Dec 07


Tuesday December 07, 2010
By Cameron Duodu

To many Ghanaians, Cote d’Ivoire is a second natural home. I am one of these Ghanaiana, for it is the only country in the world I know where I can step into a taxi and be able, straight-away, to speak to the driver in my own tongue. 150 years of colonial boundaries mean little, I found out there.

It is the only place where, after I have checked into my room in a hotel, the first song I hear on the hotel radio is a popular Ghanaian hi-life.

More important, once when my little 8-year-old son was separated momentarily from the rest of the family during a shopping spree in Abidjan, and found himself lost, he was able to take a taxi to where the family’s host worked — a huge international bank– and get him to come down, while the taxi driver waited patiently! Not a hair on his young head was harmed, and he did it all without being able to speak a word of French.

I’ve often wondered, in retrospective terror, how the taxi driver had the goodness of heart not to worry about getting paid?

That was the wonderful country that Cote d’Ivoire that was. Its people were generally friendly and open; and its ability to attract tourists was unbeatable.

Once, Air Afrique, the much-lamented African route-master, invited me to be its guest. Camped at the Hotel Ivoire, we went to a new tourist attraction each day.

The one I most vividly remember is the “adults-only” beach resort at Assouinde, where a hotel called Jardin d’Eden provides everything that one can imagine being offered in the real Garden of Eden. Good surfing, tasty prawns skewered in the shell, cold beer — it was indeed heaven.

But Cote d’Ivoire was living on borrowed time. By the time its first President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, died in December 1993, he had ruled for over 40 years. One of his fiercest opponents was a college lecturer called Laurent Gbagbo, who stubbornly defied Houphouet, endured persecution and bravely stood against Houphouet in the first multi-party elections held in 1990.

This doggedness endeared Gbagbo to those who aspired to live under a democracy in Cote d’Ivoire. Houphouet-Boigny died at the age of 85 in December 1993, and Gbagbo watched with interest as Houphouet’s party, the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI) tore itself apart in a succession race. It was the former finance minister and substantive chairman of the National Assembly, Henri Konan Bedie, who emerged on top.

Among Houphouet’s appointees who lost out to Bedie was Alassane Dramane Ouattara, whom Houphouet had appointed prime minister after plucking him back home from the IMF (where Outtara was a deputy managing director) to put him in charge of the [Central] Bank of West Africa, before appointing him prime minister.

Bedie, however, soon began to dig his own political grave.

He embarked upon a policy of “Ivoirite”, which was plainly tribalistic. The policy sought to deprive people who were born in, and had lived in Cote d’Ivoire, but who had one or two parents born in a neighboring country, such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal or Niger — the neighboring countries that Frnce had once knit together into a federation with Cote d’Ivoire — of their Ivorian citizenship.

It was an unjust policy, for apart from the fact that most of the people affected did not know their “ancestral” homes too well, it also negated the contribution they had made to the wealth of Cote d’Ivoire, mainly with their labour on cocoa and coffee farms, saw-mills and timber-yards.

The absurdity of the policy was amply demonstrated when Ouattara, who had been deemed fit enough to be appointed Prime Minister, was told, in July 1999, that he was a “foreigner” (from Burkina Faso) and therefore the electoral code did not allow him to participate in the coming presidential election.

The absurd and cruel nature of Ivoirite that cooked Bedie’s political goose, for there were many soldiers, artisans, technicians, teachers and civil servants who found their civil rights nullified overnight in the country of their birth. In December 1999, a group of soldiers toppled Bedie. They appointed General Robert Guei, who, they believed, was in sympathy with their sentiments, to be president. Guei was supposed to organise free elections and hand over power to whoever won.

But Guei had also been bitten by the xenophobic bug, and prevented Ouattara from contesting. however, he allowed Gbagbo to contest, believing that he could rig the election nd frighten Gbgbo off.

Guei duly announced that he hd won. But the Ivorian electorate were having none of it, and taking to the streets in their thousands, chased Guei out of power.

Gbagbo became President. Everyone heaved a sight of relief, hoping that Gbagbo, who had been in opposition for so long, would rule as a genuine democrat, treat other opposition leaders with respect and organise free and fair elections in which the Ivorian people’s voice would truly carry the day..

But instead, Gbagbo largely resurrected the selfsame foul ethnocentric policies that had brought Bedie and Guei to grief. He was eventually forced to enter a series of bizarre alliances of convenience with Ouattara, which always seemed built on sand. Eventually, the pretence at co-operation between the two men was torn away, and they launched a full armed conflict against each other in 2002.

Cote d’Ivoire was split in two: Gbagbo and his acolytes reigned in Abidjan, in the south, while Ouattara’s supporters, calling themselves “The New Forces”, held sway in the northern with their capital at Bouake.

Africans, French and other world leaders tried to mediate and reunite the country. At each negotiated “agreement”, Gbagbo did not hide the fact that he wanted to have the upper hand, or nothing. Ouattara indulged him, waiting for the definitive election that would expose Gbagbo as a regional, not a national leader.

The current crisis was caused by Gbagbo, after postponing the all-important presidential election year after year, finally agreeing to hold the election in November 2010. But those who had eyes to see could have observed that before the election, there was much trouble over the “identity cards” that were to be used in registering voters. Reason? To try and prevent “foreigners” from voting! “Déjà vu-deja vu” was how one wit described described the situation.

But worse, while giving in on the identity card issue, Gbagbo cleverly “booby-trapped” the election-result announcement mechanism beforehand. Somehow, he had got the UN and everyone else involved in organizing the election to take their eyes off the ball, while he inserted a harmless-looking provision in the electoral regulations, stipulating that after the Independent Electoral Commission had collated the results, they would be passed on to the Constitutional Court, which would “certify” them. A mere formality, right?

Wrong! Whereas the Independent Electoral Commission announced that in the decisive second round of the presidential election, Ouattara had obtained over 54% and Gbagbo, less than 45%, and so OPuattara had won, the Constitutional Court said some of the votes cast for Ouattara in the northern part of the country were “invalid“ and that when these “onvalid” votes were taken out of the total number of votes cast, Gbagbo got 51% of the votes! So it was Gbagbo who had won.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission was denied access to national radio and television. Indeed, Gbgbo, acting with “malice aforethought”, shut down almost all the media in the country. He also closed the country’s borders.

Gbagbo next swore himself in as President. Ouattra too got himself sworn in as President. The spectre of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Togo — where similar podt-election debacles had occurred — beckoned to Cote d’Ivoire.

What has happened is a clear case of an incumbent using the apparatus o the state to steal an election, while the international players — the UN, the AU and ECOWAS, as well as France, the US and the European Union — all watch in disbelief and call unanimously on Gbagbo to show statesmanship and stand down after losing the election.

But will they unite in imposing measures that will make Gbagbo give up his silly attempt to steal the election or just go for the usual pious appeals that are ignored as soon as they are made?

I find it troubling that the UN in particular (which has 9,000 soldiers in Cote d‘Ivoire) and the other actors in this bizarre Ivorian business, could not have gathered enough intelligence on the ground to detect Gbagbo’s intentions beforehand and have allowed him to reach a position where he may succeed in stealing the election.

If they had had an idea of what he was planning — and they should have — they could have checkmated him before he could bring the country once more to the brink of civil war.

For instance: what did they think the enormous brouhaha over the identity cards was all about? Answer (in case they still don’t get it: to deprive Ouattara’s supporters of the right top vote. Why would Gbagbo want to do that? Answer: Because he knows the demographic profile o Cote d’Ivoire very well, and it accords Ouattara am inbuilt majority of votes, if voters go by their ethnicity. And Gbagbo had not scrupled to use the ethnic card, hadn’t he? Doesn’t it cut both ways?

When the results were being delayed, what did the international observers think was happening?

When an Electoral Commission official was physically prevented from announcing one set of results, by the simple act of a Gbagbo supporter whipping the papers out of his hands and tearing them to pieces in full view of the media and the public — what did that portend or signify?

It is not good enough for officials entrusted with
ensuring that elections are carried out peacefully in a volatile situation — such as the Ivorian one — to take the “good faith” of the main actors, especially the incumbent government, for granted.

Any blood that is shed — and God forfend none is shed — will be upon the heads of many bureaucrats who saw and heard Gbagbo, but were fooled by his smile, without being able to penetrate into his psyche to get the true meaning of why he smiles so much.

Now, the human fire-extinguishers are all making a beeline for Cote d’Ivoire. The most high profile of them is ex-President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. He has experience of the ways of the Ivorian actors, for he managed to get an agreement between Gbagbo and the “New Forces” to come into operation in 2004.

However, the ink was hardly dry on it when it began to fall apart. So it will be a miracle if Mbeki can find a way through the current impasse and give Cote d’Ivoire another chance for peace. The regional body, ECOWAS is also putting in itys oar. Bit is notoriously fond o brokering power-sharing arrangements, whereas Africa is now ripe for mature politics, which means someone must lose so that another one may win. That is the rule in democratic politics and those who can’t accept it must leave the field. Does Gbagbo think America’s racist groups were enamoured of Barack Obama’s victory in 2008? They were not, but they remembered the civil war their country had once fought, and got the message that it was accept Obama rule or go to the barricades. Gbagbo has imbibed enough politics from his friends in the “Socialist International” not to comprehend this, and he must be made a pariah in the world unless he respects the votes of his countrymen and steps dwon.

It is so sad that one man’s insatiable lust for power has been allowed to summon the vultures of civil war to come and hover over Cote d’Ivoire once again — hungry as ever, for the flesh of our fellow African brothers and sisters. Africa must unite to deny these vultures the usual diet that the greed and stupidity of some African politicians so often lays out for the vultures to feast upon.


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