AU picks Kenya PM to lead Ivorian mediation effort

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been picked by the African Union (AU) to lead three other African leaders, tasked with mediating the Ivorian post-poll stand off.

Others being dispatched to Abidjan by the AU are the presidents of Sierra Leone, Cape Verde and Benin

Their principal task will be to break the impasse which has seen Cote d'Ivoire end up with 'two presidents' after the recent disputed presidential run-off elections.

Both incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alasanne Ouatarra were sworn in after the polls.

In an official communique from the AU, the continental body made it clear the union's mission was to protect the popular will of the Ivorian people, who it said cast their votes in favour of the President-elect Ouattarra.

“In this respect, the Chairperson of the Commission has requested Mr. Odinga to follow through the situation in Cote d'Ivore and to strengthen the chances of success of the current efforts,” read the message from the AU head office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

During the 28 November elections, the Ivorian electoral body declared Ouattara winner, beating Gbagbo in a run off.

But the Constitutional Council later ruled in favour of the incumbent, declaring him the winner and creating tension.

The international community, led by the United Nations, moved quickly to recognize Ouattara, a former prime minister, as the legitimate president and urged Gbagbo to cede power.

Apart from the UN, other bodies backing Ouattara and demanding that Gbagbo steps down are the West African regional body, ECOWAS, the European Union, the United States of America and the AU.

ECOWAS has gone a step further and threatened to use force to kick Gbagbo, a history professor, out of office.

Tension is building in the West African state as Ouattara has called for a national strike, aimed at paralysing the country and isolating Gbagbo.

The stalemate has left at least 100 people dead, according to media reports.

In Kenya, Odinga, currently celebrating the Christmas and New Year festivities in his Bondo, rural home in western Kenya, accepted the AU assignment, promising to be neutral in order to restore sanity in Cote d'Ivoire.

“Gbagbo should be given assurance that nothing bad will happen to him because he has also been fighting for democracy in Cote d'Ivoire,” he said.

Kenyans believe Odinga was picked to mediate the crisis because the Ivorian situation is more or less similar to what happened in Kenya during the disputed 2007 elections in which both incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and Odinga (then the key opposition contestant) claimed victory.

The now disbanded Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) declared Kibaki the winner, to the chagrin of Odinga, who claimed  ECK rigged the elections.

It sparked mass demonstrations and violence which left 1,300 people dead and 350,000 others displaced.

Some of the Internally-Displaced Persons (IDP) are yet to be resettled and the rest is history.

The AU intervened and dispatched a team of African Eminent Persons, led by chief mediator, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, who brokered the peace talks that led to the formation of Kenya's Grand Coalition Government, in which Kibaki is President and Odinga Prime Minister.

The rest is history, but having walked that road before and knowing exactly what the Ivorians are going through, Odinga is a suitable mediator, equal to the task.
-0- PANA DJ/BOS 28Dec2010

28 december 2010 18:19:19

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