If Côte d’Ivoire was not a country on knife-edge; if there were no two presidents vying for power; if innocent lives were not being needlessly lost in that country; if the region of West Africa and the continent of Africa could afford yet another civil war in that neck of the woods; if the people of Africa were not serious about electoral democracy we could dismiss, ignore or even laugh at the shocking views of the ACDP’s Reverend Kenneth Meshoe following his visit to that troubled land. Contradicting every reasonable view by authoritative bodies and respectable individuals alike, Meshoe has proceeded to speak belatedly, irreverently, irrelevantly and inappropriately about the Ivorian political stalemate. A four-day stint in the Ivory Coast in the first week of the year 2011 was enough to equip and qualify Meshoe and his delegation to speak on the current situation.
It was late in December 2010 when some media reported Meshoe’s intention to head a delegation of church leaders to Ivory Coast. It was touted as a mediation visit with the aim to search for a breakthrough. What was concerning even then was the suggestion that the Meshoe delegation was invited by the “Christians of Ivory Coast” to mediate. An invitation and a visit framed in those terms was always going to be problematic.
The January 20 2011 delegation “report” — signed by Meshoe — is as brief as it is superficial. They allegedly met with Laurent Gbagbo, six of the seven Ivorian Constitutional Council judges and a dissenting member of the electoral commission. The Constitutional Council judges spoke to Meshoe about their constitutional right to announce the final results of an election. Because the constitution gives to them and to no one else the authority to announce the final results, what they announce is the truth and nothing but the truth. That is the reasoning that blew Meshoe and his delegation away. It does not matter that the Constitutional Council could only reach its verdict of a Gbagbo victory after disqualifying and discounting substantial votes from areas in the north of the country where Alassane Ouattara polled well. Do their constitutional powers include the power to decide which votes should be counted and which shouldn’t? Why does the country need an IEC at all? In order to make sure that only their version of the elections stood, the Ivorian Constitutional Council also took the step of nullifying the earlier announcement by the IEC on a technicality: that the announcement was made a day late. The judges who met with Meshoe also omitted to tell him that they are widely suspected of being allied to Gbagbo.
In his meeting with the Meshoe delegation, which must have started and ended with a Christian prayer, Gbagbo seems to have sufficiently played on their Christian sympathy. From their report, it is clear that he presented himself to them as a reasonable Christian man probably contrasting himself with Ouattara, a Muslim. Earlier allegations casting doubts on Ouattara’s nationality may have even surfaced at this meeting. Who knows?
The fact of the matter is that Meshoe and his delegation were bamboozled by the Constitutional Council judges. They were hoodwinked by Gbagbo. Perhaps they wanted to be deceived. How else do we explain the emotional, poorly substantiated and poorly argued statement by Meshoe? The report concludes:
“What happened in Côte d’Ivoire is a travesty of justice. We are further saddened by the actions of the UN, European Union and African Union that have endorsed this travesty of justice … we want to know if Africa is indeed free from colonialism, or whether there are certain ‘sovereign’ African countries that are still under the yoke and control of foreign powers.”
Accordingly the Meshoe delegation has declared Gbagbo the lawful winner of the elections and has crowned him the legitimate president of the country. Yet the “report” concludes with a lame call for a “recount of the votes under the direct supervision of the Constitutional Council”. The same council that has declared Gbagbo the winner of the elections? What then would be the point of a recount?
Having been fooled by Gbagbo, Meshoe is in turn now trying to fool the rest of us. But we will not be fooled. Whatever it is Reverend Meshoe went to Côte d’Ivoire to do, it must be called by a name other than mediation. To borrow from their own words, their mission was a “travesty of mediation”. Most annoying about the Meshoe travesty is that mediation might yet be the only constructive way out of the Ivorian political impasse. The Economic Community of West African States’ (Ecowas) threat of military action was as good as a threat can be. Since the threat has not yielded the desired results, the whole idea should be abandoned. War in any form — whether it is the use of “legitimate force by Ecowas” or wholesale civil war — will not be in anyone’s interest. The clue to the solution of the crisis might lie with the loyalties of the Ivorian army and police force. Somewhere between war and a Kenyan-style government of national unity lies the solution to the crisis.