An offer of amnesty from the leaders of surrounding West African countries will hopefully convince the Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo to accept the results of November’s election and cede power to his rival, Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara, who was sworn in as the new president soon after votes were counted and sanctioned by both the United Nations and the African Union, has been protected by 600 U.N. troops at the Guld Hotel in the capitol city of Abidjan for more than a month, while Gbagbo, who has been president for ten years, cites allegations of voter fraud in his refusal to step down.
Thousands of people are fleeing the country—20,000 into neighboring Liberia alone. Some fear a rekindling of the civil war that split the country along north/south lines in 2003. There have been reports that over 200 supporters of Ouattara have been killed or disappeared since the election. The army, which remains under Gbagbo’s control, has blocked U.N. investigators from visiting the alleged site of a mass grave.
Representing the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, Benin's Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verde's Pedro Pires were unable to sway Gbagbo on a diplomatic visit last week, and the possibility of military force has been raised. They returned today, accompanied by Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to offer a safe departure as well as legal and financial amnesty if Gbagbo agrees to leave office. They will visit with Outtara, too.
Gbagbo spokesman Ohoupa Sessegnon, though, told the BBC his boss was resolute—and raised the incendiary spectre of European interference. "It's not about Laurent Gbagbo seeking some sort of offer. It's about Laurent Gbagbo having won the elections in the Cote D'Ivoire," he said. "Now it appears that the opposition supported by the French and their allies do not want to accept that."
At the Gulf Hotel, Ouattara's prime minister Guillaume Soro spoke in blunt terms about the meaning of the visit from the ECOWAS delgation. It “seems clear,” he said, according to Reuters. "This is the last chance for Mr. Gbagbo to get a peaceful departure from power and a guarantee of immunity."
The situation doesn’t look good. But here’s hoping for a resolution that avoids further violence.