Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Ivorian Solution to an Ivorian Problem

Laurent Gbagbo is another African in the dock at the International Criminal Court. The former President faces four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, in relation to the post election violence of 2010. Although, the International Court focused its investigations on the crimes ensuing from the post election violence, the Court recently extended its mandate to include crimes from as far back as 2002, which had originally spilt the country into two separate governments. A brief history on the conflict leading up to the Gbagbo’s trial at the International Criminal Court is as follows. Since 2002 the Northern part of the country has since been led by Allassane Quattara and the Southern part by Laurent Gbagbo. Elections eventually held in 2010 made the political climate in Cote‘d Ivoire even more volatile given the deep rifts already prevalent between the North and the South. So, it came as no surprise that the call for elections by the international community merely acted as a catalyst for the violence which ensued with Gbagbo refusing to step down from his presidential post.

The situation was even further complicated by the fact that the country’s electoral commission  declared Quattara as the rightful winner, while the body actually responsible for announcing the winner, the constitutional council held that Gbagbo had won the election. I would have expected at this stage that both parties be brought before the ICC, since supporters from both camps were involved in the violence which ensued? Gbagbo refusing to step down was then supposedly captured by French forces after a military assault on his residence. That version of capture was quickly changed to the version that Northern rebel forces had effected capture of the ex-President after which time he was transferred to the ICC.

How do French interests play a role in all of this? Well, Quattara for one has been projected as having the backing of most Western countries, with mainly France and the US backing his presidency. This has led many commentators to conclude that Quattara has been more affable to Western influence.  Quattara is also former deputy managing director of the U.S dominated international monetary fund and criticism has come to bear against him for being a puppet of the West and compromising Ivorian economic interests. Gbagbo on the other hand was known as being more interested in establishing ties beyond the West, mainly with Russia. What does Cote‘d Ivoire has to offer to these countries you might say? Well for one they are a leading exporter of cocoa, coffee and vast array of minerals. Furthermore, offshore oil deposits have been recently discovered making trade with the country even more desirable. Infact, Ivory Coast boasts an oil production of currently 60000 barrels a day and it estimated to reach 200000 barrels a day by 2020. So economically countries that share good trade relations with Ivory Coast and its President will certainly benefit. France, being the frontrunner.

French influence spans most of the country even after almost 46 years of independence. According to a UN report released, France controls most of the infrastructure, airlines, and telephone, electricity and water companies. The former colonial power in other words has had and continues to have a strong hold over the Ivorian economic sector. Compounding the problem was that French troops mandated by the UN to secure peace in the region added fuel to the fire with many questioning France’s motives in supporting Quattara and helping to depose of Gbagbo. In my opinion it also reveals how selective criminal prosecutions can be. I mean the question on many lips is  ...shouldn’t Quattara be investigated as well? After all, he too has allegedly been implicated in the conflict (See Human Rights Watch Report). Rather it comes across to the world that Quattara is the hero of the Ivorian people ridding them of a crazed President desperately holding onto power. Even more ‘uncanny or coincidental’ was the fact that Gbagbo’s arrest came two weeks before parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in Ivory Coast. Whether this can be perceived as the political assassination of Gbagbo by forces beyond his control, we will never know. But for now it is Gbagbo who is in the hot seat at the ICC and Quattara calling the shots for the future of the country.

Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who held peace talks during the electoral crisis in Ivory Coast, has written an interesting yet provocative piece on the situation as he saw it. His piece entitled, ‘What the World got Wrong in Cote ‘D Ivoire’ suggests that as a solution to the crisis both leaders should have agreed to share power. Mbeki gets my approval on that proposal. He goes on to discuss the structural problems underlying Ivorian politics and in essence calls for an Ivorian solution to the problem instead of one where the French and the United Nations became embroiled. My opinion is that although it might be easy to blame the West for the political ramifications and play the old colonial card, in the end it boils down to the fact that both men were not willing to seek a peaceful compromise first, through negotiation for the betterment of their people and their country. What they should have done was settle it the old African way by getting together as a community and discussing the tensions through mediation. It takes more of a person who is willing to compromise who can be called a true leader than one who calls himself a leader at the expense of peace and the lives of his citizens. An African solution would have been more fitting and certainly more legitimate. A solution that could have included peace, maintained the integrity of both leaders and most importantly secured the lives of Ivorian citizens should have been the only one. If both, were only willing to give up the power politics, greed and ambition they would have been hailed as strong African leaders rather then the men they are called today.  

Posted by Ingrid Roestenburg-Morgan

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