Any military intervention in Ivory Coast would need to be UN-led and would be more likely to involve an aerial and naval blockade than deploying troops to its cities, says Nigeria’s foreign minister.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS, of which Nigeria is the linchpin, has threatened “legitimate force” to oust incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who has clung to power with the support of the military despite a November election which UN-certified results showed he had lost.
More than 300 people have been killed since the poll and the standoff has paralysed the economy of the world’s top cocoa grower. Fighting erupted in its western region towards the borders with Liberia and Guinea on Thursday, after two days of gun battles in its main city Abidjanl, Reuters reports.
“Legitimate force does not necessarily or indeed imply an invasion or urban warfare,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia told Reuters in an interview in Abuja.
“An air and naval blockade, for example, to give teeth to sanctions that have been approved would be part of what I would describe as legitimate force,” he said, but added those could only be undertaken with UN Security Council endorsement.
“We would anticipate, in that event, that it would be an international force, led by the United Nations, in which ECOWAS would of course play a significant role because this happens to be in our sub-region.”
There have been repeated mediation efforts by African leaders and Ajumogobia said they hoped for a peaceful solution. But he warned of dire humanitarian consequences if not.
“There is a large immigrant population in Cote d’Ivoire. If there is civil unrest or worse, civil war, the implications for the sub-region are enormous and we will then all be engaged in trying to solve a problem we could have prevented,” he said.
The polls were meant to be the conclusion of a decade-long peace process after a 2002/03 civil war on which the international community spent some $5 billion, Ajumogobia said.
“The credibility of the UN is at stake. The credibility of the African Union. The credibility of ECOWAS,” he said.
“We’ve all said we recognise (Gbagbo’s rival) Alassane Ouattara as the leader of Cote d’Ivoire and he’s holed up in a hotel several months after he supposedly won an election. I think that raises questions of credibility.”
NEED FOR U.N. REFORM
African states have been at odds over the use of force since the crisis began. Nigeria and Sierra Leone see Gbagbo’s defiance as a risk to regional peace and efforts to nurture democracy.
Other countries have publicly criticised the way in which the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS and other Western nations quickly recognised Ouattara as victor.
Ajumogobia said that unlike election disputes in Kenya or Zimbabwe, Gbagbo and Ouattara had invited the United Nations to endorse the results of the elections.
“This was part of a process that everyone agreed to and all we’re doing is holding Gbagbo to that undertaking,” he said.
“You can’t accept the process and then reject the result.”
West African leaders have lobbied the UN Security Council to back the use of force if necessary, but some members — including Russia — have voiced opposition.
Nigeria, with a population roughly the size of Russia’s, has long campaigned for a permanent Security Council seat. Any one of the five permanent members can veto a resolution.
“The world is no longer the way it was when the apparatus was set up,” Ajumogobia said, adding Nigeria was the world’s fourth-largest contributor to international peacekeeping forces.
“Conflicts in the global community that the UN engages itself with are predominantly on our continent,” he said.
He said Ivory Coast had “found its way to the backburner” because of the uprisings in North Africa, but said it would be perilous for the international community to forget it.
“We must keep our eyes on the ball … If we have this sort of potential conflict in the West African sub-region, it’s going to spill over,” he said.