One cannot necessary blame them for trying. Many theories of war assign force as the last resort of strategy, acceptable only when unavoidable. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) justifiably seeks to avoid an invasion of Côte d'Ivoire, which could spark another civil war. Having already left the country once without disputed president Laurent Gbagbo, a ECOWAS delegation is now returning to improve their offer.
Whereas Gbagbo was offered exile last Monday, the BBC reports that Benin's Boni Yayi, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verde's Pedro Pires will offer amnesty and financial security to Gbagbo “and his supporters.”
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, already on the ground representing the African Union (AU), released a statement through his office saying, "He will seek a peaceful settlement to the election crisis... and seek an assurance of safety and security for Mr Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters, if he agrees to cede power.”
Whether Alassane Ouattara, Côte d'Ivoire’s internationally recognized president, and his supporters accept this proposal after so much havoc remains to be seen. The UN has documented 173 deaths and noticed ethnic tags on the houses of Gbagbo opponents. Resentment is running high.
However, Ouattara has equal reason to accept any concessions that yield Gbagbo’s eviction from the country.
Yet Gbagbo hardly seems prepared to accept as well, and ECOWAS will likely leave empty handed for the second time in as many weeks. This possibility leads back to the application of force. Fortunately Gbagbo hasn’t stormed the Golf Hotel to remove Ouattara, but his delay is hardly reassuring given the 1,000 UN peacekeepers now reinforcing Ouattara's position. Like ECOWAS, Gbagbo must save his force for last, and any assault on the Golf Hotel is tantamount to an international declaration of war.
While the prevailing stalemate has created a bubble to peacefully resolve the crisis, ECOWAS has reached the same unstable point where Gbagbo currently finds himself - reluctantly showing force and unable to back down. Reports took ECOWAS’s military option off the table no sooner had its delegation left Abidjan. Several days of reporting continued to pick apart its 6,500 contingency force as a paper tiger, and Western diplomats following discussions in Abuja, Nigeria observed a dearth of enthusiasm for any campaign.
Thus ECOWAS officials have become acutely sensitive to these whispers. Although the delegation does appear to be negotiating by offering amnesty, Sierra Leone’s Information Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo insisted that the delegates won’t negotiate - and that ECOWAS will use force, if necessary, to remove Gbagbo.
“The legitimacy of ECOWAS is not in dispute at all and the determination of ECOWAS to bring this thing to an end is not (in) dispute at all,” Kargbo said while traveling with President Koroma. “What is very clear is that ECOWAS wants to be very certain that everybody is given a fair chance, including Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, before a final decision is taken. But definitely, ECOWAS not prepared to negotiate on the issue as to who the president of Cote d’Ivoire (is) because it is so clear that Mr. Ouattara is considered the president of that country at the moment.”
The question, then, is when ECOWAS finally believes it has exhausted all other options. Though it already seems to have reached this point with Gbagbo, ECOWAS is wise to avoid unnecessary conflict by displaying force. But if this visit isn’t the last, rumors of a paper tiger will gain momentum and harden Gbagbo’s resolve.
And that works against a resolution to the conflict.