Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor are towers in African politics. Either man is a savvy politician who spent eight years as president of Ghana. Both men certainly have enormous experience steering the ship of state. And both men have an irreproachable legacy: turning over the reins of government to a newly elected president, more so one from the opposition. Africa no longer has too many of such men. Ghana is, indeed, fortunate to have two – many nations cannot boast of even one, because the congenital splotch that has always afflicted the mental terrain of the African means that the others have been locked up, murdered or rejected by their own citizens – and the time has come for President Mills to send Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor on an urgent mission: to mediate between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.
That there is a placid inferno about to break out of its confines and consume many in Ivory Coast is an incontestable fact. That Africans should not sit idly by while supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara destroy lives and property, violate the rule of law, and plunge the country into anarchy is as obligatory as it is urgent. That both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara will likely listen to men of stature, such as Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor, is what many of us truly anticipate. It is for this reason that President Mills must act quickly by sending Rawlings and Kufuor to Abidjan as mediators.
Laurent Gbagbo, while aware he lost the recent presidential elections to Alassane Ouattara, is refusing to step down because of deep mistrust between the two men. Anyone who has followed Ivorian politics the last eight years will understand why. But this political stalemate, which has already led to the deaths of twenty to thirty people, must not be allowed to fester any further. Gbagbo, perhaps, is worried that handing over power to Ouattara may be detrimental to his personal well-being. Gbagbo’s position is understandable – but holding on to power illegally is unacceptable. Rawlings and Kufuor can help reach a sort of agreement with both men so that Gbagbo will continue to live in his own country without fear of reprisal. I completely reject the suggestion by some that Gbagbo ought to leave the country, as Ouattara is no more Ivorian than the former: ex-presidents should not become personae non gratae in their own countries.
Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor could enhance their legacies – and Africa’s credibility – by mediating between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara to end the current imbroglio in Ivory Coast. But to give the two ex-presidents greater standing in this achievable task, they ought to be sent officially to Abidjan by President John Atta Mills, with the backing of the African Union. Certainly, Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor have so much to share with the embattled Laurent Gbagbo and the buoyant Alassane Ouattara about vacating the highest office of the land, irrespective of parochial inclinations, once the citizens have spoken.
So far, many world leaders have called on Gbagbo to step down, because Gbagbo’s assertion that voting in the north of the country, where Ouattara won by a huge margin, was rigged is nothing but a ruse: international observers, the U.N. and the Electoral Commission of Ivory Coast all insist that the minor hiccups seen at the polls could not have altered the results of the presidential elections.
While French president Nicolas Sarkozy has, in unequivocal terms, asked Gbagbo to step down, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, who himself never became president because of voter fraud and intimidation, has called on the African Union to remove Gbagbo from office by the use of force. Mr. Odinga’s call may be a bit farfetched, but the truth remains that a decisive solution must be reached soon to forestall more avoidable deaths in Ivory Coast. There are 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast at the moment, but even this nonaligned force will be incapable of providing peace and security should civil war break out.
The fear of conflict has already forced over 4,000 Ivorians to move to neighboring Liberia as refugees. The situation will only get worse in the coming days – unless Gbagbo and Ouattara can break the deadlock. Certainly, Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor, with strong backing from Ghana and the African Union, can get the job done. Threats and intimidations from within and without may not break Gbagbo’s stubborn resolve to hang on to power, but diplomacy can. And diplomacy is what the world needs at the moment. Can Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor get the job done? I believe they can!
By Daniel K. Pryce
The opinions expressed here are the author`s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of AfricaNewsAnalysis