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Panel Discussions - Monday, February 07, 2011

Ambassador Bamba: Côte d'Ivoire Crisis "Real Test of Democracy"

The crisis in Côte d'Ivoire is a "real test of democracy," said Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba of Côte d'Ivoire, addressing a standing-room-only audience at IPI.

Speaking at the Feb. 7th inaugural event in IPI's African Election Series, Ambassador Bamba said, "This election has been the most free, most transparent, the most inclusive, the most democratic we have ever had in Côte d'Ivoire." He said the people of Côte d'Ivoire have worked, sacrificed, and suffered for ten years to reach this point.

Côte d'Ivoire’s former President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to cede the presidency to the election’s winner, Alassane Ouattara, has led to postelection violence that has killed 270 people.

Mr. Ouattara has had to barricade himself in a hotel in Abidjan under the protection of UN peacekeeping troops while Mr. Gbagbo, a former university professor whose presidential term actually ended in 2005, has rebuffed entreaties from three neighboring ECOWAS heads of state and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he step aside.

The African Union, the European Union, the US and the UN have all called for Mr. Gbagbo to step down, saying they believe the November 2010 national election was free and fair.

"I will assure you, the day Mr. Gbagbo will leave office, there will be celebration from Mauritius to Angola," Ambassador Bamba said.

"Unless democracy takes root, never, ever will we have a sound, real economic development," he said.

Ambassador Bamba was joined by panelists William Fitzgerald, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs; James Jonah, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs; and Atul Khare, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

Mr. Fitzgerald, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, said, "There is no way that the United States could accept Laurent Gbagbo's craven and ambitious attempts to remain in power."

"It's important to allow the Ivoirian people to get what they've been yearning for, for ten years, which is a democratically-elected government," he said.

James Jonah, who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, said, “What Gbagbo people would like is a power-sharing in the Côte d'Ivoire where he will remain as president. And that to me is not democracy.”

"There is no guarantee that elections produce good leaders," Mr. Jonah said. “The only good thing about elections is you have another round, and kick the last guys out."

In response to a question about democracy, Mr. Khare said that elections don't determine who has power, but whose "shoulders are overburdened and slouched with the responsibilities which he or she carries" on behalf of the people "to remove poverty, to remove misery." He noted that the basic ideology behind elected positions is "responsibilities and service for the people."

Mr. Khare added that if some elected officials understood this responsibility, they would want to give up their positions "at the first opportunity."

The event, titled "Côte d'Ivoire: A Test for the United Nations and the International Community," was moderated by Dr. Edward C. Luck, IPI Senior Vice President for Research and Programs.

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