Thabo Mbeki What the World Got Wrong in Cote d'Ivoire

By Mbeki, Thabo | New African, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Thabo Mbeki What the World Got Wrong in Cote d'Ivoire


Mbeki, Thabo, New African


"why is the UN entrenching former colonial powers on our continent?", asks the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, in this piece which he originally wrote for the American magazine, foreign policy. He says the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General took the extraordinary decision to exceed his mandate in Cote d'Ivoire by declaring who had won the presidential election, contrary to his tasks as detailed by the Security Council. this positioned the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (Unoci) as a partisan "faction" in the Ivorian conflict, rather than a neutral peacemaker. Africans can and should take the lead in resolving their own disputes.

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THE SECOND ROUND OF THE 28 November 2010 presidential elections in Cote d'Ivoire pitted two long-standing political opponents against each other, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. For this reason, and of strategic importance, it was inevitable that this electoral contest would decide the long-term future of the country.

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Everybody concerned should have probed very seriously the critical question: Would the 2010 elections create the conditions that would establish the basis for the best possible future for the Ivorian people? This was not done.

Rather, the international community insisted that what Cote d'Ivoire required to end its crisis was to hold democratic elections, even though the conditions did not exist to conduct such elections. Though they knew that this proposition was fundamentally wrong, the Ivorians could not withstand the international pressure to hold the elections. However, the objective reality is that the Ivorian presidential elections should not have been held when they were held. It was perfectly foreseeable that they would further entrench the very conflict it was suggested they would end.

The 2002 rebellion in Cote d'Ivoire divided the country into two parts, with the north controlled by the rebel Forces Nouvelles, which supported Alassane Ouattara, and the south in the hands of the Gbagboled government. Since then, Cote d'Ivoire has had two governments, administrations, armies, and "national" leaders.

Any elections held under these circumstances would inevitably entrench the divisions and animosities represented and exacerbated by the 2002 rebellion.

The structural faults which lay at the base of the 2002 rebellion include such inflammable issues as transnational tensions affecting especially Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso, Ivorian ethnic and religious antagonisms, sharing of political power, and access to economic and social power and opportunities.

The grievances

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In this regard, the international community has assiduously suppressed proper appreciation of various explosive allegations which, rightly or wrongly, have informed and will continue to inform the views of the Gbagbo-supporting population in southern Cote d'Ivoire--and much of Francophone Africa! These are that Ouattara is a foreigner born in Burkina Faso, that together with Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore he was responsible for the 2002 rebellion; that his accession to power would result in the takeover of the country especially by Burkinabe foreigners; and that historically, to date, he has been ready to advance French interests in Cote d'Ivoire.

Taking all this into account, the African Union understood that a lasting solution of the Ivorian crisis necessitated a negotiated agreement between the two belligerent Ivorian factions, focused on the interdependent issues of democracy, peace, national reconciliation and unity.

In protracted negotiations from 2002, the Ivorians agreed that the presidential elections would not be held until various conditions had been met.

These included the reunification of the country, the restoration of the national administration to all parts of the Ivorian territory, and the disarmament of the rebels and all militia and their integration in the national security machinery, with the latter process completed at least two months ahead of any presidential elections.

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