—An Analysis by Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
Steps Toward Solving the Problem
Clipping Gbagbo’s wings should be done in a decisive manner to get him out of the way for a new crop of politicians to rule the country with “fresh” ideas. After nearly 10 years on the seat, Gbagbo can’t claim to have solved the systemic problems that continue to hinder the Ivory Coast’s development efforts. What again does he think he has to enable him to tackle those problems?
For obvious reasons, the military option will not solve the problem: needless heightening of the tension in the country; loss of innocent lives and a disruption of social and economic activities; the likelihood of a spilling over of the Ivoirian crisis to the entire West-African Sub-Region (we already have too many crisis situations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, etc. to contend with and shouldn’t worsen the situation through force of arms); problems associated with restoring stability after the military action (the invading troops cannot remain in the Ivory Coast forever; and what happens when they withdraw?); destabilization of social structure and fear of prolonged ethnic conflicts; and many more negative effects, which rule out the military option.
Attempts at using diplomacy seem to be yielding very little because of Gbagbo’s intransigence and Ouattara’s overt moves to divest Gbagbo of power—he has already imposed a one-month ban on export of the country’s main export, cocoa). These rivals are flexing their muscles and proving how volatile their asymmetrical power relationship is.
Even though the ECOWAS, African Union, and the UN as well as the international community appear to recognize Ouattara as the legitimate President-elect, indications are not clear what exactly they can do to settle him in office while the intransigent Gbagbo continues to flex his muscles. Gbagbo enjoys the backing of the military and segments of the population who have bought into the ethnic (non-Ivoirian citizen) propaganda against Ouattara.
In attempting to resolve this crisis, the key players should steer clear of cosmetic solutions that may seem to placate the feuding factions but not be all-encompassing enough to stem any major explosion in future. Any recourse to cosmetic solutions will only load more TNT to the existing time-bombs in preparation for a more devastating impact in future when tempers flare up again.
Gbagbo is a clear demonstration of the dishonesty that is synonymous with African politics. I have insisted several times that not until mechanisms are put in place to streamline strategies for governance, this kind of flim-flammery in national politics will continue to blight our hope for progress.
Our leaders have deceived themselves into thinking that they are the only people who should call the shots and be obeyed without question. They plant themselves in office and corrupt everybody who is willing to be a sycophant to do their dirty work for them. While they create opportunities to fleece the national coffers for personal comfort, the mass of the people slide fast into destitution. This deplorable attitude to politics must not be countenanced. That’s why Gbagbo has to be strangled out of reckoning by all the diplomatic means available.
Already, the sanctions imposed on him and those sycophants singing his praises seem to be working. At least, Gbagbo hasn’t stepped out of Abidjan since the sanctions were announced. Those sanctions that will be targeted at only him and his prominent backers should be imposed to prevent any unfortunate backlash on the poor citizens. More punitive measures should be looked for and unleashed on them. Eventually, when Gbagbo is denied any leeway to cling on to power, he will leave the scene in disgrace. Nothing can be more beneficial than the united front that the UN, African Union, and ECOWAS must present in the diplomatic strangulation of Gbagbo.
It is not too late to identify the sources of succour for his administration and to tighten the screws on them. His assets anywhere in the world must be identified and frozen. Starving him of the funds he needs to placate those supporting him will eventually clip his wings and bring him down to his knees. I hesitate to suggest all-encompassing economic sanctions to be imposed on the country because of the heavy backlash on the innocent and already-impoverished Ivoirian population.
The sanctions must be narrowed and properly targeted at Gbagbo and his cohorts to feel the pinch. Then, they will recant and leave the scene. It is difficult to separate the politician from his assets. Where his assets are, there his heart is; and this move to freeze his assets should scare him stiff.
This Ivoirian crisis is an African problem that must be solved by Africans playing the frontline role. For far too long, we have made ourselves the butt of scorn in world affairs. Let’s use Gbagbo to set a good example of what we can do to clean our own political stables. After all, he has already brought himself to the slaughter house and must not be spared. Such a liability to our democratic experiment must not be pampered lest he causes havoc.
We must remind ourselves of the danger that lies ahead. If all suasion fails to resolve the crisis, the Ivory Coast will remain divided between the rebels who control the North (and the electorate there supporting Ouattara) and the South, where Gbagbo and his Christian or animist supporters reside. Then, Ouattara may head North to lead that segment and operate from Bouake as the capital town while Gbagbo sticks to the South and manages affairs from his headquarters in Abidjan. Is that what those opposed to a Ouattara Presidency are gunning for? What a tragedy that will be!
Arrangements for the Future
This electoral dispute is one of those troubling developments in African politics that we see again and again. A bad thing waiting for a worse thing to happen. A terrible mishap, but one that must be solved sooner than later.
Certainly, the current problems in the Ivory Coast lie beyond the infantile criticism of Ouattara as a non-Ivoirian. The country’s electoral framework itself is fraught with corruption and unreliable mechanisms that will make it very difficult for any election to be held impartially and the results accepted as a true reflection of the people’s will.
The cumbersome approach toward endorsing the winner of the Presidential election from two main angles is the root cause of the problem. In all countries, there is an Electoral Commission (whether called “Independent” or not) that oversees elections and whose voice is regarded as final even though room is created for recourse to the law courts to resolve disputes. In the Ivory Coast, the situation is not so.
As is evident from the debacle, we have the Electoral Commission (which is ostensibly in charge of the elections) and a Constitutional Council (whose function is to certify and announce results). This needless complication and duplication of functions is a ploy by someone in authority (Gbagbo) to play mischief. What is it about the Electoral Commission that warrants its being divested of the legitimate function of certifying and announcing election results?
Knowing very well that he has loyalists in the Constitutional Court, Gbagbo sought to use underhand technicalities to retain himself in power. Thus, the move by the Constitutional Council to override the verdict of the Electoral Commission, which has created this tragedy of two rival Presidents for a unitary state. This attempt at hijacking the elections to favour Gbagbo is the bane of the country’s democratic experiment, and no one should endorse this illegality.
When sanity returns to the country, after all, the country’s electoral system must be cleaned to forestall electoral disputes of the magnitude that is currently tearing the country apart. Anything short of that will make it difficult for a smooth transition of power from one leader to the next, and put us all on needless tenterhooks—as we are currently experiencing. The Ivory Coast deserves better than what Gbagbo is giving it. That must be the watchword for the AU as it seeks to resolve the crisis.