Gbagbo’s Day of Reckoning
Laurent Gbagbo, the sacked president of Côte d’Ivoire, is to be investigated for crimes committed against the people while he tried to prolong his tenure
Trouble is not yet over for Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Ivory Coast. A few weeks after he was ousted by forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the new president, investigations have commenced into crimes he allegedly committed while he held unto power as president of the country. Before he was arrested inside the presidential residence in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, on April 11, more than 1,500 people had lost their lives and more than a million people had been forced to flee their homes as a result of political violence that resulted from the dispute over the November 28, presidential run-off elections.
During the crisis, hospitals, beds were filled up with wounded people as a result of the clashes between the two warring factions. Dominique Nguetta, medical director, Duekoue Central Hospital, said that most of the medical personnel had more than enough to do during the crisis as injured persons and dead bodies were rushed to hospitals every now and then. He recalled a day during the crisis when more than 34 wounded people were admitted as a result of injuries sustained from clashes with forces loyal to the two groups. He said that many of them had gunshot wounds or cuts from machete. “A son and his elderly father were admitted same day and were given bed opposite each other due to injuries they received in the heat of the crisis.
Udolamb Ngokwey, Ivory Coast UN representative, accused Gbagbo of exploiting the violence to whip up ethnic hatred in the country. The country was divided on ethnic lines in supporting Gbagbo and Ouattara. Most of the tribes in the south supported Gbagbo while those in the north strongly backed Ouattara.
Gbagbo, his wife, Simone and about 200 close associates were arrested at the presidential residence by forces loyal to Ouattara. This brought to an end nearly five months of conflict between the two rival factions. Since their arrest, Gbagbo and his wife have been kept under house arrest in separate towns in the northern part of the country. Although most of those held along with Gbagbo have since been freed, some of the senior officials in the ousted regime remain under detention pending the conclusion of investigations into their alleged crimes.
Gbagbo had earlier refused to concede defeat in the November 28, 2010 presidential run-off and quit office in favour of Ouattara. While Ouattara was backed by the international community and the rebels controlling the northern part of the country since the 2002 civil war, Gbagbo also had his support from senior army officials.
The attempt to bring Gbagbo to justice seems not to be the only recent headache of the new government of Ouattara. Forces loyal to Gbagbo have refused to surrender their arms for peace. The north-western part of Abidjan has always been a stronghold of Gbagbo, armed men believed to be militants of the Young Patriot Youths, YPY, Gbagbo’s loyalist, and mercenaries from Liberia, still control streets in the north-western part. Ouattara has also beefed up military presence, after a combine effort by the UN forces and militias groups helped to restore his stolen mandate from Gbagbo.
Until recently, most of the soldiers fighting for him were rebels, who took control of the northern part of the country during the civil war which ended in 2003. They are now known as the Republican Forces, with the task of defending the new president as professional force. The new government has launched a mop up operation to stamp out the remaining combatants loyal to Gbagbo. With the clashes, Abidjan has become a scene of urban guerrilla warfare. Amadou Foumba, an Abidjan resident, said that they had lived with fear in the last few weeks as a result of gunfire between the two warring factions. “They break into our houses, they loot everything. So, we pray to God that our brothers fight well to get Gbagbo’s men out of this area. It is really difficult for us here,” he said.
Abuses are being reported on each side of the conflict. In areas controlled by the two forces, cars are being stopped and searched as they hunt for their opponents. Zouwa Ouattara, a republican forces battalion head, remains confident that Gbagbo’s strongholds would be pacified soon. “I don’t think we will need more than one month. We just need to organise the troops and we would put an end to the Gbagbo loyal forces,” he said.
Eddy Erhagbe, senior lecturer, department of international studies and diplomacy, University of Benin, said that Ouattara would be doing a lot of justice to the people affected by the crisis if Gbagbo is properly investigated and punished for his crimes against the people of Ivory Coast. Such investigation would set a good precedence for other sit-tight African leaders.
Gbagbo was declared loser of the November 28, run-off election by the Independent Electoral Commission, IEC. According to the IEC result, Ouattara won the election with 54 percent of the total votes against 45.9 percent of Gbagbo. The result was confirmed by the UN election observer mission in the country. But Gbagbo refused to accept the result announced by the IEC, which declared that he lost the election and proceeded to swear himself in for another term of five years. He claimed the result announced by the IEC were a product of irregularities and fraud in the northern parts of the country where Ouattara has a stronghold. He sent the result to the Constitutional Council for vetting. The council, which is headed by Paul Yao-N’dre, his very close ally, faulted the result and declared Gbagbo winner of the election. The constitutional council which was set up by Gbagbo about a year ago has the final verdict on the presidential election.
Ouattara, the opposition candidate, who emerged winner in the run-off, also declared himself president of the country and took the oath of office just few minutes after Gbagbo did. He also appointed a prime minster and cabinet members that would serve in his government which is backed by the UN. The electoral dispute led to a confrontation by forces loyal to the two men. Ouattara succeeded against Gbagbo because of the support of the UN and other powerful countries.
Palestine: One Step Towards Unity
The Fatah Party of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Hamas, which governs Gaza, have reached an agreement that would enable election to be conducted in the region. Under the peace deal brokered by Egypt, an interim government will be formed by the two groups and an election date would be fixed within the shortest possible time. The groups have been working at cross purposes for more than four years with Hamas in power in Gaza and Fatah running the West Bank.
In recent years, relations between the two main Palestinian factions have been nothing short of poisonous. Hamas has consistently refused to recognise the legitimacy and authority of Abbas. The Hamas wanted Abbas to step down from office because his tenure in office expired more than a year ago. Fatah loyalists have been unable to hide their disgust for Hamas which took control of Gaza in 2007. But Palestinian unity is a goal cherished by most people in Gaza, and the West Bank. To them, the four-year split has seriously undermined and harmed chances of the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
But there is still a long way to go. Elections would have to be held in Gaza, and the West Bank, presumably later this year for a new Palestinian parliament and the presidency. Also, as Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by many Western countries, it is difficult to see how they could co-operate with any future administration unless Hamas formally changes its attitude towards violence.
The Hamas group has carried out bombings and rocket attacks against Israel for years and does not recognise Israel’s right to existence. Israel has condemned the reconciliation. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said that the Palestinian authority led by Abbas cannot attain peace both with Hamas and Israel at the same time. “I hope the Palestinian Authority will make the right choice - peace with Israel,” he said.
Tahir al-Nounou, a Hamas government spokesman, who was at the meeting in Cairo, the Egyptian capital, where the deal was hammered out, agreed that Hamas and Fatah have signed in principle a reconciliation deal, but that the final signing will be in a week where Abbas and representatives from all the Palestinian factions would be present.
Fresh Problems in South Sudan
The recent wave of violence in Southern Sudan have continued to threaten arrangements for its independence from the north. Since the historic vote that favoured independence of the South from the North, the South has been beset by violence and insecurity. According to the United Nations, UN, more than 800 people have died this year in clashes across nine of the South’s 10 states, and nearly 100,000 people displaced.
There have been rampant cattle rustlings, communal quarrels over land and water, and rebel militia fighting to overthrow the government. All of these have posed a big threat to unity in the region which recently decided through a historic referendum to break away from Northern Sudan. Another source of problem is the oil-producing Abyei region, which located between the North and South Sudan and claimed by both sides.
Due to the pace of violence and insecurity in the region, the UN World Food Programme, WFP, had suspended operations in two states in South Sudan, deepening hunger and starvation in the region. The suspension came after a staff of WFP was killed in an ambush in Jonglei state. Aid to seven of 11 counties in the state beset by clashes between the army and rebels has been stopped. The WFP alleged that the South Sudan army known as the Sudan People Liberation Army, SPLA, also commandeered a lorry full of food meant for schools in Lakes state.
The decision of WFP to suspend food supply to most of the states would affect a large number of people who are in need. Amor Almagro, WFP spokesperson, said that in Jonglei state more than 135,000 people who are in need of food would now go without it. In Lakes state 100,000 people will be affected and 5,000 school children will not get their school lunch because the truck that was carrying the food was commandeered by the SPLA soldiers. According to Almagro, the WFP would not resume distribution until there was a government guarantee “that our colleagues and staff and our assets will be protected and we will not be prevented from providing humanitarian assistance.”
The oil-producing south voted in January this year to separate from the north and form a new nation, the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war in Africa’s largest nation. The conflict has claimed at least two million lives.