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The intervention of the AU in the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire

Neus Ramis
Lecturer at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) on issues of peace and security
Neus Ramis

Neus Ramis

The revitalization of the African Union (AU)1 has led to the emergence of a regulatory system of peace and security which aims to reduce violence on the continent2. The appearance of this institutional architecture is the result of the African community's need to solve its own problems without relying on external decisions. This article discusses the construction of peace promoted by the AU in a complex and multidimensional situation like the recent post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire (November 2010-May 2011).

The Ivorian crisis was a major challenge for African Union in three ways: (1) in terms of the design of formulas for types forms of intervention and mediation, (2) in terms of the ability of the AU to maintain pan-African ideological unity vis-a-vis the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire (3) and finally, due to the complexity of the domestic situation in terms of both the deterioration in civil security and the availability and willingness of the parties involved to participate in any mediation. It is also a great opportunity for it to demonstrate its credibility in defending the principles that underpin the newly created "African Charter on Democracy, elections and governance"3. However, the use of armed force was ultimately the decisive factor in ending the conflict, with dialogue playing a secondary role.

  1. Intervention and mediation

    The AU launched the mediation process on 5 December 2010, and from the beginning, asserted its recognition of Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the final round of elections held in Cote d'Ivoire, as did the United Nations. That statement was initially criticized by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and within the AU due to its possible impact on the mediation process in terms of neutrality.
    The AU began to initiate contacts and mediation between the parties involved - albeit with few significant results - through a controversial mission led by the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki4. Another joint mission venture was led by the AU Chairperson Jean Ping, and the President of ECOWAS, James Victor Gbeho5. It was not until last February that the interventions by the pan-African organization intensified. The Peace and Security Council established a panel of experts to resolve the crisis, which was adopting alarming dimensions. The panel, chaired by the Mauritanian head of state, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, consisted of the presidents of Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and Burkina Faso. The conclusions of the report produced by the Panel were: (1) support for a national unity government headed by Alassane Ouattara; (2) a guarantee for a dignified exit for the defeated candidate Laurent Gbagbo; (3) disarmament of the ex-rebels and the restructuring of the army; (4) the restructuring of the Independent Electoral Council (IEC) and the Constitutional Council and (5) the creation of an independent commission of "Truth, Justice and Reconciliation."

    The mediation ended with the report issued by the Panel on March 10 at the extraordinary meeting of the AU to discuss the case of Cote d'Ivoire6, at which the parties were urged to comply with the recommendations mentioned above within a limited timeframe, in order to achieve a peaceful solution to the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. It was not until May that the Constitutional Council proclaimed Alassane Ouattara president of the republic, after allegedly taking into consideration the recommendations of the AU.

  2. Pan-African ideological unity over the case of Cote d'Ivoire

    As regards the second aspect of the Pan-African mediation, the Ivorian crisis led to the collapse of the exemplary African unity among its member states and as a consequence highlighted the limited authority of the organization and the ideological complexity inherent in it. Contradictory voices were heard among heads of state, making it difficult for the AU to take decisions. For example, the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, made some statements with content that differed from the resolutions of the ECOWAS and the AU. Elsewhere, the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, surprisingly declared his sympathy for the position of Laurent Gbagbo, while the latter capitalized on this type of criticism. Using anti-imperialist arguments, Gbagbo was trying to win the hearts and minds of some leaders of the AU, thereby creating confusion about the AU's ability to manage and resolve the crisis.

  3. The domestic complexity of the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire

    On this point, some authors believe that the Ivorian post-election crisis may be remembered as one of the most complex cases on the African continent over the past decade.7 The likelihood of compliance with the decisions of the AU decreased as the scale of the humanitarian disaster increased, the role of the United Nations in managing the conflict became more extensive (due in part to Gbagbo's accusations against the international intervention) and the willingness of the parties involved to make concessions when negotiating had reached a dead end. As mentioned above, it was not until the armed intervention that compliance with the recommendations of the AU was announced. The degree of success of the promotion of dialogue as a methodology for resolving the conflict in this particular case was therefore somewhat limited.

In conclusion, some of the lessons learnt by the AU from the Ivorian crisis were the organization's limited influence in the resolution of conflicts; the need to work towards finding ways to consolidate the commitments of the peace agreements; the relevance of establishing more African conflict prevention mechanisms; and finally, the use of dialogue as a means towards understanding and consensus within the AU, in order to reach fair agreements that benefit the majority.

1. African Union. "Constitutive Act of the AU." Lomé, Juliol, 2000. (Back)
2. African Union. "Protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union." (Back)
3. Union Africaine. "Charte Africaine de la Démocratie, des elections et de la gouvernance". Addis Abeba, 30 January, 2007. (Back)
4. 5 December, 2010. For more information on the report by Thabo Mbeki on Côte d'Ivoire for the AU: "Le rapport de M.Thabo Mbeki sur sa mediation en Côte d'Ivoire a la suite des elections" (9 October, 2011). (Back)
5. 16 December, 2010 and 3 January, 2011. (Back)
6. African Union." Communiqué of the 265th meeting of the Peace and Security Council" 10 of March, 2011, Addis Abeba (Etiòpia). Online: (9 October, 2011). (Back)
7. Institut for Security Studies. "Cote d'Ivoire: AU at the crossroads. Will the AU meeting finally resolve the Ivorian political standoff?. Daily Briefing, 11 March 2011. Online: (9 October, 2011),p. 3. (Back)