The African Union mediation panel continues its open-ended “engagement” even as the country steadily falls apart. In the latest horrific incident, six pro-Ouattara women protesters were gunned down. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
Côte d’Ivoire is once again on the brink of the civil war, with disconcerting reports coming out of the troubled West African country. The UN reported six women killed and many more injured when troops fired into an anti-Gbagbo march in Abidjan on Thursday. The New York Times said:
“Previously, these marches have been dispersed by troops firing in the air. But on Thursday, Gbagbo’s forces responded to the demonstration in the tense Abobo neighbourhood by shooting into the marching crowd of hundreds of women, two witnesses said.
“Six were killed instantly in the machine-gun fire, others were wounded, and the marchers dispersed in a panic, the witnesses said. Amateur video taken on the spot appeared to confirm their account.”
Overnight, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out with a tough statement condemning the massacre:
“Gbagbo and his forces have shown a callous disregard for human life and the rule of law, preying on the unarmed and the innocent. He should step aside immediately in the name of peace.”
Presidents Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Idriss Deby Itno of Chad, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete called for “the immediate halt to the killing and the abuses leading to loss of human life, and demonstrations, popular marches and other activities likely to degenerate into trouble and violence”. They also called for Gbagbo to lift the blockade of the Golf Hotel, where President-elect Alasane Ouattara is protected by UN forces.
In his appreciation of the AU mediation panel’s statement, Gbagbo cut off the power to the Golf Hotel during Ouattara’s speech condemning the killings. (You can see the video of killings here. Warning: Thoroughly disturbing images.)
Patrice Mallet, Ouattara’s representative in South Africa, blamed mercenaries within the Côte d’Ivoire army for killing innocent people. He also said the escalation of violence would not change anything in terms of Ouattara’s approach to the mediation. “The killings have been going on for a while now, but nothing will change in terms of Ouattara’s approach to the mediation effort by the African Union,” Mallet said.
“The objective of the panel is to find a peaceful resolution, and they knew all along what has been going on in Côte d’Ivoire, so hopefully they will bring it into consideration in their deliberations,” Mallet said.
And while the AU panel’s mandate has been extended for another month by the Africa Union’s peace and security council, it appears there’s not much hurry within the panel to solve the actual problem – Gbagbo’s refusal to accept the internationally recognised results of the 28 November 2010 elections. On Friday, top representatives of Ecowas were due to meet the AU panel in Mauritania, presumably to express their deepest dissatisfaction with its work.
Reuters Africa reports that nine newspapers either aligned to UN-recognised presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara or independent have shut down after two months of threats from groups aligned to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. “Press freedom watchdogs said on Tuesday the shut downs followed more than two months of physical threats and fines by the pro-Gbagbo media regulatory body,” Reuters said.
“In recent weeks, pro-Gbagbo forces have been engaged in killings, kidnappings, rape and torture, in an often-organised campaign of terror,” said Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch. And now Zimbabwe, another “giant of democracy and human rights”, stands accused by the UN of delivering arms to Gbagbo via Angola, Sao Tome & Principe and Cape Verde.
Having first questioned the veracity of the election results (which tacitly supported Gbagbo and stood in direct contrast with the UN stance), South Africa has now taken on a neutral stance after President Jacob Zuma was selected as co-mediator in Côte d’Ivoire.
Speaking to journalists on 17 February, international relations minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane said the South African government “had no favourites” in Côte d’Ivoire. DIRCO spokesman Clayson Monyela said South Africa would not change its stance, despite the escalating violence. “We can’t support any of the parties who both are up for mediation,” he said in a telephonic interview. “South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is a co-mediator and mediation efforts will be biased if we take sides.
“International relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane has said South Africa will be a neutral and honest team broker. The five-member panel which was appointed by the AU will talk to everyone,” Monyela said.
At the time of publishing, the Côte d’Ivoire embassy in Pretoria has not commented on the situation.
In the face of mounting violence and clear human rights abuses by pro-Gbagbo forces, South Africa’s neutrality stance is ever more puzzling. At this rate, civil war looms large in Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa will once again have failed to take a stance that supports democracy in a troubled African country – despite claiming to support democracy.
But one thread of logic appears to be gaining credence: It looks more and more obvious that Gbagbo’s tactic is to provoke the Ouattara-aligned Forces Nouvelles into a full-blown civil war in which atrocities would be committed by both sides. In such a situation, being both aggressor and victim, he would have been able to negotiate a proper power-sharing deal (after years of protracted negotiations) as an equal and continue his grip on Côte d’Ivoire He’s done it before. And, being aided and supported by the Big Men of Africa, he has a good shot at destroying what was once the most prosperous country in West Africa. DM
Photo: Residents flee with their belongings after clashes between forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara in Abobo, in Abidjan February 27, 2011. REUTERS/Luc Gnago.
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