Diplomatic Disaster: Ping, Odinga In Public Spat At AU Headquarters

Addis Ababa — THERE was high drama at the African Union headquarters here yesterday when Commission chairman Dr Jean Ping publicly clashed with his controversially-appointed mediator to Cote d’Ivoire, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga after the latter held a Press conference ahead of the Peace and Security Council Summit that was convened to discuss the situation in Cote d’Ivoire. Procedurally, Mr Odinga was supposed to brief his superiors in the Peace and Security Council first after which they would deliberate on his report and any other reports pertinent to the Cote d’Ivoire crisis before holding a Press conference to announce their decision.Dr Ping — who sources said faced a rapping from the leaders over his handling of the Cote d’Ivoire issue including the decision to appoint Mr Odinga, a lowly premier to mediate between a president and an aspirant — was naturally peeved by Odinga’s breach of protocol and summoned AU security details to stop Odinga’s Press conference.

There was some shouting, pushing and shoving with the clearly discomfited Kenyan premier attempting to rush through his statement before handing out copies to journalists who were being dispersed after which he left the scene in a huff.In his statement, Mr Odinga — who was rejected by incumbent Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo’s camp for openly siding with challenger Mr Alassane Ouattara — accused Mr Gbagbo of clinging to power.”Cote d’Ivoire symbolises the great tragedy that seems to have befallen Africa, whereby some incumbents are not willing to give up power if they lose.”This refusal is particularly egregious in Cote d’Ivoire’s case, since never has there been such internal, regional and international unanimity among independent institutions about the outcome of a disputed election in Africa.”Mr Odinga, who was initially unequivocal that Mr Gbagbo should step down then, ended his statement on a conciliatory tone, urging the summit to encourage dialogue between the Gbagbo and Ouattara camps.”This summit must send a strong and unequivocal message that the two parties must negotiate face-to-face,” he said.Diplomatic sources said the West’s meddlesome hand was evident in the manner the AU secretariat had invited foreign ministers of seven Western countries — among them France and Australia — to address foreign ministers of the Peace and Security Council all of whom were amazed by the turn of events that was without precedent in the history of the AU.The Peace and Security Council, as the most powerful union organ by nature, has no room for outsiders yet western foreign ministers were invited to attempt to set the tone for deliberations over Cote d’Ivoire.Unconfirmed reports indicated that French and American warships were patrolling the waters off the Cote d’Ivoire coast in the wake of a visit by an Ecowas delegation to the United States to pursue the option of military action against Cote d’Ivoire.The US and France have been at the forefront of trying to force President Gbagbo to step down. The UN has also sent peacekeeping troops to Cote d’Ivoire.

ECOWAS had threatened military action if President Gbagbo did not concede defeat by stepping down. The Ecowas ultimatum passed without incident with analysts saying the bloc risked getting discredited by resorting to such threats without seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.Sources close to deliberations in the PSC said Sadc had expressed real consternation at the fact that Ecowas, the AU and the UN had all hastily taken a position before investigating developments in Cote d’Ivoire.

“They moved to dictate not to mediate, something quite contrary to the AU and UN traditions and to common sense,” quipped a southern African diplomat.The Peace and Security Council, which convened at Presidential level here, was still in session last night under the chairmanship of Mauritania.President Mugabe joined other heads of state and government at the PSC summit that had only one item on the agenda, the political situation in Cote d’Ivoire following the disputed presidential run-off election result that created two parallel governments.The PSC is the only AU organ tasked with enforcing union decisions.Cote d’Ivoire, which ironically was supposed to sit on the PSC before its recent suspension from the AU, was thrown into turmoil after last November’s elections that had both PresidentGbagbo and former prime minister Ouattara claiming victory and appointing their own governments.Ouattara’s nationality is also being challenged as he is said to come from Burkina Faso.Zimbabwe was elected into the powerful Peace and Security Council for a three-year term in January last year.The PSC has three representatives from Central Africa, three from East Africa, two from North Africa, four from West Africa and three from Southern Africa namely Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia.

Report by Caesar Zvayi, 31 January 2011

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