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Are “African Solutions” right for the continent’s democracy push?
“This is an African solution to an African problem,” was African Union chief Jean Ping’s reasoning for another round of negotiations to resolve Ivory Coast’s bitter leadership dispute.
Regional leaders and the outside world had been uncharacteristically swift to condemn Laurent Gbagbo’s bid to cling onto power. The AU itself wasted little time suspending the West African nation from the bloc.
Gbagbo lost the presidential election in November last year, according to U.N. certified results, but he has refused to hand over power to rival Alassane Ouattara, citing fraud.
That has left regional powers, the AU and the United Nations all up against the same problem: how to convince Gbagbo to exit gracefully?
Ouattara’s camp have called for a military intervention. But talk of a military option opened up divisions within the AU.
At last month’s AU summit in Ethiopia, the decision to ask a panel of heads of state to come up with a solution binding on both sides put discussions about sending in troops on ice and applied a band-aid to the emerging splits.
“Let them say whatever they want,” Ping said of criticisms that any eventual unity government in Ivory Coast would send a signal that it pays for defeated leaders to refuse to budge.
Ping insisted his bloc would focus on a negotiated deal — the “traditional” path according to the chairman.
Fair enough. In a continent where murky meddling by foreign powers is often blamed for its current woes, Africa’s big wigs can hardly be blamed for such initiatives. Add to that the colonial past and you might understand the mindset.
That sentiment is always evident. Ask AU officials why their bloc did not endorse the International Criminal Court’s genocide charge against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and chances are they will complain about foul play or double standards.
“Why didn’t they charge (Georgian President) Saakashvili for what he did during the war with Russia?” they would fire back.
But a more serious question lies in whether the AU’s decisions — passed almost always with a twinge of nationalist sentiment — are working. From the electoral crisis in Zimbabwe to the one in Kenya and now Ivory Coast, the AU’s “African solutions” have failed to reap yields, exposing a lack of muscle on the bloc’s side.
In Zimbabwe and Kenya, the organisation stuck with its favoured stance of mediating a deal and forming power-sharing governments, forcing uneasy coalitions in which government business is stymied by feuding rivals sitting at the same table.
Some analysts believe unless a tougher stance is taken on leaders who flout the will of voters, African elections will continue to be routinely abused.
Gbagbo blames France for supporting northern rebels in the 2002-03 civil war that split Ivory Coast in two. He has also played the “anti-imperialist” card, branding Ouattara the West’s man and himself as a defender against foreign interference.
The AU’s so-called high-level panel is tasked with coming up with a proposal both sides are compelled to accept, but experts are already dismissing its chances of success.
Ivorian Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje said the panel’s conclusions would have to respect the country’s constitution.
“If the panel comes to Ivory Coast on the basis that Ouattara is president then there’s obviously been a big mis-understanding,” Djedje told reporters.
So what next? The panel is expected to set out a road map in under a month. Is a power-sharing administration the fairest and most pragmatic solution to such impasses in Africa. Or are coalition governments formed to settle electoral rows hurting Africa’s push for democratic accountability.