UN tells Mbeki he got it wrong on Ivory Coast
This week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, defended the United Nations’ record on Ivory Coast. In a highly unusual public rebuttal, Nambiar told former South African President and African Union mediator for the Ivory Coast conflict, Thabo Mbeki, that it was he — not the international community — who got it wrong in the world’s top cocoa producer.
In April, Ivory Coast’s long-time President Laurent Gbagbo was ousted from power by forces loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara, who won the second round of a U.N.-certified election in November 2010, with the aid of French and U.N. troops. According to Mbeki — who has also attempted to mediate in conflicts in Sudan and Zimbabwe — there never should have been an election last fall in the country that was once the economic powerhouse of West Africa.
Mbeki wrote in an article published by Foreign Policy magazine at the end of April: “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.”
Ivory Coast was split in two by the 2002-3 civil war and the failure to disarm the northern rebels meant the country held an election last year with two rival armies in place, leading to a new outbreak of hostilities when Gbagbo rejected the internationally-accepted election results.
The solution to the conflict, Mbeki wrote, was not to insist that Ouattara take office as president, as the United Nations, France and others did at the time, but a political solution that would have satisfied everybody in the francophone nation. “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.”
The United Nations took nearly four months to come up with a public response to Mbeki. It finally appeared this week in an article in Foreign Policy by Nambiar entitled “Dear President Mbeki: The United Nations Helped Save the Ivory Coast.” In his rebuttal, Nambiar vehemently rejects the idea that that the world should have pushed Ouattara to negotiate a power-sharing deal with election-loser Gbagbo.
Doing so, Nambiar said, “would have set a dangerous precedent for the continent and undermined the principles of democracy. There should be zero tolerance for desperate acts by rulers seeking to stay in power against the will of the people.”
The post-election violence was not the result of the election or its timing, Nambiar said, but was caused by “Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept defeat and his repeated rejection of all efforts to find a peaceful solution.”