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IVORY COAST: State of Denial and Denial of Justice

IDEA Viewpoint

Ghelawdewos Araia

April 1, 2011

Ivory coast, which is now officially known as Cote d� Ivoire (the French version of the country�s name), was once considered as one bright spot among the newly independent nations of Africa in the 1960s. However, the �beacon of hope� image attributed to Ivory Coast was more of myth than reality; that image was entrusted upon this West African country (along with Kenya in East Africa) only because the country adopted an open-door capitalist policy of development. Ironically, however, the country did not adopt a liberal pluralist political system, and on the contrary it was governed by a mono-party system. What the world, and in particular the West appreciated then is the fact that Ivory Coast embraced the market economy but not the potential curse of a one-party rule, whose legacy now clearly afflicted the Ivorian larger society and has in fact a deleterious effect on the peace, stability, and development programs and projects of the nation.

There is no doubt that Ivory Coast was known for its Cocoa production and was a prosperous country relative to its neighbors in West Africa, and in the late 1970s (like many African countries) exhibited propensity toward democratic governance and boosted its constitution by allowing greater freedom in democratic elections, but because there was lack of genuine pluralism, transparency, and accountability (unlike Botswana, for instance) the country degenerated into dictatorship and backwardness in the 1980s and 1990s.

When Ivory Coast gained independence on august 7, 1960, its first president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a former labor leader, was perceived not only as unifying figure but also as political strategist who could design plural democracy for Ivory Coast. On the contrary, he became a dictator and would not allow free elections until after his three-decade rule. In 1990 political parties that were prohibited from participating in elections were given a chance to come aboard contestation, and in this election the contending parties were the Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI) of Houphouet Boigny, Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of Laurent Gbagbo, and other smaller parties. The PDCI, it was officially reported, won 163 seats out of total 175 parliamentary seats, or 82% of the votes against the FPI.

Although the PDCI and Boigny continue to dominate the Ivorian political landscape in the early 1990s, some important constitutional amendments were made nonetheless: The speaker of the house would assume the post of the presidency in the event there is going to be political vacuum; a new cabinet position of the prime minister was also instituted, and in fact by the latter amendment Allassane Quattara became the first Prime Minister of Ivory Coast.

The amendments to the constitution, however, were not sufficient enough to meet the desire and demands of the people of Ivory Coast, and as a result in February of 1992, the FPI of Laurent Gbagbo in collaboration with other Ivorian opposition parties, including the Ivorian Workers Party (PIT) and the Ivorian Human Rights League organized a mass demonstration. Unfortunately, the demonstration turned into a riot and this was unforeseen bonus for the government, because it began to unleash crackdown on the opposition including convicting and jailing the prominent opposition leaders such as Gbagbo and Degny Segui of the Human Rights League. The demonstration-turned-riot melodrama worked out well for the government and the unforeseen consequence led to the withdrawal of Gbagbo�s people from the parliament.

Once the government broke the stamina of the opposition, the fight in the arena was limited to Bedie and Quattara, and the latter lost in the power struggle with the former in 1994. Pessimism and despondency reigned supreme among the Ivorians and like other Africans they knew then, as now, that in most African nations elections are phony and are characterized by theatrical propaganda to hoodwink the people and impress the donor nations, and sometimes it is not without reason that Africans invoke the ontological forces so that they can intervene on their behalf. For the people of Ivory Coast, the �higher order� indeed intervened in the post October 1990 election; the octogenarian Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993.

In the October 1995 election, the contending political personalities were Henri Konan Bedie and Allassane Quattara; the latter was a formidable challenger, but Konan Bedie and his associates, who belong to the PDCI, connived and conspired against Quattara. They came up with a lame excuse in an effort to systematically eject the Quattara forces from the election: they banned Quattara from running for office after they fashioned a new law that denies citizens whose parents were not born in Ivory coast. Quite obviously, thus, Quattara was forced to boycott the election and Konan Bedie became the second president of Ivory Coast after Houpouet-Boigny.   

However, it was not easy for Bedie to govern Ivory Coast because the dissatisfied predominantly Muslim North, the home of Quattara, rebelled and for the most part it was unruly, very much like what is going on today. In this context, one can say with caution and at the risk of obfuscating dialectic reasoning, history has indeed repeated itself in Ivory Coast. In fact, it is against the above backdrop that we must now critically examine the present political stalemate in Ivory Coast.

The standoff is between Allassane Quattara who won the November 2010 election and Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent who clearly lost in the election but wants to cling to power ad infinitum as most tyrants across the board in Africa do. Deep in his heart, Gbagbo knows that Quattara is the winner, but he is in a state of denial and as a result he would be the catalyst for the denial of justice in Ivory Coast.

The Ivorians, other Africans, and the international community know very well that Allassane Quattara is the winner, and as such he should be the legitimate president of his country. It is for this apparent reason that the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the United Nations, and the United States extended support to Quattara and recognized him as the new president of Ivory Coast. In point of fact, because Quattara is the winner in the presidential election of 2010 and because he got the support of the people of Ivory Coast and the international community, he formed the new government within the premises of the hotel he is staying in; a hotel that has now become a refuge for a political refugee. Gbagbo, by the same token, but in defiance to the will of the Ivorians, democratic principles, and the parameters of the constitution, appointed his own cabinet and is determined to stay in power.

While the dual governments of Ivory Coast are at loggerheads and civil strife continues unabated, Ivorian politics akin to the proverbial fighting elephants that destroy the grass beneath them, will destabilize Ivory Coast further and the people will pay the ultimate price. In fact, the people are already paying the price; thousands have been killed and millions were forced to flee their homes. In the meantime the UN peacekeeping forces are securing the Quattara political enclave, and the mandate that was already extended by the Security Council till June 2011, could further be extended in light of the worsening and deteriorating situation in Ivory Coast.

The standoff has already turned into a civil strife or more specifically a fight between the Quattara and the Gbagbo forces and it is highly probable that Ivory Coast could plunge into an intensified civil war as in 2002. It is unfortunate that the two contending leaders are unable to negotiate peacefully and save their country from a deadly peril; it is also equally unfortunate that ECOWAS was unable to mitigate the dangerous situation in Ivory Coast and the AU was unable to come up with a viable solution. These two African organizations, one regional and the other continental are caught off guard because the leaders in their respective nation-states (with very few exception) are confronted by similar political phenomena that has now engulfed Ivory Coast. They couldn�t come up with a solution because, after all, they have not solved their homegrown problems that are manifestations of undemocratic governances. A significant number of African leaders are either in a state of denial or they are paranoid and under their reign, justice has been denied and has in fact become a distant prospect for African societies.

Ultimately, thus the solution must come from the people of Ivory Coast themselves. Both Quattara and Gbagbo are learned men; the former, by virtue of his banking experience was an International Monetary Fund official, and the latter was a university professor, and they must be able to sit down and talk for the sake of their country and their people. They can share power and form a coalition government, or Gbagbo must be persuaded to exit peacefully and Quattara must show some fortitude to accommodate his erstwhile foe. This is done by sophisticated people who understand the complexity of politics and who also prioritize the security and stability of their country, and above all the welfare of their people. Otherwise, the state of denial in one and the unwillingness of compromise on the other may subsequently deny justice to the people of Ivory Cost for a long period of time. 

All Rights Reserved. � Copyright IDEA, Inc. 2011. Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for educational and constructive feedback via dr.garaia@africanidea.org