Opinions Sat, 2 Apr 2011

Ivorian Refugees In, Dzi Wo Fi Asem Out!

Reports say about 4,000 Ivorian refugees have so far entered Ghana, following the worsening political crisis in the neighboring West African country. An estimated 20,000 more are expected, the UNHCR has confirmed, and already the government of Ghana is worried about the imminent stress the refugee situation will have on the country’s limited infrastructure. Last week, in a radio interview, Ken Dzirasah, the Chairman of the Ghana Refugee Board, did not hesitate at all, to enunciate the enormity of the situation we face, and yet to face, as a result of these latest developments.

He was giving us a firsthand assessment and independent evaluation of the situation that we have on our hands as a country as a result of the crisis in La Cote d’Ivoire.

But in doing so, Mr. Dzirasah ridiculed strongly, President Mills’ 7th January, 2011 ‘Dzi wo fi asem’ declaration, summing it as the most irresponsible foreign policy stance by any Ghanaian president. He indeed exposed how hopeless the president’s comments are and the very dire implications that the needlessly careless and infamous comment is beginning to have on us. Mr. Dzirasah said “the numbers are just overwhelming; it will take some time before we can overcome all these difficulties, we have a crisis on our hands and with the resources that we have and our capacity, it is really an influx.”

These developments make it obvious; Ghana cannot mind her own business when there is a political stalemate in La Cote d’Ivoire. United Nations reports say about 462 people have been killed so far, and rising quickly, since the mid-December violence broke in that country.

The objective of ECOWAS is for member states to be each other’s keepers and it is important that our utterances and actions conform strictly to that. Mills’ ‘dzi wo fi asem’ pronouncement was simply a major setback to progressive Ghana and a reversal of the work done over the years, particularly under the eight years of the Kufuor led NPP to put Ghana in the limelight and make it a respected country in the region. Under President Kufuor, Ghana established the best relations in our history with neighbors Togo, La Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. We promoted the ideals of ECOWAS through diplomacy and peace-keeping measures, with President Kufuor serving as President of ECOWAS for two terms. Our country played a leading role in setting the agenda of the AU, serving as chair of the AU and hosted the AU summit of 2007. Ghana won international recognition, with Akufo-Addo as Foreign Minister, for the role we played in brokering peace in numerous countries in Africa including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau and Kenya. In effect, Ghana regained its international respect among nations globally.

West Africa is definitely feeling the chill from the Ivorian deadlock. The political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire is increasingly having a toll on the country's neighbors, with the spillover effects ranging from political to socio-economic.

The IMF has already expressed deep concern about the ongoing political crisis, saying it poses serious risks, in particular through trade and financial sector linkages and that the spillovers for the region could be severe should the crisis persist. In addition, rising food and fuel prices could risk inflationary pressures, with an adverse impact on poverty in the region. The IMF also warns that if not resolved soon, the turmoil could have "severe human and financial costs" for Ivory Coast's neighbors.

Even a novice in international relations will tell you that a stalemate in Cote d’Ivoire will definitely have effects on Ghana and the region at large. Declaring a ‘mind your own business’ stance therefore is woeful and unacceptable and a deviation from the fundamental objective of regional integration. How can you, in answering a question on what you make of the situation in Ivory Coast, say that “it is not for Ghana to choose a leader for Cote D’ivoire”? How irresponsible can it get?

But adding to the irresponsibility is the blatant hypocrisy. President Mills, on behalf of the Ghanaian people, signed the communiqués of 7th and 28th December where the ECOWAS recognised Mr. Ouatarra as the legitimate president of La Cote d’Ivoire but came back to Ghana to say Ghana will not choose a leader for La Cote d’Ivoire. Mills flip-flopped on Ghana’s position on La Cote d’Ivoire on different platforms to compel Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to pay him a day's visit to acquaint himself with Ghana's official position on the troubled West African country and I found that very sad, for the world to be confused about Ghana’s position on who the winner of the election is.

Ghana’s position is simple, per the communiqué our president signed on our behalf: Gbagbo has lost the election and should hand over power peacefully to Ouatarra. Mills’ position is obvious per his ‘dzi wo fi asem’ declaration: Gbagbo is my friend and I prefer him to be the president of La Cote d’Ivoire, no matter the consequences. But, the law professor, in case he has forgotten should be reminded; he could have personal views and special preferences, but he is president of Ghana.

The Ivorian people have chosen their own leader, democratically, and don’t need us to choose him again for them. All they expect of us is joining the world in condemning Gbagbo’s refusal to hand over power peacefully to President Ouatarra. Indeed, this is all the effort that the ECOWAS, the AU, the EU and the UN Security Council have been doing. They have been speaking with one voice, that, Laurent Gbagbo lost the election and he should yield peacefully the presidency of Cote d’Ivoire to the winner of the presidential election, Allasane Ouattara. Is that too much to ask of the Ghanaian president?

In the end, at least with the refugee situation and the IMF warnings, it has become obvious, Ghana cannot sit back aloof and watch whilst La Cote d’Ivoire goes through political turmoil. It concerns us, it affects us, it is affecting us and we have to mind them. Why has President Mills not put our security agents on red alert to deny Ivorian refugees entry into Ghana? Can he even do that? Why is NADMO providing them assistance in the form of tents, food, water and security? Why won’t Ghana mind her own business? Since when did the Ivorian business become our business? Or better still, since when did our president retreat on his ‘dzi wo fi asem’ policy?

Mr. President, the peace, unity and democracy of Cote d’Ivoire and the peace and stability of the West African region of ECOWAS should be your guiding considerations, and not your partisan support of a particular leader, no matter how friendly the two of you are.

Columnist: Krapa, Herbert