Ivory Coast: Botswana moves to further isolate Gbagbo

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Arrangements are underway for President Alassane Ouattarra’s first official visit outside his country since he was recognized by the international community as winner of the contested November 28 Ivory Coast presidential elections. President Ian Khama, who sent the first official invitation to Mr. Ouattarra, is a strong critic of what he terms as “hijacking” of political power.

Shortly after the African Union announced that mediation talks had failed despite “prolonged discussions” to resolve the political crisis that has gripped the Ivory Coast, President Ian Khama of Botswana has extended a formal invitation to President Alassane Ouattarra to visit his country in recognition of his victory of the Presidential Elections”.

But as a result of his inability to move freely from the Golf Hotel, where he is holed up, after military forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo blocked the whole neighborhood, it has been impossible to set a date for Alassane Ouattarra’s official visit. Officials from the two countries have, however, decided “that the visit should take place at a mutually convenient time”, according the Foreign Ministry of Botswana.

Early December, Mr. Ian Khama had regretted the Ivorian crisis saying “one would have hoped that by now we would have gone past those days (of) coups and ridiculous situations like we have now in the Ivory Coast where two people have been sworn in as president.”

Mr. Khama’s declaration adds to a chorus of regional, continental and international condemnation over President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down despite manifold efforts to get him to relinquish power, including an African Union (AU) mediation effort to negotiate a unity government as was the case in Kenya and Zimbabwe after election results were disputed.

But Mr. Khama has been vociferous in his criticism of “power-sharing” which according to him “is wrong”.

“The last thing we want is tomorrow we’d wake up and be told that there is some kind of power-sharing agreement between the two parties. It happened in Kenya because the elections there were also hijacked. It happened in Zimbabwe; the elections there were hijacked by the ruling party. And if that is going to happen anytime someone wants to dispute an election result, and may stay in power by default through a mechanism of power-sharing, it is wrong,” he said in a radio interview that was broadcast on BBC.

“The government of Botswana is deeply concerned about African leaders who reject elections results that are not in their favor (…) Such actions not only deny people the right to have leaders of their choice, but also thwart efforts to maintain peace and security on the African continent,” A statement from the Botswana Foreign Ministry read.

The World Bank and the Central Bank of West Africa have also canceled Laurent Gbagbo’s signature, ridding him of substantial financial power. The financial pressure adds to a travel embargo imposed by the United States and the European Union on his family and cronies. To facilitate the mediation process, however, Washington was ready to “consider” granting exile to Laurent Gbagbo, on request. An offer that has elicited no comment from Mr. Gbagbo.

Instead, the embattled president has resorted to the use of an anti-imperialist rhetoric in an effort to garner anti-colonial sentiments to buttress his hold on to power. On January 6, Gbagbo dispatched a special envoy to Harare, Zimbabwe for urgent meetings with President Mugabe’s senior officials in what is suspected to have been a “solidarity lobby mission”. Robert Mugabe has regularly accused critics to his controversial rule, especially after the violent 2008 election campaign, of attempting to undermine Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.

Analysts believe that the invitation from President Ian Khama, a fervent critic of Mugabe, could boost an already strong international and African support for Alassane Ouattarra and encourage further isolation of Laurent Gbagbo.

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