of the election dispute and proclamation of Mr. Gbagbo as the winner? In this situation, the AU High Panel has the task of demonstrating the unconstitutionality of the investiture of Mr. Gbagbo and the legality of the UN certification role as an arbiter in the election.
This policy brief, building on the previous brief entitled: Cote d'Ivoire: Mid-Way Through The Crisis, considers three possible scenarios for the AU High Panel negotiation process before making recommendations. These scenarios are not necessarily in order of preference but rather highlight the various possibilities the current engagement of the AU High Panel will yield.
1. Possible Scenario One
The AU High Panel is able to engage constructively with parties in the Ivorian political parties. President Gbagbo accepts the binding decisions of the AU High Panel and accepts to step aside and hand over power peacefully with conditions that should be met by the AU Peace and Security Council. Some of the conditions may include but are not limited to guarantees and immunity from prosecution and the lifting of sanctions and the travel ban against him and his close allies.
2. Possible Scenario Two
Mr Gbagbo maintains his entrenched position and refuses to step down from power. The rhetoric on the nationality question continues with the Ivorian National Radio and Television continuing with the propaganda of ethnic exclusion. The political tensions continue to rise while the economy begins to grind to a halt as a result of the economic pressures brought about by the Central Bank of West Africa (BECEO) beginning to take effect. In such a setting, there is increasing frustration by the Ivorian people as social tensions along ethnic lines begin to deepen. There is Community further tightens targeted sanctions.
3. Possible Scenario Three
The AU High Panel engages constructively with the political parties in the crisis and arrives at decisions that are binding on both parties. Mr Gbagbo refuses to recognise the decisions of the High Panel. The political crisis worsens. The AU reevaluates its options, sustains the peace efforts but up-scales its engagement to the possibility of including the use of legitimate force with its attendant disastrous consequences at social and economic level.
In light of the above, WANEP recommends that the AU High Panel moderates its expectations and appreciates that time is part of the process of finding a peaceful settlement. In this regard, they should not bind their engagement to a deadline but rather continue with the resolve for a peaceful settlement. The AU High Panel should broaden their engagement to include direct dialogue with prominent close Gbagbo allies such as Simeon Gbagbo, the first lady, Pascal Affi N'Guessan, the leader of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), the Political Party of Mr. Gbagbo, Charles Ble Goude, leader of the Youth Patriots and the hierarchy of the Ivorian Armed Forces (FANCI).
The AU and ECOWAS should continue to forge a united front in support of the Five Presidents High-Panel. In the same vain, the AU needs to intensify its engagements with the International Community and particularly the Permanent Members of the Security Council as well as other interest blocs to enforce the sanctions. It is important that the collective AU decisions on Cote d'Ivoire are not undermined by countries outside the continent. All member states should openly continue to state their commitments to the principles and protocols of the Union and its Regional Economic Communities regardless of any political preferences or considerations of member states in the Ivorian political crisis. It ought to be clearly understood by all member states that the crisis of Cote d'Ivoire present a challenge not only in how it is resolved in its current stage but more importantly, how the responses to the current crisis prevent the escalation of violence in the future. Overcoming this challenge is integral to Africa's proclaiming of owning the 21st century.
Against the background that Cote d'Ivoire was divided following the 2002 rebellion and now deeply polarized after the 2010 disputed run-off elections, it is of utmost importance to initiate a well-resourced multilevel engagement involving civil society organizations, traditional leaders and religious groups. As it has done before, during and after the elections, WANEP offers to bring its expertise of promoting national dialogue in Cote d'Ivoire. The crisis in Cote d'Ivoire reinforces WANEP's argument that every African state ought to develop a national institution for conflict resolution, prevention and mitigation as suggested in the AU declaration of 2002 in Durban. Ghana's example of a National Peace Council is worth emulating.
While a peaceful settlement of the Ivorian crisis is very important, it is also a test case and indeed a challenge for a regional approach to resolving such a crisis. How the crisis is resolved would set a precedent in determining how future post-election crisis would be dealt with. Africa through its leaders must be resolute in ensuring that at all times the will of the people through democratic elections are respected. The AU and ECOWAS cannot renege on the political values and principles they share through binding treaties, agreements and protocols. The political upheavals in North Africa could weaken the resolve of some African leaders to focus only internally on social, political and economic priorities. While internal domestic imperatives are important for each African nation state, they should not be pursued to the neglect of maintaining Africa's shared values on the principles of good governance, democratic values and respect for human rights. Sustaining the search for a peaceful end to the Ivorian crisis may be daunting but African leaders will only prevail on the basis of their commitment and political will to ensure that undemocratic means to seize power become a thing of the past.
For additional reading on this topic please see: