What’s At Stake? President Sirleaf Asks Gbagbo To Leave
Whether it is a late minute call or just about joining the bandwagon of global calls, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has called on the besieged Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo to make what she calls a ‘peaceful exit’.
Sirleaf in a BBC’s Network Africa Program Wednesday sounded the call she has long evaded as Chairman of the Mano River Union (MRU) since the post-electoral dispute began in that neighboring country four months ago.
“Laurent Gbagbo needs to make a peaceful transition……. He must give peace a chance”, said Sirleaf in a rather hoarsely recorded voice.
The embattled Ivorian incumbent insists he is the rightful winner of the presidential election overturned in his favor by the Constitutional Court after the electoral body had declared his rival, Alassane Ouattara the winner. Quattara has since come to become the internationally recognized president despite the pair swearing in themselves respectively as presidents almost simultaneously.
Chairing the MRU, the President had initially refused to make an official position on the crisis but said the Union was in line with the decision of the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS’) position which calls for Gbagbo’s relinquishing of power in the aftermath of the November 28, 2010 polls. However during an inter-ministerial meeting of the body in January, she frowned on military intervention which was being considered by ECOWAS.
Ivory Coast became the newest member of the MRU in May of 2008, two years into her then young presidency. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the other members of the sub-regional group established in 1973 meant to foster economic growth, peace and stability among member states.
Sirleaf’s Call: Dangerous To Liberians In Ivory Coast?
While Sirleaf’s call adds to many other leaders’ condemnation of Gbagbo’s grasp to power, it could also prove deadly for thousands of her compatriots trapped in the troubled nation.
There is an estimated 22,000 Liberians in the Ivory Coast who along with thousands of other West African nationals are being targeted by rivalry fighting groups. An initial reprisal fear from pro-Gbagbo forces mainly among Nigerians, Ghanaians, Malians and Liberians in the violent-enraged nation when ECOWAS considered sending peacekeeping force was later calmed when other West African leaders played down the option.
Ghana’s John Atta Mills took the lead in declining a military intervention as he considered the huge Ghanaian populace in the Ivory Coast. Mills said that his country would not send troops to neighboring Ivory Coast, nor would it take sides in the post-election dispute.
Already, some Liberians trapped in the conflict have been placing calls back to relatives and friends expressing safety of their lives from both pro-Gbagbo forces and Quattara’s rebels.
Sirleaf’s call for Gbagbo to leave comes amidst strong speculations that Liberian mercenaries are involved in the crisis-something that had earlier prompted her to issue a warning against any Liberian’s participation in the Ivorian internal crisis.
A Liberian explained to the BBC’s ‘World Have Your Say’ Tuesday how he and his family narrowly escaped to Ghana from the hands of unidentified armed men after he paid about US$600.
Ivory Coast’s ‘Unfortunate’ No-Heed of Liberian Experience
The President described as unfortunate the refusal of the Ivoirians to learn from her country’s terrible 14 years of civil war: “It is rather unfortunate that Ivory Coast did not learn from the Liberian experience.”
Last month, she told the Reuter news agency that the Ivorian situation would wipe out “hard-won security gains”, adding, “We're already at war. We hope there will not be an escalation of war in West Africa”.
Togba Nah-Tipoteh, Sirleaf’s presidential contender, runs a contrary view. In his five-count solution to the political crisis in the Ivory Coast, the 69-years old politician called on the United Nations Security Council to support the holding of fresh presidential elections in the Ivory Coast with the recommendation that the MRU, ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) be involved in the approval and implementation of the plan.