IVORY COAST:What Is Alassane Ouattara Afraid Of?

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
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I have yet to read any of the news items regarding the dispatching of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, of Kenya, as an African Union (AU) emissary to the raging power struggle between the two leading contenders of last November’s Ivorian presidential election. One thing, however, is quite risibly clear in my mind; and it is that unless, like Mr. Odinga, President Laurent Gbagbo is being offered the post of Prime Minister, or some such substantive governance-sharing appointment, I don’t see how the leadership impasse could be brought to an amicable resolution anytime soon.

In the Kenyan situation, as we all know, the clear winner was alleged to be Mr. Odinga, the main opposition leader. And when President Mwai Kibaki refused to stand down, a barbaric episode of inter-ethnic blood-letting ensued. In the end, the promise of apocalyptic mayhem and all, nothing really happened, as President Kibaki – even with the deft and even-handed diplomatic maneuvering of Mr. Kofi Annan in the proverbial details – still got to keep his job, with his closest polling contender acceding to the second-banana post of Prime Minister; and, of course, some sharing of cabinet positions between the Kibaki and Odinga camps.

We have also witnessed a similar episode in Zimbabwe between Messrs. Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangerai. And in all this, there is one common element linking the countries in which such electoral travesties have taken place. And it is the fact that these are countries in which one-party regimes whose leaders succeeded the departing colonialists have found it extremely difficult to cede power via the ballot box. And, of course, it ought to be quickly pointed out that it is not really the mere presence of the ballot box at a polling station that is the cause of such cessional difficulties. Rather, it is the fact that for the first time as never before, formidable contenders who used to be fellow travelers but have decided to break the pseudo-traditional African communalist mold have emerged on the national political landscape.

Oftentimes, these have been prime products of abject disgruntlement and downright disaffection with the manner in which a largely comfortable and ossified one-party apparatchiks have handled the economy and its concomitant perception of rank and widespread corruption.

In the Ivorian situation, the picture is not exactly the same as those of Zimbabwe and Kenya, though the historical underpinnings appear strikingly identical. It is not exactly the same because in this case, it is the presumed winner and opposition leader who is more undesirably tied to the old one-party regime which, for nearly 40 years, was chaperoned by President Felix Houphouette-Boigny (Felix Offei-Boahen), the bona fide Akan-Ghanaian clansman on the other side of the Franco-British imperial chess game. One also gets the palpable impression that but for the staunch backing of the proverbial “Western Alliance,” otherwise known as the “International Community,” Mr. Ouattara would at best feel tentative towards his newly-gained position.

And while he may, indeed, feel genuinely frustrated and even testy at what may aptly be described as the political equivalent of “coitus interruptus,” some levelheaded media observers have not hesitated to point out the fact that, indeed, even without a stiff Gbagbo resistance, merely being declared winner is absolutely no guarantee that Mr. Ouattara is apt to experience a smooth-sailing assumption of the august reins of governance. In an interview granted him by Mr. Ouattara’s chief diplomat to the United Nations, Mr. Youssoufou Bamba, for example, BBC-News’ Mr. John James registers the following telling observation: “He [Mr. Bamba] says that even before the election Mr. Ouattara said [that] his cabinet would be open to all talents – an admission of the reality that there are a large number of Ivorians who find the idea of [Mr. Ouattara] as president hard to swallow” (See “Ivory Coast Unity Cabinet Possible, Says UN Ambassador” MyJoyOnline.com 1/1/11).

Of course, what the preceding quote does not readily let on to the politically non-initiate reader is the fact that last November’s Ivorian presidential election also had the palpable underpinnings of what may be aptly labeled as “Identity Politics,” a phenomenon that is partially a Franco-/Euro-colonial creation but largely indigenous and traditionally African. And here, the unmistable allusion has to do with cartography or political-landscaping, if you will, and the politics of paternity. And the latter may well have quite a lot to do with the fact of a Burkina Faso-based newspaper recently accusing Ghana’s President John Evans Atta-Mills of supposedly being staunchly behind Mr. Gbagbo’s apparent intransigence.

Mr. Ouattara, himself, appears to have played no small part in fostering such partisan impression. In recent weeks, for instance, forces loyal to the presumed winner of the November election have resorted to the rampant arrests of Ghanaians resident in the Ivory Coast, on grounds of suspicion of the arrestees being in the pay of President Gbagbo.

As hinted elsewhere and earlier on this subject, what those clamouring for Mr. Ouattara to assume reins of governance immediately fail to critically take into account, is the fact that while the presumed winner of the November election has comfortably set up office in Abidjan, the former Ivorian capital and a bona fide southern city and Mr. Gbagbo’s stronghold, albeit under undeniably stressful circumstances, for that matter, the latter would have an extremely difficult to a near-impossible time trying to set up quarters up-north.

In essence, what I am vehemently and critically suggesting here is that rather than swiftly and forcibly running Mr. Gbagbo out of town, as it were, the United Nations’ Security Council and its African Union coordinate (if, indeed, there is one) ought to be finding the means of constructively and organically unifying the country. This clearly appears to be what the Ivorian Constitutional Council was alluding to when it reportedly predicated its declaration of the winner of the November presidential election on what the Council termed as “serious voting irregularities in the north.”

In other words, what may be really at stake here is a conflict of geographical factions, far more than necessarily one of personalities. And it would not be totally out of the question to expect a reprise of hostilities culminating in the 2002 civil war, with or without official UN backing for Mr. Ouattara. What the preceding also means is that going into Election 2010, the proverbial deck of cards seemed to have been stacked against Mr. Gbagbo, be it fairly or unfairly so.

What is also constructively clear, as implicitly suggested by the Ivorian Constitutional Council, is that re-running the November election is likely to be far less costly, in both human and monetary terms, than insisting on the right of a dubious “International Community” to dictate who governs from Yamoussoukro.

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. 

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author of a forthcoming volume of poetry titled “The Obama Serenades.”