Kenya PM headed back to Abidjan

January 11, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Jan 11 – The African Union\’s mediator in the Ivorian crisis, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is expected to fly back to the troubled west African country this week, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

"The PM has indicated that he will return to Ivory Coast this week. The date of his return will be either Thursday or Friday," Dennis Onyango told AFP.

"He will first meet and brief the chairman of the AU Commission Jean Ping in Nairobi on Wednesday before setting off for Ivory Coast," the spokesman said.

Mr Odinga\’s first trip to Abidjan since being appointed as mediator by the continental body ended on January 5, with little tangible progress in resolving a standoff that has brought Ivory Coast back to the brink of civil war.

On Monday Mr Odinga met Ambassadors and High Commissioners from six diplomatic missions in Nairobi and briefed them on his mission to Ivory Coast last week and his next steps.

Diplomats who met the PM at his Harambee Avenue office included US ambassador Michael Ranneberger, British High Commissioner Rob Macaire, Canadian High Commissioner David Collins, Norwegian Ambassador Per Ludvig Magnus, Ambassador of France Etienne de Poncins and Netherlands envoy Laetitia Van den Assum.

The PM told the diplomats that he pleaded with Ivory Coast\’s strongman Laurent Gbagbo to surrender power and save his country.

The PM asked the diplomats to ask their governments not to shift focus from Ivory Coast saying the country could easily slide into chaos with the passing of time.

He said Mr Gbagbo has used state structures to control the flow of information thus creating the impression that life was going on normally in the country’s capital, Abidjan.

He said the AU’s position, which he represents, remains that power-sharing is not an option in Ivory Coast.

The PM said the AU fears that there are about 20 elections scheduled on the continent in the next one year and the Ivory Coast situation could set a trend, if not followed to conclusion, with the handing over of power to the winner.

If the issue is not resolved, incumbents in the coming elections may try to cling to power Mr Gbagbo’s way, a development he said would lead to a messy situation in Africa.

“The messy situation and loss of faith in transfer of power through the ballot could lead to the return of military coups in Africa. The military will take power claiming that they are trying to restore order,” the PM said.

He supported sanctions as a way of bringing the protagonists to the negotiating table, but said sanctions alone have not worked to restore faith in democracy and the ballot in the countries where they have been applied. 

The diplomats expressed sympathy with the AU’s stand on Ivory Coast and promised to relay the PM’s sentiments to their governments.

Mr Odinga claimed to have clinched a deal whereby the November 28 Ivorian presidential election rivals would meet.

He also said Mr Gbagbo had agreed to lift the blockade on the hotel used as headquarters by Mr Ouattara but neither claim materialised.

Both men have declared themselves the winner of the election, which was meant to bring an end to a protracted political crisis in the country.

Mr Ouattara was declared the winner by the electoral body but Mr Gbagbo challenged the results and has since dug in his heels in the face of virulent international criticism and mounting military pressure to vacate his seat.

Mr Odinga also said during his first mission last week that Mr Gbagbo would not face prosecution if he agreed to recognise Mr Ouattara as the country\’s legitimate president and step down gracefully.

He had ruled out any compromise short of Mr Gbagbo\’s exit, including a coalition government such as the one that handed him his own job as premier following Kenya\’s post-election crisis three years ago.

But Ivory Coast\’s envoy to the United Nations Youssoufou Bamba told the BBC Tuesday that Mr Ouattara could work with Mr Gbagbo in a "wide composite cabinet" if the Ivorian strongman conceded defeat.


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