Abuja, Nigeria (PANA) - All eyes are on the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as they gather in
Abuja, the Nigerian capital, Tuesday afternoon to examine the situation in a Member State, Cote d'Ivoire, and decide on a line of action to resolve the impasse there.
The international community expects the 15-member regional bloc - which has a history of resolving crises in its Member States - to blaze the trail in coming up with a solution to the a brewing crisis, occasioned by the controversy dogging the 28 Nov. presidential run-off that had been touted as the pinnacle of the long-drawn peace process in Cote d'Ivoire since 2002, when a failed mutiny by a section of the military split the country into two.
Instead of capping the peace process, the election has, however, thrown up fresh challenges, as incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara are both laying claim to the presidency.
The electoral commission declared Ouattara, a former Prime Minister, winner of the run-off, but the Constitutional Council overturned the result and awarded victory to Gbagbo.
Both took the oath of office on Saturday, raising the spectre of a fresh crisis in the world's leading cocoa-producing nation.
''Following the unexpected turn of events in Cote d’Ivoire after the run-off of the Presidential elections recently held there, the ECOWAS Commission wishes to express its deep disappointment and concern at the anomalies that have attended the leadership transition in that Member State, especially the reported inauguration today (Saturday) of the incumbent President,'' ECOWAS said in a statement.
''This is more so, in view of the part played recently by the ECOWAS Observer Team in ascertaining the true wish of the electorate and the concerted efforts made by ECOWAS and the international Community to ensure peaceful and democratic election in line with the ECOWAS Declaration on Political Principles and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
''In the prevailing circumstances, ECOWAS strongly condemns any attempt to usurp the popular will of the people of Côte d’Ivoire and appeals to all stakeholders to accept the results declared by the electoral commission,'' it said.
Beyond condemnation, however, what are the options open to the leaders to deal with the situation when they meet Tuesday?
''The answer to your question can be found in the relevant sections (1b, 6 and 45) of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance,'' ECOWAS Commission Spokesman Sunny Ugoh told PANA on Tuesday.
Section 1b of the Protocol is very clear that ''every accession to power must be made through free, fair and transparent elections''; while Section 6 says ''The preparation and conduct of elections and the announcement of results shall be done in a transparent manner.''
But it is Section 45 that gives an inkling of what the leaders may decide on Tuesday in Abuja.
Prescribing what actions can be taken against a Member State in the event that Sections 1b and 6 are not adhered to, it said ''ECOWAS may impose sanctions on the state concerned''.
It said such sanctions, which shall be decided by the Authority (leaders), in increasing order of severity, include: Refusal to support the candidates presented by the Member State concerned for elective post in international organisations; Refusal to organise ECOWAS meetings in the Member State concerned and the Suspension of the Member State concerned from all ECOWAS decision-making bodies.
But international affairs experts are warning that ECOWAS may have to go beyond sanctions in resolving the impasse.
''I think what African Union and ECOWAS should do is to come out clearly and tell Laurent Gbabgbo that he is not the choice of the people of Cote d’Ivoire and therefore allow the legitimate winner be sworn-in as President,'' said Kabiru Mato of the Political Science Department of the University of Abuja.
Another expert, Prof. Warris Alli, former head of Research at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), concurs: ''It is not just a question of sanctions, that man (Gbagbo) should not be allow to occupy the seat. He should not be recognised.''
Whatever options the West African leaders choose, the experts warn that they must act fast and decisively to prevent Cote d'Ivoire from sliding back to anarchy.
-0- PANA SEG 7Dec2010