Ivory Coast: Both Gbagbo and Ouattarra isolated?

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Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters have grown increasingly isolated in Côte d’Ivoire, says the U.S. ambassador to the west African country, Phillip Carter.

There is no controversy about the results of the November 28, 2010, second round of presidential elections in the country, which were monitored by the United Nations and marked a clear victory for the country’s former prime minister, Alassane Ouattara, Carter said, adding, “They were conducted well.”

Speaking to reporters February 4 at the State Department, he also stressed that the window for Gbagbo to leave honorably, peacefully, with amnesty, is closing.

Carter said that while there is a lot of press about the isolation of Alassane Ouattara at the Golf Hotel, “I would submit that they are both isolated. Gbagbo within his own presidential palace, with his own cohorts increasingly isolated within the international community, financially, politically, diplomatically, economically.

“Ouattara, although he is physically isolated at the Golf Hotel, has the support of virtually the entire international community and financial system, where he has been able to push out some of his diplomatic representatives to the outside — where he has been able to send ministers out. So what we see is that time seems to be on the side of Alassane Ouattara and not necessarily on the side of Laurent Gbagbo.”

Carter told reporters the ongoing situation in Côte d’Ivoire is both an African and Ivorian matter first and foremost. “The Africans are basically looking at their resources and their means by which to allow for this political transition to occur as peacefully as possible. The Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] has indicated that should that fail, they are looking to consider military force, but that is a last resort.”

The career diplomat, who was in Washington to attend a chief of mission conference at the State Department, said he expects to see “continued pressure in the diplomatic, political, economic and financial channels to persuade, dissuade Gbagbo from the course that he is on. That will continue. How long it will take is unclear.”

Honor the results

What is currently seen, Carter said, are efforts by Gbagbo “to marshal support amongst certain long-standing partners” to justify his efforts to cling to power. But, Carter added, what is being seen among African nations overall, is “the recognition that the election was a good one and that you have to honor the results ….

“Setting that election aside would be a major step back for democracy in sub-Saharan Africa,’ the ambassador asserted, “given the huge investment that was made by African and national institutions, the international community, the fact that the election was transparent,” internationally observed, “and the results are factual — a matter of fact and not a matter of interpretation.”

Carter mentioned the human rights abuses that are occurring in Abidjan and in the western part of the country and condemned the post-election violence, in which some 250 people have died. He added that the casualty numbers are expected to rise.

He told reporters that targeted sanctions imposed against Gbagbo are beginning to bite. “The financial situation is getting tough” for banks there, and there is a financial crisis in Abidjan now, with trade slowing down, he said.

Gbagbo “has been pirating, he has been stealing money from parastatal corporations to meet salaries,” Carter said. “He has been extorting local businesses to pay in advance their taxes … putting increased pressure on a variety of companies that are involved in natural resources, be it coffee, cocoa, petroleum, timber. … They are resisting. What we are seeing is an effort there by him to marshal as many resources as he can to get the money to make his payroll, probably to acquire additional weapons.”

The United States is looking at the full range of tools that can be deployed against Gbagbo, Carter said.

“We have taken some significant steps. We stand with ECOWAS and, more importantly, we stand with President Ouattara. President Obama has congratulated him on his election and we have engaged his government as best we can. … We work with our African partners.”

But Carter reiterated that the United States is “not in the lead on this. This is an African thing. We work with ECOWAS. We are working with the African Union. We work with our development partners, being the European Union or outside. We work within the context of the [United Nations] Security Council,” he said, which was discussing Côte d’Ivoire that same day.

“So we are actively engaged on the diplomatic front and bilaterally we have imposed travel restrictions on a number of individuals … and targeted financial sanctions on five individuals,” which include Gbagbo and his wife. Carter said more individuals will soon be added to that list.

“That will have an impact in terms of who can do business with whom in that country by the international community, so the bite is happening,” he said. Gbagbo is under “increasing pressure” as he tries to remain in power while Alassane Ouattara is working to “gain the instruments of governance.”

Day by day, he said, Gbagbo’s ability to hold onto power is weakening and, for that reason, pressure on him must be maintained, both bilaterally and multilaterally, within the context of ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations, so that democracy can prevail in Côte d’Ivoire.

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