Drakensberg off West Africa


The Department of Defence (DoD) says the replenishment ship SAS Drakensberg is “on a periodical routine training cruise along the West Coast of Africa”. The department says the Drakensberg deployed early last month to train junior naval officers.

“This is part of the Inter-Operability West exercise with other navies of the west coast countries to promote interoperability of the vessels [sic] the DoD says in a statement. “The SAS Drakensberg has been re-diverted to Ghana for routine maintenance and replenishment during the first week of February 2011, and will continue with its exercise and will be ready for any instruction and assistance that may be required by government, which may include possible assistance that may be required by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) during the African Union panel negotiations pertaining to the Ivory Coast.”

Th Afrikaans daily, Beeld, reported earlier this week the supply ship was deployed to West Africa about two weeks ago to provide support and to be on standby should political violence in Abidjan necessitate the evacuation of the South African embassy in the country. The paper adds Jane’s Defence Weekly has reported the Drakensberg will stay in the area until the end of this month, when she is scheduled to return to South Africa. The paper adds the ship can carry up to two Denel Oryx medium utility helicopters and is “probably” also carrying a contingent of Navy Maritime Reaction Squadron commandos.

The Beeld reported that it had learned the ship was deployed “out of fear of a military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Ivory Coast.” It added that DIRCO Deputy Director General for Public Diplomacy Clayson Monyela had added that such an intervention, which would have had far-reaching negative consequences for the troubled state, has for now been deferred.

The United Nations (UN) says a power struggle between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara over who won a November 28 poll has led to clashes between Ouattara supporters and security forces loyal to Gbagbo that have killed at least 260 people since the election. Reuters reports most were killed in raids by pro-Gbagbo forces and allied militias on pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods. The vote was meant to reunite a country divided since a 2002-3 civil war, but has instead deepened divisions. Tens of thousands have fled into Liberia.

Cabinet, meanwhile, in a statement issued today after yesterday’s two-weekly meeting, supported the position taken by the African Union to establish a panel to deal with challenges in the Ivory Coast. The statement added Cabinet “discussed the current challenges in a number of countries on the continent and re-affirmed its commitment to the active promotion of democratic values and practices in which governments constantly strive to deepen ties with their people and address the real concerns and problems facing them.”

Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said on Monday his country wanted UN backing for military intervention in the Ivory Coast to prevent it slipping into a new civil war that could destabilise the West African region. ECOWAS, which has threatened the use of force in Ivory Coast to push incumbent Laurent Gbagbo from power, needs “unequivocal international support” through a UN Security Council resolution, Ajumogobia said. “It is clear that Gbagbo is determined to defy and treat the entire international community with absolute disdain … He cannot, he must not be allowed to prevail,” Ajumogobia wrote in a strongly-worded column in Nigeria’s This Day newspaper.
“Gbagbo must be made to understand that there is a very real prospect of overwhelming military capability bearing down on him and his cohorts,” he wrote. The United States and the European Union have imposed travel bans and other sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle but fellow West African nations will need to take a lead if there is to be any attempt to remove him by force, diplomats say. Britain has said it would give support at the United Nations for the use of force if West African nations wanted it.

Ajumogobia said force did not necessarily mean an incursion into the former French colony, which supplies around a third of the world’s cocoa through its main ports. “Legitimate force can include, for example, a naval blockade to enforce sanctions which might be imposed against Gbagbo,” he wrote in the full-page column. He acknowledged there was not universal support for force. “Already Russia, at the level of the UN Security Council, and Ghana, at the ECOWAS regional level, have shown inclinations not to support a military incursion of any kind in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast),” he said.
“This is unfortunate … We cannot leave Ouattara to enforce the legitimate and internationally recognised mandate given to him by the people of Cote d’Ivoire. That would be to sanction civil war, against the very ethos of the UN,” he said.

He described as “helpful” offers of amnesty made by several world leaders to Gbagbo, as well as suggestions of prestigious international roles and pledges to safeguard his financial assets should he surrender, but noted Gbagbo had so far “scoffed at these generous proposals for a dignified exit.”

The political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire is likely to disrupt the trend toward democracy in the sub region and create a dangerous precedent for a continent in which 20 presidential elections are to hold within the next 18 months,” he wrote. “Consequently, the impunity of Gbagbo must be regarded as a challenge to the entire international community.”