The political confrontation in Ivory Coast is not moving towards any solution. The election farce is not just an Ivorian problem, but a symptom of the more general crisis of post-colonial Africa.
The stalemate in Ivory Coast threatens to plunge the country into civil war. Although presidential contender Allassane Outtara has been re-confirmed as the winner last week, the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to step down. The crisis has been unfolding since the presidential run-off elections last November, when the Electoral Commission declared Ouattara the winner. Later, however, the Constitutional Court ruled that there were voting irregularities and claimed that Gbagbo had won the election. This has led to a situation of two people acting as presidents, each with his own cabinet and ambassadors. The situation in Ivory Coast is a clear illustration that the present ballot-box democracy in Africa is a farce, in which the dominant parties buy votes and do their utmost to cheat in their strongholds. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, similar situations have led to the formation of unity governments.
None of the two sides is capable of mobilising the support of the whole population, and so they depend on established institutions of violence to stay in power. Ouattara is supported and protected by armed rebels of northern origin, together with supposed UN peacekeepers, whilst the incumbent Gbagbo, who is supported in the southern part of the country, has the national armed forces and state media on his side. The United Nations, the European Union, the Africa Union and the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) have all recognised Ouattara as the winner. However, with Gbagbo’s control over the army as well as the state media and the largest city, Abidjan, there is no way Ouattara can take over peacefully, since Gbagbo is not stepping down.
Previously, ECOWAS threatened to forcefully remove Ouattara, which in practice will amount to a proxy invasion by the western powers, who would have to provide the logistics. ECOWAS seems to have become an empty threat, as West African heads of states pondered over the effect that the armed intervention would have on the region. The Peace and Security Council at the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government established a high-level panel on 28 January 2011 in order to help resolve the Ivorian crisis. The panel, which is made up of the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania, has invited Ouattara and Gbagbo for mediated talks with the Constitutional Court. Ouattara has agreed to attend while Gbagbo, although not attending himself, is sending a representative. Last week, the AU panel submitted its report, re-affirming the support for Ouattara and asking the Constitutional Court to swear in Ouattara as President. Gbagbo is still defiant and feels he can count on the support or at least the sympathy of 7 of 53 member countries of the AU.
Colonial status quo
It is clear that this problem is not just about Cote d’Ivoire, but represents a symptom of the more general crisis of post-colonial Africa. The issue of the population being divided along ethnic, religious or geographical lines has become a common feature of elections in various countries, including the apparently peaceful ones like Ghana. The post-colonial arrangement, whereby the elite have inherited the colonial status quo - replacing white faces with black ones - and continue to manage the colonial structure, fails to address the aspirations of the masses of the people. In the anti-colonial struggles, these masses were unified in their fight against external forces. However, independence has meant that the masses have not played any further role in democratisation, beyond endorsing one of several rival groups who share the spoils that the colonial arrangements left. What is needed are structures that involve the masses of the African people in grass-root decision-making, as well as co-operation among the different African nations. They should be supported by those who are struggling to end an unjust global system which marginalises both the less developed countries and the majority of people in the industrialised world. We have to learn the lessons from Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ivory Coast, so that future elections contribute to the democratisation process in other African countries.
Explo Nani-Kofi is Societal Affairs Analyst and Social Justice Practitioner. He was born in Ghana where he started his activist as a grass root organizer for popular democracy. He coordinated the Campaign Against Proxy War in Africa and the IMF-World Bank Wanted For Fraud Campaign. He is a member of Counterfire and Director of the Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination, in Peki, Ghana and London, UK.
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