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Resolving the Ivorian Election Crisis

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The Liberty Party, a leading opposition political party in Liberia, has followed the recent elections in La Cote d'Ivoire between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara with concern. Immediately following the announcement of the results by the Elections Commission, I congratulated Mr. Ouattara on his historic victory. The defeat of an incumbent president is noteworthy in our part of the world. Unfortunately, not too long thereafter the Constitutional Court of La Cote d'Ivoire decreed victory for Mr. Gbagbo, thus reversing the announcement of the Elections Commission and triggering the current debacle.

Judging from the prevailing consensus within the international community, specifically the ECOWAS and the African Union (AU), Mr. Ouattara has been elected President of La Cote d'Ivoire. One must congratulate the leaders of ECOWAS for rising to the occasion, a move that will help to bolster the evolution of democratic processes in West Africa. They have said to one of their own, an incumbent president: Enough is enough; the will of the people must be respected.

Now the difficult task begins -- the task of ensuring that former President Laurent Gbagbo makes his exit in a way that does not portray him as having "lost face." I believe that it is not too late for Mr. Gbagbo to gracefully take his leave as a nationalist who contributed to placing La Cote d'Ivoire on the democratic path and began the process of healing for this great nation. Mr. Gbagbo has heard loudly -- now I believe that he needs to be told behind closed doors, softly but pointedly -- that his time is up. No amount of gamesmanship, not even military confrontation, which would only exacerbate the suffering of Ivoirians, will allow him to resume the functions of the presidency. And this is why I plead with him to consider the damage he would do to his legacy, the further destruction of his country, and the loss of additional lives, by frustrating the will of the majority of the Ivorian people.

I call upon eminent statespersons of Africa, specifically those from the West African Region, to persuade Mr. Gbagbo to leave La Cote d'Ivoire and take up residency in another country. ECOWAS should consider engaging the services of someone Mr. Gbagbo has heretofore seen as a brother or sister and friend, someone who Mr. Gbagbo can trust during these difficult moments. This would certainly help in resolving the Ivorian impasse. Of course, given the experience of the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, Mr. Gbagbo is more likely to be persuaded if such an accord has the expressed backing of the Security Council of the United Nations.

But prior to Mr. Gbagbo's departure from La Cote d'Ivoire, I encourage President Ouattara to exercise magnanimity in national leadership by beginning the process of national reconciliation, assuring Mr. Gbagbo that his supporters and followers will be accorded full protection under the laws of La Cote d'Ivoire.

The use of force to hasten Mr. Gbagbo's exit should be the last resort. But there can be no equivocation -- Mr. Gbagbo should be made to understand that legitimate force will be used unless he chooses to conform to internationally accepted democratic principles, allowing the will of Ivoirian voters to prevail.

There can be no reversing the mandate of the Ivorian people and frustrating the democratic process. But ending the current impasse will be just the first step of a long process to build once again a united La Cote d'Ivoire under one national leadership to which all Ivorians without exception would be loyal. It is only a peaceful La Cote d'Ivoire that would enable the Ivorian people to pursue their dreams and resume working for the economic growth and development of their country.

In my own country, Liberia, we are on edge for two major reasons. Firstly, it has already been reported that at least 14,000 Ivorians have crossed the border into Liberia, seeking refuge, as they fear the resumption of a full fledge civil war. Liberia's stability is fragile and its economy is in such bad state that coping with an influx of refugees over a prolong period could become a huge problem.

Secondly, the resolution of the Ivoirian election crisis will significantly impact what happens in Liberia during our 2011 presidential and general elections. Liberia is a country without a history of democratic transition. The last time a Liberian president exited power as a result of an election was in 1944, when Tubman succeeded Barclay. And the last time power changed hands from one political party to another as a result of an election was in 1878, more than a hundred years ago. Liberians are, therefore, counting on our friends in ECOWAS, AU, UN, and other members of the international community, led by the United States of America, to ensure that the will of the Liberian voters prevail in 2011.

There are those who are tempted to cast the intervention of the international community in the current crisis in La Cote d'Ivoire in terms of the age-old debate about Africa and colonization/neo-colonization. This would be a mistake. The resolution of the Cote d'Ivoire election crisis in a way that honors the mandate of the majority of the Ivorian people, will herald in a new beginning for democratic experience in Africa. Democratic -- free, fair, and transparent -- elections can and must be the norm in Africa, and peaceful transition from one political leader or one political party to another must be the inevitable product of the will of the majority.