Deutsche Welle talks to Germany's Africa Commissioner about the future of Ivory Coast, should internationally recognized election winner Alassane Ouattara come to power.
Walter Lindner, Germany's Africa Commissioner
International pressure is mounting for incumbent Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to go, as internationally recognized election winner Alassane Ouattara's troops close in on him. Yet the country may face divisions long after their conflict is resolved. Deutsche Welle spoke with Walter Lindner, the German government's Africa Commisioner and former ambassador to Kenya, about the critical situation in Ivory Coast.
DW: You've been to Ivory Coast twice in the last two months. What do you think are the chances that Laurent Gbagbo will stop portraying himself as a martyr and actually step down?
Walter Lindner: It's true that I was in Abidjan twice in the last two months. However, I did not have any direct communication with Gbagbo, and with good reason: we do not want to break his political isolation. Instead, I spoke with his right-hand man, Alcide Djedje, the self-appointed foreign minister of the Gbagbo regime. The last time I was there, four weeks ago, he very clearly told me, "We will not give up." He said, "We would never allow Ouattara to become president. We would rather die."
Whether or not that was just emotional rhetoric, it shows they are determined to a certain extent. I don't know if that's what Gbagbo himself thinks or would have said, but those were in any case the words of his right-hand man.
What awaits Alassane Ouattara, should his adversary Laurent Gbagbo step down or be removed?
It is important to think of the day after [a transfer of power]. We've been telling Outtara's people for weeks now to have a plan for what they will do if they come to power. Ouattara won the elections 54 percent to 46 percent, so we must remember there were 46 percent on Gbagbo's side. That means we must be careful not to allow a division in Ivory Coast. [The new government's] first duty must be to adopt a tone of reconciliation and to avoid a fission between the country's North and South. If Ouattara comes to power, that will be the biggest challenge for him and his government.
What role could Germany play in that reconciliation?
We've already been very active there. Of course, France is in the driver's seat since they know the country better than the rest of us. But Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has already sent me down there twice to use our expertise in coalition building and division of power – mechanisms we have already used in Kenya, for instance those that have to do with reconciling different ethnic groups. We in Germany have a lot to offer; we have experience with coalitions and federalism, as well as our experiences from the Cold War and our country's own reunification. So there are a lot of things that we can contribute as a “German footprint,” so to speak.
Will Ivory Coast need a truth and reconciliation commission?
Ouattara's people have already planned a review of events from the past few weeks. No side can be excluded from such an investigation. Even if Gbagbo's regime is the primary target, there must be an investigation into any possible infringements on the side of Ouattara supporters.
[We will have to see] what will then be done to avoid a schism in the country, to promote reconciliation, equal interests, and solidarity … They have so many common interests; they have to sell cocoa, they have to reopen their borders, and they have to bolster their economy. That goes for both sides, and working towards those goals will be of the utmost importance. But we will have to wait and see if the government does that through a reconciliation commission.
Has the African Union failed in Ivory Coast? After all, they did not manage to prevent another outbreak of civil war.
I wouldn't say they've failed, considering they fairly quickly did exactly what the United Nations and the European Union did: they recognized Ouattara as the winner of the election and demanded Gbagbo recognize this and end his occupation of the presidential palace. It was relatively quick. But now there's the mechanism within the African Union whereby individual regional organizations deal with the conflict - in this case the West African organization ECOWAS.
With Nigeria at its helm, ECOWAS relatively quickly decided on a drastic solution, that of clearly saying "Gbagbo, your days are numbered. [We will impose] sanctions and even a military operation as a last resort." So the African Union left the issue to the regional organization but kept getting involved again in mediation missions. They have already exhausted the diplomatic arsenal.
But we are talking about 54 countries; there are those calling for caution and others who want to proceed in a more robust manner. I believe that they did what they could within the 54-country bloc. In the end, the failure is a result of Gbagbo hanging tough, very tough - and his determined refusal of these suggestions and mediation efforts.
Interview: Dirke Köpp / dl
Editor: Nicole Goebel