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Ivory Coast Stalemate: Military, Diplomatic Solutions Considered

December 29, 2010 at 5:37 PM EST
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Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is holding fast to power, despite international appeals to end an election stalemate. As the nation teeters on a political precipice, Gwen Ifill gets insight on the situation from Christopher Fomunyoh, senior associate for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute.
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GWEN IFILL: For more, we turn to Christopher Fomunyoh, senior associate for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute. He recently returned from the Ivory Coast.

Thank you for joining us.

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH, National Democratic Institute: Thanks for having me.

GWEN IFILL: Tell us about Laurent — about — I’m sorry — I always do this wrong — Gbagbo. Why is it that he is resisting so vigorously giving up his job?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: Well, according to Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters, the constitutional council of the country ruled in his favor, saying he had won 51 percent of the votes.

And so he considers that that gives him the legal right to continue to sit as president of Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast.

GWEN IFILL: He has postponed elections five times in six years. Is there any reason to believe he’s doing this in good faith this time?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: Well, these elections have been long in coming, and I think that’s why many Ivorians were so hopeful.

We must remember that over five million Ivorians participated in this electoral process. And they had hoped, for the most part, that these elections would be the culmination of all of the peace agreements that have been negotiated over the years that have postponed the elections, which ordinarily would have been conducted in 2005.

And so here we are, a month after the elections, all of this fighting and people still waiting to get an outcome that can give them a sense that Ivory Coast is in the process of healing and national reconciliation.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming that that is not immediately at hand, that outcome, is there still a diplomatic alternative on the table?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: Well, many Ivorians are really hoping, and many Africans, too, because the continent has had its share of conflict, but many Africans and Ivorians are hoping that there still could be a chance for a peaceful settlement.

I believe that the delegation that went in from — led by West African heads of states from three countries that are members of the ECOWAS is probably the last-ditch effort to have a peaceful resolution. But, ultimately, at some point, this is going to have to be resolved, sooner or later.

GWEN IFILL: There was talk over the weekend, and there was a little step back from it today, about a military solution, and that is someone going in and forcibly taking Mr. Gbagbo from office.

Is that likely? Is that still likely on the table?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: I understand that that option is still being considered. And the heads of states who visited Ivory Coast early this week — or yesterday — have indicated they will be back on Monday.

And they have also stated that it would be the last opportunity for them to repeat to Laurent Gbagbo the message that ECOWAS has sent to him so far, which is that ECOWAS recognizes Alassane Ouattara as having won the election.

GWEN IFILL: Now, ECOWAS, which is the regional group of West African nations who are trying to resolve this, also have intervened in one form or another in Liberia, in Sierra Leone. How does this compare to those previous interventions, military interventions?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: It’s true that the ECOWAS military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone were very instrumental in bringing about peace and the end of conflict in those two countries.

But Cote d’Ivoire is a much bigger country. It’s 20 million inhabitants. Abidjan alone is the home to 3.5 million Ivorians. And it is an urban city. And so I could imagine that the conflict, if it were to get to that point of conflict, could be very disastrous for Cote d’Ivoire.

It could also destabilize some of these other countries you mentioned that are just in the process of recovering from longstanding conflict, because Cote d’Ivoire is an anchor in that subregion. And that’s why many Ivorians and many Africans cannot afford to see Cote d’Ivoire go down.

GWEN IFILL: For instance, we see elections coming up in Sudan in a couple of weeks.

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: That’s true.

And it’s not just Sudan. We have been referring to the Sudan, but we have other important elections coming up in Africa. Nigeria is due to have elections in the first quarter of 2011. The DRC, Congo, it is talking about elections in 2011.

Zimbabwe may be having elections. Liberia, next door to Cote d’Ivoire, may be having elections. And I think a lot of Africans are looking at this to get a sense of whether elections really matter, or whether it’s going to become increasingly difficult to have elections that everyone can agree with.

GWEN IFILL: We saw Mr. Gbagbo’s spoken in that piece say that he’s all for a coalition government, something we have seen happen in countries like Kenya or Zimbabwe, maybe not so well.

Is that an option for real here?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: While I was in Abidjan, I didn’t think that the other side thought that would be a workable option, because many people are critical of what happened in Kenya and Zimbabwe. And even the prime minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, himself has said he doesn’t think a power-sharing arrangement would work for Cote d’Ivoire.

I doubt that the Alassane Ouattara folks would accept that option as a viable option.

GWEN IFILL: Who has force on their side? Who has the army? Who has the U.N. support? There are, what, 10,000 U.N. troops on the ground there. How would that play out?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: Well, that’s part of the dilemma right now, because we have the forces building up.

But, also, it’s a hope that, if all of the forces are aligned on one side, that that may send a message to the other side that there is no need to resort to force. Right now, the U.N. forces in Abidjan are helping protect Alassane Ouattara.

We have the government forces that are still loyal to Laurent Gbagbo. But we also have the former rebel forces who have not been completely disarmed who have pledged their allegiance to — their loyalty to Alassane Ouattara. So, if we were to get into a conflict situation, it could be very messy. And we’re really hoping it doesn’t get to that.

GWEN IFILL: What has to happen for civil war to be avoided, ultimately? This meeting on January 3 with the same three leaders, when they return, does there have to be something on the table? Does something have to come of that?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: I think that may be the last, best hope, in the sense that people have to get a sense that this movement is leading the country somewhere.

The Ivorians have to get a sense that this is a process that has some light at the end of the tunnel, because I think they wouldn’t want to begin another circus of meetings and envoys and conferences, if that’s not going to resolve the current crisis.

And, also, let’s remember that Alassane Ouattara right now is living in a hotel in Abidjan, surrounded by U.N. forces that are for his own protection. So, it’s only that long that you can live in a hotel, especially if you believe that you won the elections and ought to have been sworn in.

GWEN IFILL: At some point, someone has actually got to get a government up and running.

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: That’s correct.

GWEN IFILL: Christopher Fomunyoh, thank you so much for joining us.

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH: Thanks for having me.