ABUJA/KAMPALA (Reuters) - Cracks emerged on Tuesday in African efforts to end a power struggle in Ivory Coast, as Uganda became the latest country to question U.N. recognition of Alassane Ouattara as its president.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he differed from the U.N. line on the crisis, as a delegation of West African states prepared a U.S. trip to lobby President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to back the possible use of force to oust incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.
The split illustrated the potential for disagreement at an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa this week when the 53-nation group must decide its next steps after the disputed presidential election November 28 in the world’s biggest cocoa producing country.
Major cocoa exporting companies said they had stopped registering beans for export in compliance with a call by Ouattara for a one-month ban on deliveries, the latest attempt to force Gbagbo from office by blocking his access to funds.
Breaking ranks with an AU line which so far has backed the U.N. in recognising Ouattara as the election winner, Museveni said the vote had to be investigated.
“Uganda differs with the U.N. and the international community on Ivory Coast,” presidential spokesman Tamale Mirundi told Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, quoting Museveni.
“There is need for a serious approach that involves investigating the (electoral) process, including registration of voters and who voted,” he said. “There should be investigations, not just declaring who has won.”
South African President Jacob Zuma said last week there were discrepancies in the way the result was announced. Angola is also seen as a potential weak point in AU unity on Ivory Coast. Ghana has said it wants to remain neutral.
That contrasts with the resolve in near neighbours such as Nigeria and Sierra Leone, which see Gbagbo’s defiance of the U.N.-certified result as a risk to regional peace and efforts to nurture democracy.
“If you don’t move firmly, there’s a chance you’ll get more of this year. We don’t want to create a bad precedent,” a spokesman for Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma said, referring to nearly 20 national elections in Africa in 2011.
The spokesman said Koroma would lead a delegation of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS to Washington and the U.N. from Wednesday, aiming to press for a Security Council resolution backing the threat of force to oust Gbagbo.
AU efforts to find a solution have been unsuccessful, with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the AU-designated mediator, leaving empty-handed last week and accusing Gbagbo of repeatedly breaking his word in talks.
Gbagbo’s camp has since accused Odinga of being biased. On Tuesday, Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, current AU president, visited Ivory Coast, saying he wanted to hear all sides before the upcoming summit.
“I believe the problem of (Ivory Coast) will be solved by the people of (Ivory Coast),” he said.
Political analysts say it could be some time before military intervention is on the cards but Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said this week Gbagbo should realise he faced “a very real prospect of overwhelming military capability”.
An Abidjan-based diplomat said the ECOWAS visit to New York and Washington was part of a push for political, and possibly logistical and financial support for an intervention, but said maintaining AU unity would be vital to the cause.
Tara O’Connor at Africa Risk Consulting said the stance of some nations on the crisis would be determined by concern over their business interests in Ivory Coast, which before a 2002-2003 civil war was a star economic performer.
“The longer it goes on, the more likely cracks will appear (in AU unity) and for all the wrong reasons,” she forecast.
Allies of Gbagbo, who insists the U.N.-certified results were rigged, have shrugged off the warnings of military force and efforts of the United States, European Union and others to starve him of funds to pay civil servants and the army.
However, there was evidence those measures were biting on Tuesday when industry sources said six cocoa exporting houses, whose purchases amount to most of the annual 1.2-million-tonne crop, had stopped registering beans for export.
Last weekend, Ouattara’s camp appealed for a one-month suspension of cocoa deliveries to world markets to deprive Gbagbo of tax revenues.
Although the crisis has pushed cocoa future prices close to 30-year highs on fears of disruption to supplies, so far the chocolate industry was taking it in its stride. (Additional reporting by David Lewis and Ange Aboa in Abidjan; Simon Akam in Freetown; Writing by Mark John; editing by Andrew Dobbie)