The so-called electoral crisis in Ivory Coast hardly has any African Press, any African perspective, to present it.
That includes its coverage by the media in Zimbabwe and Kenya, themselves two nations whose electoral and post-electoral situations have been made to read analogous firstly to each other, and secondly to what is happening in that West African nation. The press in Africa (as opposed to African press) has been playing bagpipe to the dominant western press, shunting to us overbearing western voices. We are being fed on relayed reports from the West, all of them fitting within the “big-man-who-wont-go-away” syndrome. It is an old thesis, an old Western prejudice where African power in contradistinction to western power is rated not by what it delivers or does not deliver to the governed, but by what it does to protect western interests and, yes, by how soon its renounced after a colour-less career to the governed.
Playing false AU card.
Ivory Coast is not helped by puzzling voices, puzzling decisions, attributed to the African Union. In all fairness, how does the AU appoint Raila Odinga point-man on Ivory Coast, a man whose own country situation demands one such a point-man, indeed a man whose own role in the bloody episode of electoral Kenya is itself a subject of investigation? And with the care of a mighty bull in a small china shop, he has gone about this assumed appointment with fitting care and circumspection! Things are already breaking in the Ivorian China shop and the bull marches on! But is this an AU decision on someone is flying the kite? The AU should not allow itself to be taken advantage of.
Equally, how is Economic Community for West African States goaded into making fulsomely radical statements prematurely? The first AU Summit for 2011 is coming in Addis in mid-January. That is where an AU decision on Ivory Coast shall be taken, after a deliberate African debate. African debate, not Western wishes projected through tin-pot persons who purport to be African and leaders. As yet we have no AU position on Ivory Coast, only abundant AU worries, African worries which we all should have for one another as Africans. Not this cacophonous rash to be noticed by the West, to ingratiate one’s country with the West. Much of all we have heard is cheap saber rattling. I bet my last dollar, until after the January Summit of the AU in Addis, we will not have an AU-sanctioned way forward on Ivory Coast.
Zimbabwe and Gbagbo
Which takes me to a myth-making falsehood which is being peddled with respect to Zimbabwe. An impression has been created that Zimbabwe, alongside Angola, has already recognized President Gbagbo. Well, she has not and let that be noted by the lying press. Foreign Affairs which is only a phone call away, tells me Zimbabwe stands to be guided by the January Summit I have already alluded to. This is predicated on two basic reasons: the Summit will produce an authoritative continental position on Ivory Coast; the AU has always proceeded on the basis of deferring to the affected sub-region for a cue, in this case ECOWAS.
Predictably, there will be a briefing from the Ivorian leadership and from ECOWAS, possibly led by the three Presidents tasked to mediate on its behalf. We may also hear from former President Mbeki. But ECOWAS will only lead the debate; it will not necessarily conclude it. Full Summit will. That is the AU way. It is highly unlikely that the AU will pick on an emissary outside of ECOWAS, let alone of lower than head of state or former head of state level. That discounts Raila, does it not? How would he relate to Gbagbo, from the stool of premiership? It simply does not make sense, which is why one cannot understand the media leaping at such planted folly.
A bit of background to what is prompting unreflective responses recorded to date. The Ivory Coast situation is being used to vindicate bilateral relations between given African countries anxious to please and impress, and their Western masters, principally France and the United States of America. The UN and its impulsive Secretary General has not yet come into the picture. It waits for a cue from the AU, never mind that much of the mess in Ivory Coast owes to its monumental operational failures. You read a destructive face-saving effort by Ban-ki Moon, an attempt to cover monumental UN ineptitude by turning Gbagbo into a whipping boy.
Fawning great tears, spittle
Precious little that has been attributed to reacting African states is prompted by an African wish to solve a problem afflicting an African country. This is the real tragedy of the whole situation. And on this one, you see a major qualitative difference between Southern Africa and the rest of the African sub-regions. In SADC we do not yell to be heard, to impress, to play toughie. We solve problems quietly, effectively, well away from the West’s madding crowd. Additionally, the Ivorian situation has become a convenient dummy to many unresolved national questions in given African countries presently speaking the loudest, principally Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Odinga and Tsvangirai’s stridency on the Ivorian situation project their lingering wish for what they could not get in their own home situations. Both are using the Ivorian situation to address their home situations long after the door has been closed. In both instances, it is a bit of vicarious action, real compensatory conduct by two men who feel deficient by hindsight, who still dream for some associational miracle in the future. Both are in a marriage they won’t wish for Gbagbo and Ouattara, well thriving in it. It’s a bit of a triggered self-mourning, self-pitying, conveyed with great tears and spittle of fawned bitterness by two men who daily pray to their good Lord for so wonderful a day that must never see sunset. The only trouble is when the world takes them too seriously.
The story of Savimbi, Hassan
The case of Angola and Southern Africa needs some background, more so to help our “instant” or “here-and-now” media which seems to carry no memory. Apart from apartheid South Africa and America, Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, the UNITA man who plunged Angola into a vicious civil war from its very day of birth in 1975 until his long-in-coming death in 2002, was in West Africa supported by Ivory Coast’s late President Houghouet-Boigny, and Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore (after assassination of Thomas Sankara by Compaore). Indeed, Savimbi’s family would shuttle between Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, as he himself also would, each time the MPLA Government operations seemed close to netting him in.
So strong was UNITA’s influence in Burkina Faso that Blaise Compaore created a real faux pas for Southern African Heads of State (including President Mugabe) in 2000 when he got UNITA and Morocco to jointly fund two AU Summits held in that country. Morocco which left the then OAU way back over an OAU resolution recognising the independence of Western Sahara, hoped for a strong AU resolution against the Polisario Front which is struggling for such an outcome in Western Sahara. On his part, Savimbi hoped Burkina Faso would play a vital role in canvassing AU support in outflanking the MPLA Government over resumed hostilities in Angola, all against a peace agreement which Savimbi himself had trashed, to more bloodletting. It is thus not difficult to understand Angola’s active interest in Ivory Coast, particularly in checkmating Blaise Compaore and his designs on that country which should never again be used to undermine its own security. Of course Savimbi also had a strong foothold in Mobutu’s Zaire and one needs to keep that picture in mind in understanding how the situation in that Ivory Coast impacts Southern Africa.
Internal settlement and Morocco
But there is also another Southern African angle to it, this time with a direct bearing on Zimbabwe. Morocco, itself a co-ally of both Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso in backing Savimbi, was in 1979 a conduit of American CIA money meant to help the late Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Ndabaningi Sithole win the 1980 elections for our Independence. Both America and Britain did not want to see Mugabe and his Zanu win that crucial poll. They preferred an inclusive Government involving the internal settlement factor, possibly with Zapu. In attendance when the CIA parcel was handed over to Muzorewa and Sithole by Morocco’s King Hassan were CIA’s former Deputy Director and later US United Nations Ambassador, General Vernon Walters, and Rhodesia’s CIO Director General, the late Ken Flower. This is a little known part of the Independence story.
Tsvangirai and Morocco again
Interestingly, this US-Morocco-Rhodesia axis is still alive to this day, only with a new or renamed internal settlement player called MDC-Tsvangirai. Among the recently leaked US documents is a November-December 2008 dispatch from the US man in Rabat who confirms Morocco’s continued clandestine funding of Tsvangirai and his MDC-T, in return for hoped for MDC-T Government support on Western Sahara, against the Polisario Front, against a long-standing AU resolution. The dispatch reveals that between November 29 and December 1, 2008, Morgan Tsvangirai was in Morocco ostensibly to receive a prize from an NGO called Amadeus, which then was run by the son of Morocco’s Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri. But Tsvangirai’s real reason for making that trip was to secure more covert foreign financial support from or through the Moroccan Government. We need to keep this factor in mind as it has a bearing on Ivory Coast.
Compaore and Chapter7
Equally, when the UK and the US pushed for punishment of Zimbabwe under Chapter 7 in the United Nations Security Council hardly two years ago, Burkina Faso was among the few African countries then in the Security Council, and whose vote was thus crucial to the defence of Zimbabwe. Expectedly, Zimbabwe dispatched an envoy to Blaise Compaore who promised – by hindsight promised duplicitously – to stand by Zimbabwe on the day of the crucial vote, and in line with a standing AU resolution on the matter. But on the crucial day, Burkina Faso went along with the aggressors, having been promised handsome aid as recompense. Gentle reader, I am trying to reconstruct the ecology of African states’ responses to what is happening in Ivory Coast, as well as the sheer sub-regional interconnectedness of all such responses against lived history and prevailing imperatives and sensitivities.
The public media from which much is expected, does not appear to have judged this evolving story correctly, namely that it is neither remote nor foreign to Southern Africa in general, and to Zimbabwe in particular. Quite the contrary, the Ivorian situation has provided a crucial build-up towards fresh round of more Zimbabwe lynching, Mugabe bashing, indeed for a more determined attack on SADC and its view of conflict prevention, management and resolution. Ivory Coast and Laurent Gbagbo have become alter egos of “bad” Zimbabwe and “bad” Mugabe respectively, a twist that appears to have caught the Herald flat-footed. Realising this turn of coverage, the Herald sprang to the defence of Zimbabwe and the President, even then against the background of weak editorial interest and sparse coverage of the story, much of it received from the wires. Without a preceding localized coverage build-up, Friday’s 31 December 2010 editorial on the matter sounded too contrived, too extraneous to the daily’s news agenda.
Instead, the Ivory Coast story has been circumstantially localized for the Herald, which then grappled to regain editorial control, in the process revealing an utter lack of depth, information, and judgment. As shall be shown, there is a lot that is comparable between the situation we have had here in Zimbabwe, the situation which developed in Kenya, and what is happening in Ivory Coast. It is not very helpful to sound reflexively defensive; it is not very progressive to try and draw nuanced contrasts on situations that are part of an overall African political ecology and, because of that potentially are a basis for mobilizing a broad African response to the challenges of colonialism in its present neo-colonial phase. We need to acknowledge the same African seam to the problem bedeviling Ivory Coast, noting both the sequential linkages with what happened in Kenya and Zimbabwe, noting forward linkages with what might happen here during our polls in 2011. All this not because these situations are inherently the same, but all this because the same forces have contrived them, and seek to profit from them.
Relying on French news
Firstly, how not to develop an African perspective. Much of what Zimbabwe has got on the situation in Ivory Coast has to come from Agence France Press (AFP) and Reuters, reaching us largely through Zimpapers. With what we have gone through from 2000 until 2008 – no less than four Ivory Coast-like electoral situations – I fail to understand why we think media systems of meddlesome ex-colonial powers can give us clean news on situations similar to what the BBC and the entire British media distorted here. Western power is mediated and mediased and western media networks are partners in imperial conquest. They have always been imbedded, always armed with the reflex of an occupying power. We who used to tell the rest of Africa not to be misled by the British and American media surely cannot ourselves rely on French media for reportage on events happening in an ex-French colony that has chosen to free itself?
Pervasive French interests
Let us take stock of French interest in Ivory Coast. Since Independence, France has controlled Francophone Africa: from the infrastructure to the bloc’s foreign reserves under the 14-nation Franc Zone. It does not matter whether you are talking ports, airline, telephone, electricity, water and even food, Francophone Africa operates French, buys French, eats French, and unless matters drastically change, dies French! Boigny indentured Ivory Coast to France at Independence, which is why France enjoys a stranglehold on Ivorian industry, commerce and currency. A recent UN study showed that France controls 45% of Ivorian land from which comes cocoa, Ivory Coast’s main earner.
Even buildings of the Presidency of the Republic and the Ivorian National Assembly are leased from France! You get a list of French conglomerates like Bollore, Saga, SDV, Delmas, Bouygues, Colas, Total, France Telecom, Societe Generale, CFAO-CI, etc, etc. Controlling the economic sinews of former colonies has always been French policy from the days of pre-independent Algeria. Then French control was mediated through three big entrepreneurs: Borgeaud, Chiaffino and Blachette, with Borgeaud in the lead. “In Algeria, one drinks Borgeaud, smokes Borgeaud, eats Borgeaud, and banks or borrows Borgeaud,” ran a popular saying before Algeria rose in its freedom rebellion. French presence in Ivory Coast is no less pervasive today, this hour. That pervasiveness replicates itself in Ivorian politics, and in military affairs with France maintaining a garrison in that country, an intrusive one too! That this is one of the key issues to the present Ivorian crisis is never reflected in the coverage of these Eurocentric networks.
The democrat they will not acknowledge
Like President Mugabe, Laurent Gbagbo made the mistake of pushing a nationalist line against pervasive French interests, including re-possessing national politics away from French tutelage and infantilisation. He sought to create national institutions and national processes, all against this French pervasiveness. French-educated, he fought Boigny on the side of democracy and full African sovereignty, repeatedly going to prison for it. During those days of his early struggles against the conservative, pro-France Boigny regime, his present rival, Alassane Ouattara, was with Boigny, loyally advancing the French ethos as desired by Boigny.
ouattara collabo by almo
Ouattara’s political ambitions only surfaced after Boigny’s death. He had joined the Boigny regime from a long stint with Bretton Woods institutions, principally the International Monetary Fund where the had risen to the rank of the second strongest men. To this day, he exudes the IMF ethos. It is interesting that Ivory Coast under Boigny only started democratizing after threats of financial sanctions from the World Bank and IMF, pressure which in fact yielded the appointment of Ouattara himself as the country’s Finance minister. It has turned out to have been a long-term strategic placement. This association with the conservative Boigny, and with Bretton Woods institutions, against the French-educated but more radical pro-democracy forces led by Gbagbo is deliberately being underplayed to give Ouattara a patina much brighter than that of Gbabgo. The irony of the whole debate is that it is the condemned man who has done more to advance Ivorian democracy. The only problem is he took it too far, well beyond what the empire tolerates.
The double outsider
Inside Ivory Coast, Ouattara is viewed as an outsider, both in the sense of being a thoroughbred Western technocrat, and that of being of Burkinabe parentage. The issue of parentage is sore one in a region where nation-states were carved against itinerant populations. Both negatives were invoked against him by Boigny’s successor, President Henri Konan Bedie, when he tried to run for Presidency. When Bedie was overthrown in a military coup in 1999, Gbagbo and his supporters – not Ouattara – took the burden to defeating the soldiers through mass action, in order to defend their electoral victory of October 2000 against the military candidate, Robert Guei, in order to rescue democracy facing the jackboot. Huge sacrifices were made to bring this about, again another detail hardly emphasized in the current Gbagbo lynching. Again, Guei, not Gbagbo, upheld the 100% Ivorian parentage to block Ouattara from participating in the poll. That way, the issue of national identity and presidential eligibility became entrenched in Ivorian politics. It has become a real issue in Ivorian politics as we have them today. It does not help to sweep all these real issues all to condemn and oversimplify.
Battle of faiths
But identity in more ways than one. Identity also in the sense of religion. Ivory Coast comprises Christian (largely Catholic) South and Muslim North. Gbagbo is a Christian Southerner while Ouattara is a Moslem northerner of Burkinabe parentage. There is a way in which the two presidential rivals do actually personify the struggle of the two faiths, and how this as in many other West African states, today threatens the unity of the West African state. It is the same story with Nigeria, itself a strident voice on Ivory Coast. It gets worse when both the Burkinabe and Muslim factors translate into an unresolved land question in a country where cocoa fields define welfare thresholds. All these potent factors are tucked beneath the institution of the ballot which is expected to play adabracadabra!
After Gbagbo pushed out the military, he assumed Presidency only to be rocked by an attempted military coup of 2002 that implicated Ouattara, the French, Burkina Faso and a number of neighbouring states. While the coup itself failed, it gave birth to insurgency in the North which left Ivory Coast in a state of civil war which pitted the Moslem North against the Christian South, Ouattara (in spite of his denials) against Gbagbo, even though one Soro was viewed as titular head of that rebellion. Interestingly, the 38-year old Soro sides with Ouattara in the current stand-off. Ceasefire agreements largely failed between 2005 until about 2007 when a more lasting peace deal was hammered, with the United Nations already involved under Chapter 7. Gbagbo ruled Ivory Coast, with rebel-leader Soro as Prime Minister, both enjoying yearly extensions until the poll of November 2010, itself the subject matter for this write-up. In between, relations between Gbagbo and France plunged from bad to worse, worse to worst, with the fatal bombing of 6 French troopers and the subsequent reprisal bombing of the entire Ivorian Airforce fleet being lowest point. It is not surprising that Sarkozy leads the present charge against Gbagbo.
Privileging the North to rig elections
An important detail regarding the Ivorian situation is that while the peace accords called for the demilitarization of the rebellious North and the subsequent reestablishment of the authority of central Ivorian Government, all in return for the many concessions Gbagbo had granted, the UN never succeeded is disarming and quartering the rebels. Indeed, this turned out to be a crucial factor during the disputed elections.
Administratively and electorally, the North became a no-go area for both Government and other parties, except that of Ouattara and his rebels. Not even the UN could oversee voter registration all of which was done by rebels and their structures, well beyond the authority of the State and the independent electoral commission called the CEI. This is what is at the heart of the electoral dispute we read about today. The UN condoned a situation where a rebellious part of Ivory Coast was left to organize elections in which it was a participant. By contrast, Gbagbo’s South came under strict rules for free and fair elections.
Constitutionally, CEI is empowered to conduct a free and fair poll. It is required to release results within three days from the close of the poll. But the laws of Ivory Coast vests the last word in the country’s constitutional court which immediately kicks in should CEI fail to deliver results within the stipulated three days from an appropriate venue which is understood to be its headquarters. Realising that the untoward had happened in the North, the largely pro-French and pro-Ouattara CEI divided its final verdict on the overall poll. Those in CEI who were pro-West, pro-France, pro-Ouattara favoured a result that gave victory to Ouattara.
Those who were either neutral or pro-Gbagbo, and had witnessed the swelling of ballot boxes in the North, well beyond registered voters, naturally objected, with the result that three days passed without an announcement as required by the constitution. It was a bitter affair, with one electoral commissioner tearing the result in protest. Much worse, the challenged result was announced from Ouattara’s hotel, not from CEI’s headquarters. Clearly a deadlock had declared itself; clearly the electoral process had undermined itself, which is how the constitutional court kicked in. The constitutional court highlighted the anomalies in the North and awarded victory to Gbagbo, The UN objected, western countries objected, with France hurrying to recognize Ouattara as the new leader. Equally, West African states were whipped into line by the West. It is as if both the UN and the West had turned themselves into final arbiters in the whole process, indeed had placed CEI above the country’s constitution and constitutional court. That, in rough, is the outline of events which gave rise to a seemingly strange situation where a sitting President alleges vote rigging by a non-incumbent rival.
Bush, Florida, Gbagbo, Ivory Coast
Except this was a UN-supervised election. Except all parties went in knowing fully the constitutional position and its institutional predicates. In all fairness, how does one favour and uphold the verdict of CEI while deriding that of the constitutional court, when both have well-appointed roles founded in the same constitution? The Ivorian constitution, much like that of the United States cedes authority to the courts once the electoral administrator is disabled from arriving at a decision. That is how George W. Bush won Florida and the Presidency of the US in America, was it not? Why was that right for US democracy when it is so wrong for democracy elsewhere in the world, including in an African country called Ivory Coast? And why is the solution to the disputed ballot an ECOMOG bullet when it was not so in the Florida case? What is so dangerous about Africa’s failed ballot to deserve the bullet that the US is spared for similar failures?
UN monumental failure
How does the UN, itself the failed supervisor of the whole process, rise above the same process in judgment? Indeed hurry to favour one result against the other, and do so against its loudly proclaimed failure to demilitarize the North in order to create even conditions for a national poll? Who failed Ivory Coast, Gbagbo, or the UN? Who deserves to leave Ivory Coast, Gbagbo or the effete UN? What deserves to come in, a fair ballot or a full invading battalion. Congo in the early 1960s showed us how the UN can in fact be used to suppress and even assassinate legitimate interests of a people. Congo in Africa’s 1960s showed us how meddlesome colonial powers can piggy-bag their sinister designs on a UN operation. Today, Ivory Coast shows Africa yet again how the UN is no insurance against electoral rigging, indeed against a destabilizing electoral process.
The dirt beneath the ballot
Above all, Zimbabwe, Kenya and today Ivory Coast show the world how the ballot, however managed by whomsoever, can never cure or play panacea to unresolved, deep-seated African national questions to do with neo-colonialism, the land, economic disempowerment and deepening poverty whether expressing itself as ethnic or faiths-based conflicts. Like Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast is struggling to shake off an encumbering neo-colonialism. Like Zimbabwe and Kenya, Ivory Coast is battling to resolve an age-old land question. Like all of Africa, Ivory Coast faces daunting odds in fending off external interference, in building integrity to processes that are supposed to be sovereign and national. It does not help when sister African states in exactly the same predicament pretend to look better, dramatise a false and hypocritical outrage to an electoral failure they themselves showed in more monumental, unsolvable proportions only yesterday, indeed are set to demonstrate again less than a year from the Ivory Coast’s UN debacle. That they have swapped national sovereignty for blind and unconditional western goodwill does not make them any better, any more superior than Ivory Coast, let alone entitle them to strut about, whip in hand. Fortunately Nigeria – itself the only one with some capacity in carrying such a whip – is bracketed by disabilities of a still-to-be-elected leader, a history and prospect of very poorly run elections, and a polity badly split by a religious conflict which is most susceptible to any religiously resonant military adventurism within its backyard. Which is why there will be no military adventurism in Ivory Coast. .
Zimbabwe, the great target, prize
As for Zimbabwe, a-ah the issue has never been about Ivory Coast. It has always been about setting interventionist precedence on the continent, well ahead of our polls next year. We are the big prize, which is why the Ivorian situation must be appreciated as part of a common struggle we must wage in solidarity against imperialism. Far from being a test of democracy, elections on the continent have become an opportunity for wanton external interference, for the West’s destabilization of unwanted governments which dare say NO to imperialism. I really wish Zimbabwe, Kenya and now Ivory Coast were about the BIG MEN of African politics who cannot leave the national stage. Regrettably, these situations are about very small and quite vulnerable men (for now they all are men) facing the BIG MEN of Europe and America who won’t want to see Africa shake off imperialism to collect her own DESTINY, untrammeled. That, to me is the real fight. Icho!