CSMS Magazine Staff Writer
Once the Pearl of Western Africa, Cote d’Ivoire now finds itself into the pariah of nations as the country is struggling to recover from the manipulative rule of Laurent Gbagbo, a modern day Sub Saharan Machiavelli, who has been in power since October of 2000 following a popular uprising that forced newly elected Robert Guéï from power. Then Gbagbo, who was a candidate in the presidential election (1999-2000), claimed to have won an outright 59 % of the vote but denied the presidency in favor of Guei who was tied to the old regime of Félix Houphouët-Boigny through Boigny’s hand-picked successor Henri Konan Bédié. (Ouattara left and Gbagbo right in the picture)
Yesterday, the streets of Abidjan were the scene of violent confrontations between security forces loyal to Gbagbo and demonstrators—supporters of the declared winner of the last month presidential election, 69 year old, Alassane Ouattara. The Independent Electoral Commission released the results which were certified by UN representatives and other international bodies, like the Pan African Union. The outcome showed Alassane Ouattara as the winner with 54.1% of the poll against 45.9% for Laurent Gbagbo. Those results were quickly overturned by the Constitutional Court of Cote d’Ivoire, loyal to Gbagbo, which through tainted ballots declared and certified Laurent Gbagbo as Winner with 51% of the admitted Votes against 48.5% for Alassane Ouattara.
Laurent Gbagbo has systematically refused to listen to countless pleas to accept the results and step aside, which would have given him an honorary exit. Instead, he went on a grandiose inauguration, inviting his chief clan and of course the head of the Constitutional Court appointed by Gbagbo himself. He was invested President of Cote D’Ivoire for another term on December 4, 2010.
Alassane Ouattara, who had been barricaded himself behind the barbwires of The United Nations troops stationed in the country since the brokered peace agreement that ended the civil war in 2007, equally sworn in that day in a heavily fortified hotel near downtown Abidjan. Guillaume Soro, the former Prime Minister, who represented the northern rebel faction in the Gagbo government, submitted his resignation to Ouattara, but he was immediately redirected to his post to create a new government.
Gbagbo, who finds himself increasingly isolated, is resorting to the old logic that politic is based on the reality on the group, and that the most powerful wins. So, he has been creating facts on the ground in order to make his presidency a fait accompli. Sadly or ironically enough, Gbagbo finds himself fighting against the same tactic he used in 2000 to leap into power.
Since coming into power, Gbagbo’s strategy has been to rule and rule with the tiniest opposition. To that end, he established a system of kinship and cronyism through which he has always been able to extend his regime time after time, until now. Gbagbo has earned the reputation of being a shrewd politician by his friends and a psychopath by his foes. Like most countries of Sub Saharan Africa, Cote d’Ivoire is a multiethnic/multilingual society. Through the years, politicians have been able to pit one ethnic group against another for their own political interests—lesson they learned well from France, the former colonial master. Gbagbo’s parentage system has been so sophisticated that even his opponents agreed that Gbagbo would not have allowed the election to take place if he knew that he were not going to win. Since 2005, he had postponed the election 6 times, citing insecurity.
Gbagbo’s main opponent, Alassane Ouattara, is no newcomer either. He has been in the political scene since the rein of Houphouet Boigny for which he once served as Prime Minister. He is also a former International Monetary Fund (IMF), also well known in the international community. Ouattara was barred from participating in the 2000 election, citing that he was the son of foreigners, for he was from the North—predominantly Muslim with a sizable immigrant population noticeably from Burkina Faso. The Electoral Commission never came back to its senses despite the fact Ouattara presented tangible proofs to refute these allegations.
A recipe for a second round of civil war
On September 19, 2002, a coup attempt against Gbagbo’s government failed. While Gbagbo was on a state visit to Italy, a group of rebellious soldiers attempted to seize control of Abidjan (the capital), including the cities of Bouaké and Korhogo. While the rebel soldiers failed to take Abijdan, but they were successful in taking over the other two along with the center and north of the country. The situation quickly developed into a civil war between a government-held south and a rebel-held north. Rebel soldiers who took up arms were originally from the north, who complained that their regions were being disenfranchised. They felt they had been discriminated against. They nearly seized control of the entire country. At that time, France, which is the main international player on the ground and which supported Bagbo, sent its soldiers to block the rebel advance.
After several months of a bloody war, a peace agreement was reached, and the UN peacekeepers arrived to patrol a cease-fire line. Bgabo’s army was never able to recapture the northern part of the country, and the rebels were being prevented to swoop down south. According to the terms of the agreement, Gbagbo would remain in office (the rebels had previously demanded his resignation), but a new unity government would be formed under a “neutral” prime minister, including the FPI(Ivorian Popular Front), the civilian opposition and representatives of the rebel groups. The agreement has been opposed by many of the president’s supporters, who believe too many concessions are being granted to the rebels and that the French are supporting the rebels’ political objectives.
The rebels were never fully disarmed, and there are growing suspicions they now may represent Ouattara’s main card, a card that he refuses to play for the time being. Ouattara is facing a dilemma. He is being protected by foreign troops—something that the Gbagbo camp has been using to accuse him of being a traitor. Gbagbo has the army and the police to back him up, and he now has the upper hand. Ouattara feels compelled to show that he is not a United Nation puppet. The show of force yesterday meant to send a message that he is ready to offer an Ivoirian solution to the standoff.
Gbagbo has been trying hard to break the diplomatic impasse by returning to an old cliché that no longer works: seeking support from his soi-disant former frontline states like Zimbabwe, Gana, including Burkina Faso whose president is none other than Blaise Comparoé who has been in power since 1987 following the assassination of Thomas Sankara, the popular Burkinabe president who inspired so much hope into the hearts and minds of his people. There were growing evidences that Comparoé engineered the coup with tacit foreign supports namely Libya, Chad and Cote d’Ivoire—countries that saw the ascendance of Sankara, well on his way to becoming a regional figure, as a strategic threat to their own power and status. The murder of Sankara has also ushered Comparoé to the arena of Great Traitors like Mobutu of Zaire, Savimbi of Angola and Buthelezi of South Africa who betrayed their countries in exchange for personal wealth and power.
Sankara’s body was reportedly dismembered and buried in an unknown grave like they did to Patrice Lumumba of Zaire. But his blood will forever remain in Baise Comparoé’s hands despite countless efforts to whiten them. He has been positioning himself as an international peace mediator, mediating between the Ivoirian rebels and the forces of Laurant Gbagbo. It was in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, that the peace treaty was signed back in 2007. Gbagbo said in July of 2008, he had received crucial support from Baise Comparoé while he was part of the underground opposition to Houphouët-Boigny.
So Gbagbo is the quintessential petit-bourgeois opportunist, like René Préval in Haiti, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who flirted with Marxism at some points in their lives but who long rejected the notion of popular democracy in order to protect their social parvenus as nouveaux riches even as their countries are crumbling around them.
So, the stage is set for another round of fighting in Cote d’Ivoire, unless something is done quickly to take Gbagbo out of the picture.