Nairobi — As we went to press, the African Union chief mediator in Cote d’voire, Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, was to travel to Abdjan on Sunday, to start what has been billed as the hard part of negotiations to resolve the political stalemate in what arguably was one time one of the strongest economies in West Africa.
The EastAfrican has learnt that Mr Odinga, who will be accompanied by the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, a top official of the AU and the president of the Ecowas, James Victor Beho, will spend between three to seven days in Abidjan.
His assignment is to establish a permanent and formal negotiating forum on which both president-elect Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo will nominate representatives.
The arrangement is that Mr Odinga will be chairing the negotiations, alternating with Obasanjo in his absence.
The plan is that after chairing the initial sessions, he will then leave and embark on a major diplomatic missions in selected African and world capitals, including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, United Kingdom and France.
During the visits, Mr Odinga will be seeking public assurances and support of these presidents of their readiness to participate in military action in Cote D’Ivoire, just in case the mediation process falters.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga is the African Union’s special envoy to Cote d’Ivoire.
This carrot and stick strategy is expected to convince Gbagbo to take the negotiations seriously.
During discussions with the chair of the African Union Commission, Dr Jean Ping, in Nairobi this week, one of the issues discussed was the budget for the operation in Cote D’Voire.
The AU will be fundraising to create a basket fund mainly financed by the international community to get the money to establish a temporary secretariat in Abidjan to co-ordinate the operations of the mediation process in Cote D’Voire.
It remains to be seen whether the Odinga-led mediation process will get Gbagbo to step down.
The thinking within Ecowas and the AU right now is that if he decides to play hard ball, then President Gbagbo must brace for a very tight sanctions regime.
The sanctions will include visa revocations for Gbagbo family members and key allies, freezing of assets, expulsion of his diplomats, closure of international borders and a naval blockade.
Also being considered are revocation of bilateral air service agreements, suspension of all forms of financial assistance, a trade embargo and getting international organisations to commit to receive and work only with officials appointed by Ouattara.
“A combination of sanctions and continuous beating of drums of war remain the keys of getting a Gbagbo compromise,” says an internal AU/Ecowas document seen by The EastAfrican.
On the diplomatic front, the AU plans to exert pressure on President Atta Mills of Ghana, who despite having signed and personally endorsed the resolution of an emergency Ecowas summit in Abuja, calling for the ouster of Gbagbo by force if necessary, has turned his back on the Ecowas and AU position.
Ecowas is working on completing its military preparedness and assessment of Gbagbo’s military strength by end of this month.
The 15-member body also plans to apply diplomatic pressure on Liberia and Angola, which openly supports Gbagbo to have them give assurances at the highest levels of political leadership that they will not provide mercenaries to Gbagbo.
Cote D’Ivoire is now rigidly polarised – more or less two countries in one.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara carry the title president each with a prime minister and Cabinet.
Ouattara draws his legitimacy from international recognition based on election results announced by the Independent Electoral Commission and certified by the United Nations.
Gbagbo claims, albeit without international recognition, legitimacy on the basis of election results pronounced by the country’s Constitutional Council.
Meanwhile, two armed groups exercise effective control over two separate geographical areas in the North and South of the country.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara appear to be preparing for an inevitable armed confrontation.
Gbagbo swears and insists – without substantiation – that foreign powers are already arming the Ouattara group in preparation for war.
On the other hand, the Ouattara group is convinced that – as the legitimate winners of the elections – they have a right to seek external military assistance to secure their democratic win.
The rhetoric from the protagonists is getting more and more strident – and public debate more and more divisive.
Gbagbo has invoked parochial nationalism – manipulating public opinion by stoking the so called “Ivorite” question and dismissing Ouattara as a foreigner who does not deserve to lead indigenous and authentic Ivorians.
His claim is that the country’s national sovereignty is under threat.
While Gbagbo’s willingness to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without preconditions, and Ouattara’s readiness to ensure a dignified exit for Gbagbo presents a glimmer of hope, the actions by Gbagbo since the mission by Mr Odinga and the Ecowas team early this month, have dimmed that hope.
He has not honoured the pledge he made to the mission to lift the blockade around Ouattara’s temporary headquarters.