By Owei Lakemfa
ALASSANE Dramane Ouattara, the 78-year-old, Burkinabe-born President of Cote d’Ivoire is primed to set his country on fire this October as he purses an unconstitutional third term. He was imposed as President in 2010 by French bayonets for a renewable five-year term which expires this year.
To be fair to Ouattara, he had announced, in accordance with the constitution, he would not run. That is because France which usually packages the leadership of the country, had found a successor in Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly.
But man proposes, and God disposes; the anointed Coulibaly died of a heart attack in July and the succession plans were thrown into disarray. The bosses in Paris seem to have instructed their Ivorian man to damn the constitution, forget his plans of leaving and run for the October 31 elections.
Ouattara argued Coulibaly’s death had left a void so he was declaring “a case of force majeure”. In other words, that the death has rendered the constitutional two-term restriction a nullity and made him eligible to run for the Presidency.
I had the opportunity in 2014 of listening to President Ouattara in Marrakesh, Morocco at the Economic Commission of Africa, ECA, conference for Africa. I came away with a solidification of my position that this International Monetary Fund, IMF, economist, is a mere megaphone of Western European interest and a disaster for Africa.
On that occasion, Ouattara’s show of leading African leaders like President Macky Sall of Senegal who shared the platform with him, and pretence of being an elder African statesman, fell on its face. He was a pathetic lackey of France and some of us at the conference could see through him.
Ouattara’s decision to run may turn the elections bloody as they did in 2010 when some 3,000 persons were killed in post-election violence. That election had pitted then President Laurent Gbagbo with Ouattara. Foreign troops had moved in to seize President Gbagbo and his wife, Simone. She was tried in the country and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and their son, Michel, to five years.
Gbagbo was flown out, detained for five years before being brought to the International Criminal Court, ICC, in the Hague on January 28, 2016. He was tried under bogus charges of committing crimes against humanity, including alleged murder. The ICC is not the court of first instance, but the international powers overlooked this and forced the court to try Gbagbo. But the charges could not stick and Gbagbo was released.
However, in order to ensure Ouattara had no serious challenge to his neo-colonial leadership, the Europeans conspired to ensure that the popular Gbagbo is not allowed to return to Cote d’Ivoire. Even as the October elections approach, Gbagbo is barred from returning home.
This leaves 86-year-old former President Henri Bedie as the main opposition figure. Other candidates are exiled former rebel leader, Guillaume Soro; ex-Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan; former Education, Minister Albert Toikeusse Mabri and ex-Foreign Minister, Marcel Amon-Tanoh. Ouattara claims his candidacy is based on a 2016 constitution review which removes the two-term limit. But Article 183 of that review states clearly that that the legislation currently in force remains applicable. Which means, the review is not retroactive.
France has historically used Cote d’Ivoire as a bastion of reaction against progressive forces in Africa, a culture which Ouattara has continued, and for which he is being asked to violate the Ivorian constitution.
This ignoble role started in colonial times when the French groomed Felix Houphouet-Boigny as its Man-Friday on the continent. When in the 1950s there were universal agitations for independence in the colonies, he led French-speaking West African countries to vote for so-called ‘self-government’ under French rule rather than independence. In that September 28, 1958 referendum, only Guinea, led by Sekou Toure, voted for independence.
Even after independence, Houphouet-Boigny led those countries to accept the perpetuation of French indirect rule, including paying their foreign exchange to the French Central Bank. The French until today, milks a minimum $500 million annually from these underdeveloped countries. He was Ivorian President for 33 years from 1960. Only death separated him from the country’s Presidency.
As Cote d’Ivoire President, Houphouet-Boigny aided the 1966 overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana for running a government independent of the former colonial masters and trying to make Africa independent. He helped facilitate the 1977 attempted coup against President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin Republic who had rejected French domination and dictation. He is also suspected of involvement in the 1987 overthrow and murder of radical Burkinabe President, Thomas Sankara.
While Africa stood with the Angolan people led by the MPLA for the independence of Angola, Houphouet-Boigny supported and provided assistance for the Apartheid-backed UNITA that wanted a subservient Angola. As part of his loyalty to France, until 1983, he refused to recognise the socialist Chinese government.
Houphouet-Boigny was succeded by Henri Konan Bedie whom the French did not find particularly pliable. They preferred Alassane Ouattara. But the latter was disqualified over citizenship matters. This led to the 1999 military coup by General Robert Guei. The historian, Laurent Gbabgo, was courageous enough to stand in the 2000 elections against General Guei. The latter claimed victory, but a popular uprising swept him away and swept in Gbagbo as President.
The Supreme Court subsequently disqualified Ouattara from elections on account of his father being Burkinabe. Civil War ensued with rebels establishing a new capital in Bouake, a northern city. The French which preferred its stooge, sided with the rebels. It attacked the Ivorian army and in 2003, destroyed that country’s military air fleet.
Following a March 4, 2007 peace accord, new elections were held in November 2010. In the disputes that followed, French and United Nations troops invaded the Presidential Palace and abducted Gbabgbo. He was detained in Europe for five years, then tried in the ICC for three years but found innocent on January 15, 2019.
However, France which has invested so much in Ouattara would not allow the anti-imperialist Gbagbo return home. Despite that, it is not certain its stooges will win the October vote, so it is re-running Ouattara as a sure bet. Rather than allow Ivorians freely elect leaders of their choice, the French and their Western allies are insistent on maintaining Ouattara even as an unconstitutional President. As for the latter, he prefers to remain in power until his French overlords get tired of him or death parts him from the Ivorian Presidency.
For the sake of Cote d’Ivoire and Africa, this is the time for the African Union, AU, to step in on the side of constitutionality and social justice. This will help stabilise the country and save it from renewed bloodshed.