The Cote d’Ivoire Crisis: A Litmus Test for African Diplomacy

The current political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire that was precipitated by the disputed results of the country’s presidential run-off elections held on 28th November 2010, where both the Challenger and the Incumbent declared themselves as the winners and went on to swear themselves to the presidency has cast the spotlight on “Diplomacy”, as a key tenet in International Relations.

This has been occasioned by the Incumbent, Mr. Laurent Gbagbo totally refusing to cede power claiming that he was duly elected having been declared the winner by the Country’s Constitutional Council – headed by a key ally – despite the fact that the Country’s Electoral Commission had already declared his Challenger, Allassane Ouattara as the President-elect having garnered 54% of the total votes cast against Gbagbo’s 46%. This was swiftly followed by endorsements from the UN’s Special Representative for Cote d’Ivoire, the French and US governments, the African Union, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In spite of this massive outpouring of public approval for Ouattara, Gbagbo has flatly refused to step down and has even gone ahead to fire up his citizen’s emotions in the name of nationalism by branding those calling for him to step down as having launched an attack on his country’s sovereignty which must be defended at all costs, falling short of telling them to be prepared for war. It must be remembered, that this stand has been occasioned by the stand of the West African Bloc that either Gbagbo cedes power voluntary or they employ legitimate force to oust him.

The threat of employing legitimate force by the West African Bloc is what casts “Diplomacy” into the spotlight. This is because this threat has the potential of provoking a reciprocal effect where it fires up the citizenry into a sense of nationalism, where they also employ legitimate force to defend themselves – something that Gbagbo seems to be exploiting. If this happens, it’s the region that stands to lose, since Cote d’Ivoire is strategic to the region’s interest being a leading cocoa producer and also having reasonable economic resources, not forgetting that it houses two ports that serve as a gateway for the region to the rest of the world. In addition to this, a sizeable number of the region’s citizenry have found home in Cote d’Ivoire as immigrants, and military intervention might end up subjecting them to unwelcome xenophobic attacks by a fired up indigenous citizenry latching on the thread of nationalism. The other point to put into perspective, is that Cote d’Ivoire as a country is not purely homogenous and is distinctly divided along religious lines pitting the dominantly Christian South against the largely Muslim North, and as it appears Gbagbo has the support of the mainly Christian South who overwhelmingly voted for him; this scenario has the prospect of inviting religious tension among the citizenry. The other issue, is that in a scenario like this, the military is usually expected to play a Republican role by restoring the rule of law, the supremacy of the Constitution, and respecting the people’s verdict exercised through the electoral process, however, the military has become partisan and has thrown its weight behind Gbagbo. The foregoing, clearly casts a sharp spotlight to the art of “Diplomacy” and whether it can be achieved in a peaceful manner, all I can say is that as things stand now, the future for Cote d’Ivoire appears grim, as we witness a true litmus test for “African Diplomacy”.

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