By OWEI LAKEMFA
THERE are five basic facts in the political tragedy of Cote d’Voire. These explain the origins, reasons and possible solution to the crisis which today has captured world attention.
The first fact which explains Laurent Gbagbo’s intransigence in the face of world-wide condemnation is that although he is a Professor of History, he is essentially a bully and a thug.
The Ivorian issue seems simple: an election was conducted on November 28, 2010 and Gbagbo’s rival, Alassane Quattara scored over 54 percent of the votes. Rather than allow the Electoral Commission to announce the results, Gbagbo’s representative, in the mould of his boss, snatched the result sheets and tore them.
When another copy was procured and the results were announced, the thuggish president got the Constitutional Court to announce a different set of results which proclaimed him president. Amidst the chaos and violence that resulted, he swore himself in for another five years of unproductive and divisive leadership. Only a thug with no culture can be so brazen, uncaring and unfeeling.
The result is that the country is in chaos, there are food shortages and people are fleeing. The true winner of the election, Qattara has logically been sworn in and formed a cabinet which means there are two presidents in the country.
The United Nations (UN) with over ten thousand troops in the country is backing Quattara and providing him security. The basis of the UN action is simple: As a body on the ground it witnessed the elections. Its envoy in Cote d’Voire, Choi Young-jin, declared openly that: “There was only one winner with a clear margin”.
But Gbagbo is not bothered about this nor is he moved by American President Barack Obama’s admonition that he abides by the results and steps aside. Obama’s threat of sanctions, and indeed similar ones by the European Union, World Bank and African Development Bank did not move Gbagbo .
The fact that his fellow Heads of State in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have gone on to recognise Quattara’s government won’t move him either. He sees all these as interference in his country’s internal affairs
The second fact is that Gbagbo is a spoilt brat whom the world has tolerated for a decade, according him recognition and respect as the president of Cote d’ Voire. This is despite the fact that he never won any election and his body language has always indicated that he does not want elections, and does not care about the sovereignty of the Ivorian people. He, like the late ‘Butcher-in-Chief’ of Kinshasa, General Joseph Mobutu Seseseko, would kill in order to perpetuate himself in power.
Gbagbo became president by accident; the two major contenders for the Ivorian presidency were Henri Konan Bedie who had succeeded founding president Felix Houphouet Boigny, and Quattra who was the latter’s Prime Minister. But afraid he would lose in a free contest, Bedie decided to disqualify Quattara on the false claim that his rival is a “foreigner”.
In the chaos and lack of effective governance that followed, a retired Chief of Army Staff, General Robert Guei overthrew Bedie on Christmas eve in 1999. On October 22, 2000, Guei called fraudulent elections which excluded aspirants like Quattara.
The general consensus was that the army should depart rather than try to transform itself into a civilian government. So all candidates decided to boycott the elections in order not to confer legitimacy on it. But Gbagbo broke ranks and contested. In the official results, Guei was pronounced winner having secured 59.4 percent of the votes.
However, Gbagbo alleged the elections were rigged, and easily mobilised the populace which was fed up with military rule, to revolt. This forced Guei to flee the capital and Gbagbo on October 26, 2000 declared himself the president.
When the polity cooled down, he refused to call elections, and rather than pressure him to do so, the international community tolerated this rape of democratic principles; unwittingly, it nurtured and created the monster Gbagbo has grown into.
The unsettled political crisis led to a mutiny on September 19,2002; the mutinous soldiers could not secure the capital, Abidjan but seized other cities like Bouake in the central part and Korhogo in the north, effectively cutting the country into two halves; the government-controlled south and the rebel-held north. Soon, civil war broke out along those lines.
Meanwhile, Gbagbo had used the excuse of the mutiny to go after his predecessor, General Guei who was shot dead along with his wife. The international community condoned such brazen murders and until today, the execution of the Gueis has not been investigated.
Following a peace deal, there were prospects for peace, but in 2004 after the rebels refused to disarm, Gbagbo ordered airstrikes against them during which nine peacekeeping French soldiers were killed. He claimed the attacks on the French soldiers was a mistake, but the French which had come to understand the Gbagbo psyche argued that the peacekeepers were deliberately targeted, and in retaliation, destroyed most of the Ivorian military aircraft.
Gbagbo supporters in a reaction, attacked French civilians in Abidjan.
Mercifully, Gbagbo’s self declared five–year mandate expired on October 30,2005 but citing security concerns, he refused to hold elections. At first, the UN extended his stay by a total two years before insisting on elections which Gbagbo lost.
The third fact is that Gbagbo has built on the Boigny one party mentality and the tradition of a domineering, strong leader to whom all, including the electorate must bow. The fourth is that Quattara has since the Bedie period been denied his right to the presidency of his country through the ballot box. So an issue of social justice is involved.
The fifth fact is that the Ivorian society has not fully evolved into one country; the elites for selfish political gains continue to emphasise ethnic differences with some citizens like Quattara being portrayed as foreigners who must not be allowed to preside even if the electorate so decides. As for Gbagbo, he will come to some grief.