ECOWAS on solid ground over use-of-force threat in Cote d'Ivoire (Analysis)

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - The decision by ECOWAS leaders to use force to kick out incumbent Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo if he fails to quit, in the aftermath of the dispute over the country's presidential runoff, is legal, contrary to the criticisms in certain quarters.

Gambia, a member of the 15-member West African regional bloc, has been the most vocal critic of the decision, taken at the 24 Dec. extra-ordinary summit of ECOWAS leaders in Nigeria's capital city of Abuja.

ECOWAS, like the rest of the international community, has thrown its weight behind Gbagbo challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the 28 Nov. runoff, as pronounced by Cote d'Ivoire's electoral commission.

However, speaking on behalf of the Gambian government, Secretary General and Head of Gambian civil service, Dr. Njogu Bah, said the Gambian government did not subscribe to the use of force or resort to violence "to solve the disputed election results", adding: "That is interfering in the internal affairs of a member state which is illegal under charters of both the ECOWAS and the African Union (AU)."

But PANA reports that the ECOWAS Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace-keeping and Security, to which Cote d'Ivoire and The Gambia are signatories, backs the decision of the ECOWAS leaders.

Article 3 of the Protocol, signed in Lome, Togo, on 10 Dec. 1999 by all the Member States, allows ECOWAS to ''constitute and
deploy a civilian and military force to maintain or restore peace within the sub-region, whenever the need arises''.

Article 25 of the same Protocol states that the Mechanism shall be applied ''in case of internal conflict that threatens to trigger a humanitarian disaster, or that poses a serious threat to peace and security in the sub-region. The Mechanism can also be applied ''in event of serious and massive violation of human rights and the rule of law''.

The situation on the ground in Cote d'Ivoire meets the stipulation of the Protocol for the activation of the Mechanism, hence the ECOWAS leaders were right to have threatened the use of force if Gbagbo fails to quit.

According to the UN, at least 173 people have been killed in post-electoral violence in Cote d'Ivoire, where double claims to the presidency by Gbagbo and Ouattara have led to deadly street clashes.

The global body also alleged ongoing serious human rights violations in the cocoa-rich country, and that thousands of Ivorians have been fleeing to neighbouring states, some of them (nations) just recovering from years of debilitating civil wars.

''Cote d'Ivoire (which is at the centre of the ongoing controversy over use of force) is a signatory to the Protocol, so what is the fuss about?'' queried ECOWAS Commission Spokesman Sunny Ugoh.

PANA's checks reveal that then President Henrie Konan Bedie signed the Protocol on behalf of his country, while Gambian Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy signed on behalf of her own country, which is now the leading critic of the ECOWAS' decision.

ECOWAS has in the past successfully intervened in some member countries, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, to restore peace.
-0- PANA SEG 31Dec2010

From Segun Adeyemi,
PANA Correspondent

31 december 2010 10:38:05

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