UN tells Mbeki he got it wrong on Ivory Coast

August 18, 2011
  • UN peacekeeper in Ivory Coast in April 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

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.”


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I doubt that election was kosher. It would be interesting to find out if the complaints against the UN election observers were credible… but I guess we’ll never know given what’s transpired.
The chocolate money must be considerable.

Posted by Tiu | Report as abusive

Mbeki’s “mediation” attempts were always rewarded by Gbagbo..Controlling shares for MTN, numerous Randgold concessions to name a few. It is not surprising that the opposition had already rejected him way before the crisis. Mbeki’s should spare us his Pan-African blabber and admit that the world saw past his self-serving economic agenda. Am not saying France is any better, but they at least did the right thing in recognizing the voice of the people.
The election was kosher.

Posted by Msela | Report as abusive

Why did it take this long for the UN to respond to Thabo Mbeki’s way of thinking. I suppose they waited to see if their forced regime change would be successful first. We still thinking leaders should gracefully accept the will of the people in election outcomes. Mbeki was wrong as he was in the Zimbabwe mediation or rather silent diplomacy and his attempt to seek a 3rd term by himself in the ANC Polokwane elective conference. This was indicative of what he wants and will advice others to follow if faced with the masses being against a particular leader. Military intervention is not right as civilians suffer at the of the day. Negotiated settlements are a way to go. So both were wrong in their approach but needed to involve the people of the country to choose who they want as their leader in the elevation and remove a stubborn leader if need be without harm to the civilians.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

After being utterly useless in solving Zimbabwe’s problems, still now in crisis, he should retire gracefully from any more incompetent bungling in international affairs. Anyone with as shocking a record of dismal failures like his should learn to keep his mouth shut and not criticize others who have actually managed to provide a solution, and a democratic one at that!

Posted by Limnothrissa | Report as abusive

“Mbeki got it wrong?”

Well, he got it wrong on just about everything else so it’s no surprise, is it?

Zuma is no better. Their stance re Libya is disgraceful. As of course is their support for Mugabe.

Frankly, the African Union is a laughing stock. Pity.

Posted by KlaatuWithGort | Report as abusive

how can u take someone who has been rejected by his country and his people to mediate in conflict countries THABO MBEKI failed home and away ,he forget and bury himself in the cloud of shame

Posted by shozy | Report as abusive

I’m surprised at the blatant criticism of Mbeki’s attempt to be a part of the process of reconciliation in our troubled political landscape across our continent. Africa has a long way to go before we seek to undermine works of people who have literally given the lives for the liberation of our people in south africa amongst other great leaders.

Mistakes will be made to achieve this utopia we think will arise from the wave of a wand. I think context is imperative when having judgement on matters especially in a public forum.

Let’s be responsible with our discourse I’m certain many of you having written on this blog have made mistakes more than once, including myself.

I think Mbeki attempts have to be applauded equally as they are crucified as mediation and its essence is to create a culture of dialogue which will enable an environment for conflict resolutions. As none of us cannot forsee the future it will be more prudent to consider the waves of change with a deeper context than merely interpreting political rhetoric.


Posted by Lebogang | Report as abusive

We need to learn to deal with our own issues. Africans ought to be allowed to handle African crises ourselves. There is not a single western nation that has not been through crisis as it shifted governance systems towards democracy. Not a single one made the transition without certain errors and excesses. Indeed, it is to prevent a repeat of the totally unnecessary war of attrition that they themselves waged (and unfortunately drew countless of us from the ‘third world’ into)that the UN was formed in the first place. And none of the conflicts of Africa, grimy as they may be, can in any way compare to those two ‘world wars’. Yet the UN has over the years handled our situations selectively according to the interests of the strongest voices in its security council. Why? Because no one ever wants to pay for someone else’s well-being when they’re not getting anything in return.

It is important also to note that none of the world’s leading nations had to make their transitions to their present democracies as hurriedly as African nations have to today. The fact that they are economically better off should not translate to the right to tell us what to do and how. We have greater capacity than we are given credit for. Worse still (as evidenced even in many of the comments above) we have greater capacity than we give ourselves credit for.

In spite of your errors Mr Mbeki, I applaud your efforts. You are an African willing to take responsibility. I agree with you that we ourselves ought to find solutions for our problems, difficult as that may be, through dialogue. Building democracies isn’t straight forward. It’s even less so in a country virtually split in half, with loyalties aligned to ethnicity, where war has been waged for several years… The French/UN approach seems for now to have worked – especially for French interests. In the long run, La Cote d’Ivoire will pay the price for those interests, even as it reaps their benefits. Did anyone carry out that cost-benefit analysis before writing in to this blog?

The fact of the matter is that we, too, as we act to address crises among ourselves here in Africa, will be influenced by our various interests. I doubt, though, whether the potential damage that will do to our efforts can ever compare to the damage the interests of the wider international community have done over the years. Lets stop being petty and grow up. Building a stable continent cannot happen without cost or pain…

Posted by Hmmm… | Report as abusive

Africa is tired of been told what to do by the west. Mbeki remains the rubicon of Africas future, Viva Mbeki viva

Posted by Podolski | Report as abusive

I do not think Mbeki was wrong or right, it is still too early to say. And I also get the sense that Nambiar does not really understand what it means to achieve “long lasting democracy in Africa.” Four months is not enough time to adequately declare who was wrong or right concerning the Ivory Coast.

However I do support any effort that comes out of intense dialogue and consultations with all parties involved. Anything else would be a quick fix, which generally does not lead to long lasting peace, especially in Africa.

The West will also save a lot of money by not using military force to try to solve political struggles in Africa. These senseless wars carried out and supported by the West are causing a strain on the world economy, which is now bankrupt.

Posted by FfFF | Report as abusive

You are right, Africa must solve African problems. So why is the rest of the world not asked to stay out of Somalia and Ethiopia ? Surely Africa can provide ?

Posted by Drog | Report as abusive

The US, Britain and its allies like France are just hypocrytes. They preach water and drink wine. They have formed a body they call UN to foster their selfish interests. It is evident that they seek to destabilize stable countries that have resources so that they get advantage of the Instability to exploit the resources. Look at Somalia, people have been dying from fighting,hunger and brutality caused by militiamen. But since Somali is a desert with no resources, neither the UN nor the individual countries has thought of intervening and stabilizing the country. There has been a number of uprising in arab countries; Egypt, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Syria, Barhain, Libya among others. They only intervened in Ivory Coast and Libya!!! Why, simply because these two countries have resources they want to control. People are dying in Syria but the issue does not bother them THERE IS NOTHING TO GAIN THERE so why waste their time even deliberating on that???? You have power but God is most powereful. One day HE will crush you completely!!!!!

Posted by pmalo | Report as abusive

There were a lot of irregularities and illegality of the Ivorian election. Because of what the UN and the IC did, Cote D’Ivoire will be divided for a long time.

Posted by Zuluwhisky | Report as abusive

Are we supposed to allow someone to rule even if he/she has lost the election? We are setting a bad precedence for this continent…If you have lost go peacefully..

Posted by Tombotire | Report as abusive

What did the UN expect from Mbeki when his past experience all indicate to absolute failure… look @ the Zimbabwe mediation…sic man

Posted by Ruetz99 | Report as abusive