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The Desperate Search for Peace in Cote d’Ivoire: Exploring the Options? By Lambert Mbom.


In 1968, Pope Paul VI declared January 1 every year World Day of Peace. January 1, 2011 marked the 44th World Day of Peace, among the many dark spots on the world’s radar is the African country, Cote d’Ivoire. The political impasse witnessed in the wake of second round Presidential elections is as disconcerting as it is challenging. Even more so as the country inches gradually towards an all out war with both sides stuck to their guns.

I am no expert in Ivoirian politics and seek to proffer some generalities dabbling in a terrain I lack any formation in. I love Cote d’Ivoire if not the country, at least its music and soccer.

One would have imagined that Cote d’Ivoire has learnt its lessons with its tumultuous recent past marred and scarred by a bloody civil war. This does not seem to be the case.

The amount of literature on the Cote d’Ivoire debacle is spectacular and indicative of the high stakes. If you love African music, there is no way you would miss out the rhythmic “Couper Decaler” characterized by the constant movement of the wrists like a conductor and the accompanying butt protrusion.

African soccer would be incomplete without the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. They are a great force to reckon with in African soccer and even in the world arena. Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue are household names in African soccer with these individual talents scintillating and reigning in English premier soccer.

Economically, Cote d’Ivoire has a reputation for her leadership in exporting coffee and cocoa. The odds would be quite high if you are a consummate consumer of coffee that you have not tasted of the toasts from Cote d’Ivoire.

If you are Roman Catholic, must be thanking God for the magnificent basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro even if taxpayers were bilked of $300 million for its erection.

And we can go on and on. One thing, which is immediately evident, is that Cote d’Ivoire is an infinitely blessed and rich country. Socio-culturally its rich music and brilliant soccer team, economically its preponderance of resources to name but these. Yet, the one drawback casting a dent on its progress is its politics or better still lack of selfless leadership.

In the face of the seething crises deteriorating each day and gathering fuel for the Armageddon amidst desperate attempts at peacefully resolving the crises, worth examining are the different scenarios that could play out while there is still time.

One of the first options in such circumstances is often the formation of a coalition government. This seemed to have worked in Kenya and Zimbabwe in the recent past. Who will form the government in Cote d’Ivoire? Will Gbagbo be willing to play second fiddle now? This would have been a near ideal strategy to work things out and plan for better elections given the experience of the recent mirage. Gbagbo has already ruled out the possibility of such a coalition and both seem to be stuck on either their way or the high way. This scenario is quite unlikely. After all it has become a common ploy failed incumbents avail to stay in power.

Another scenario is for one of these “Presidents” to stand down. The question is, even if Gbagbo bows out, will the South allow the Northerner Ouattara to rule, lead and govern? Some reports make us believe that Gbagbo has the support of the military and the indigenes. He is in command of most of the national institutions or so it would appear. If Gbagbo departs voluntarily or worse still if forced from power, the prospects of a military coup d’etat to unseat Ouattara would be quite high.

And is this not the same prospects with the North which already before the elections has been a thorn in Gbagbo’s flesh having refused to disarm? Can Gbagbo sustain it through without the North and even more so without the international community? By the way, who is funding and militarizing the North?

The foregoing reveals one thing, namely: the crises in Cote D’Ivoire is a multilayered crisis and not just between Gbagbo and Ouattara. On one level, it is between the Muslim North and the Christian South; at another level, it is between an incumbent and the opposition; then between a purported nationalist and a puppet of Western imperialism with France given her voracious appetite for anything African championing this. It sure is a complex situation requiring tact and candor.

One of the complex layers is the false dichotomy in African politics in general especially during elections namely: the Scylla of nationalism and the Garybdis of Western Imperialism. Fifty years after gaining independence even if nominally, ten of which years Gbagbo had the reins of power, using nationalism or conversely whipping up anti-Western/European sentiments is simply a façade. The political architecture of the world has greatly changed and to think that Cote D’Ivoire will only now become truly independent is a pie in the sky. The West has grown off the backs of Africa. A strong sign of nationalism is shaking off the shackles of the foreign aid dependency syndrome and not merely sending the French off to bring in the Venezuelans. We live in an era of globalization and independence goes with interdependence.

It is myopic to concede to the platitude that Gbagbo is a nationalist; or to whitewash Ouattara as a puppet of western imperialism. A nerve edge neutrality balancing national interests in the complex web of international trade and agreements is crucial to any form of nationalism.

Yet another emerging scenario is the call for a recount of the votes. Recounting the votes may not be the solution given that there has been so much talk about irregularities and there are no limits to these. Rather than merely recount the votes, it may be worthwhile pursuing a re-run. Agreeably there are a number of issues to be sorted out based on the disputed election. Given the UN, AU, France and the US demonstrated interest in the crisis, it would not be too much to ask that these cough up the requisite dough to bankroll an election re-run.

The problem may not be with the money but with agreeing to conditions for the re-run. The confusion over the roles of the independent electoral commission and the constitutional council, the role of the UN and International observers would be issues demanding urgent consideration. This is also an unlikely option.

After ten years of enjoying Presidential power and privileges, why in the face of the enormous potential for harm, can Gbagbo not relinquish power? There is something “nicotinic” about power, which corrupts so absolutely.

It is on this puerile argument namely that Gbagbo has had his time in office that I would urge Gbagbo to be a man of valor and a man of honor. Give peace a chance by letting some other person taste the trappings of Presidential power.

Why would he want to go down the path of his predecessors like Charles Taylor et al? If the situation in Cote D’Ivoire spirals out of control and deteriorates, Gbagbo would stand to blame. Why cripple a burgeoning democracy and buoyant economy then spend the evening of your life facing trials for human rights violations and perpetuation of crimes against humanity?

Just as with Gbagbo, one may pose the same questions to Ouattara. Is it not greed and self-aggrandizement engineering this persistent desire to lead Cote D’Ivoire? There is no denying it that Ouattara has endured a lot and shown signs of fortitude and forbearance.

Yet if his primary motivation is service and the common weal, then in the face of the gathering nimbus clouds foreboding disaster, for the sake of this same greater good, peace should be given a chance. If you were driving down a boulevard in Bouake and found a car from the opposite direction driving towards you, would you stay on because you have right of way?

The last and least obvious scenario is to go beyond both Gbagbo and Ouattara. Does it not strike anyone as odd that these two politicians have dominated Ivoirian politics for too long? This may not be long enough as Presidential terms of many African dictators or even as long as their predecessor Boigny. Yet they have been on stage for long enough boringly and annoyingly disruptive of any meaningful development for this powerhouse. The time to put both aside is now.
One cannot help but ask if there isn’t any way of circumventing both Ouattara and Gbagbo? Can Cote d’Ivoire move forward without both candidates? If it were possible, platonic, as it may seem, this would appear an ideal situation.

Elections have not proven to be the magic wand to the woes plaguing this entity. And while there is still time, I recommend again these words of the trio Collectif Zouglou:liberez mon pays – Free my country. They are as relevant today as they were five years ago. These words must again be replayed to Gbagbo and Ouattara.

2 Responses

  1. It is disappointing, given all the information, and revelations from this crisis, that you have arrived at what pretty much amounts to a general scolding of all parties involved – with emphasis on Gbagbo.

    Every election is nuanced and complex; that in itself should not lead to impass, especially if there is a constitutional framework to address deadlock. It happended in the US with Bush Vs. Gore, and in France to some extent with Sarkozy Vs. Royale. The same framework is available and should be applied in Cote D’Ivoire.

    Too much fuss is being made about the “what” of the crisis, when we should really be paying more attention to the “why” of it. Why are there so many seamingly vested interests? And please don’t tell me it’s to avoid conflict.

    Your plea to give peace a chance sounds more like a wish to sweep this thing under the rug as quickly as possible. Whose peace are we talking about?

    • Kiymus,
      Thanks for your contribution. The kernel of my article was to go beyond the hyped and tainted rhetoric of the disputed elections. A lot of ink has been spewed on this and drums rolled out to play victory song for one or the other. In fact, I simply wanted to show that either way, be it Gbagbo or Ouattara, Cote d’Ivoire is going to be mired in problems for a while. Simply put, germane to a lasting solution to this impasse is the fact of issues beyond the persons incarnating these. Every democracy even the most advanced democracy is work in progress.
      I agree that there cannot be peace without justice. Whose peace? Sure, it is peace for the Ivoirians by the Ivoirians and with the Ivoirians not in spite of them.

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