IVORY COAST: UN PICKS THE GAUNTLET IN A RARE EXPERIMENT WITH USE OF FORCE by Keffyalew Gebremedhin
In recent years, election frauds in Africa have intensified.Domestically, elections are greeted with fear, often imposing flight for some, imprisonment for others and still for some others the live-let-live attitude of enforced servitude. These days the international community has lost its will to act; it has limited itself to expressions of disappointment and short-lived frowns, before it returns to its default mode of business as usual. Consequently, the habits and conveniences of strongmen have found it easier to dictate the modes of governance and national values on peoples without any meaningful recourse.
Thus, reports of ballot rigging, harassment of opposition candidates and supporters have become the norms of these days. The media is silenced, as corruption became rife. Journalists and members of the independent media are under constant threats, or in prison, or have exiled themselves. The elections “do not meet international standards” are hanged high in most states of the region, as evidence of loyalty to national interests and as a badge of struggle against “interference by neo-colonialists.” With the help of well-greased party machines, the public is mobilised to condemn that, eventually required to declare its support for the party in power, a shrewd way of warding opponents and consolidating power.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there should be widespread cynicism in Africa about international election observations. Neither the fanfare of the observers’ arrivals arrival days before elections, nor their presence has so far been a source of succour to the defenceless during the extravagant, tense and aggressive electoral periods. This makes one to wonder why so much precious resources are being wasted for non-action that dashes the hopes and aspirations of people that cannot be protected by the laws of their lands.
What difference did it make to Mubarak’s Egypt, when it went to business as usual ruling out the presence of foreign observers in the November? The ruling National Democratic Party knows full well that it cannot get a chance for another term in a free and fair election. Those who boycotted the election knew what would happen. Reuters reports (12 Dec) that the ruling has secured about 80 percent of the seats, while analysts claim that many independent candidates that secured the remaining seats have links to the ruling party.
This is not to imply that international observation is the cure all. It is domestic empowerment of the people that can do the job of exposing and curbing corruption of individuals and institutions, including electoral robbery in broad daylight. The intent of this article is to draw attention to the fact that the rich and powerful countries must conduct their relations with countries with weak institutions with the appropriate measures of engaging with seriousness the country, long before elections are held. If the objective is a shared sense of justice, then there is always ample time to correct the wrongs. The answer lies in aid being used to empower African citizens, instead of despots.
Through empowerment via civil society organisations and independent media, citizens can defend themselves and their national interests. However, this must be done by stopping the strongmen of greed and their insurgent ‘civil society organisations’ from stamping their wishes into law. I am writing here because it needed saying in public, although in this era of national governance by international business interests, captivated by attractions of lucrative contracts this may be next to the impossible. Powerful men have the means to make the case for themselves, even when nothing they do or say has little to do with truth, love of the nation and the needs of its development.
For a while now, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has left President Bashir of the Sudan in peace. ICC has now chosen Kenya to demonstrate its new tools to weed out electoral violence. It has identified six government officials to be tried for their role in the 2007 election-related bloodshed and destructions. Their crimes included responsibility for the loss of more than 1,220 lives and displacement of 350,000 in the ensuing inter-clan and inter-ethnic conflicts. Kenya is no longer the same. What is comforting about that country is that there still is determination to fight back, seeking justice for the political crimes against the nation and its innocent citizens.
Now, Kenya’s corrupt and unrepentant parliament has turned ICC’s involvement into a war between itself and ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. They do this because they are terrified, tainted as they are by either corruption or the electoral bloodshed. When the chips are down, Kenya’s parliamentarians responded in the least expected fashion. They hastened to approve on 23 December a motion aimed at protecting the accused six, eventually themselves, by seeking the country’s withdrawal from ICC membership. No wonder, in its editorial a stunned Daily Nation that same day wrote:
This dramatic approval…capped a week in which we saw the very best and the worst of Parliament. The best because MPs exhibited rare urgency in tackling critical matters, and worst because the urgency was stratified in the most selfish of needs an august House can ever muster. Indeed, it beggars belief that a congress of men and women sworn to protect the rule of law and protect the country’s reputation can sit deep into the night discussing the most retrogressive of Motions since the dark day in 1982 when Kenyan became a single party state in 10 minutes. If the motion sought to protect the Ocampo Six, then the effort was in vain. Withdrawing from the treaty does not stop the ICC from pursuing suspects, and it most certainly guarantees them a one-way ticket to The Hague.
Luckily, the drama would not be over that easily, before one side blinks or everything dies down quietly—if as usual the “war on terrorism” that now is intensified in the Horn of Africa gives them the power and privilege of unaccountability.
During the past two decades, Ivory Coast has been infected with the region’s shameful disease of lawlessness. The problem today is Laurent Gbagbo—sort of a twin brother of Charles Taylor of Liberia—who, using the Ivorian Popular Front (IPF) that he formed with his wife, has decided to cling to power. Election commission results show that Mr Alassane Ouattara has won by about eight percentage points, according to news sources. Notwithstanding that, Mr Gbagbo swears in the name of the national sovereignty and constitution of Ivory Coast to defend his powers. In reality, he is the Nero of our time, who is singing and dancing, when his country is headed on the path of destruction.
Ivory coast had witnessed significant economic growth, when the rest of Africa was stagnating in the 1970w-1990s. In spite of the corruption of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the shunning he had suffered from Africa’s extreme leftists tagged as a bulwark of Africa’s reactionary spirit and continued destabilisation by the likes of Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré, he had left behind to his successors a functional and prosperous country. For decades, that had made it a shining example of Africa’s capabilities and the magnet to citizens of neighbouring countries.
Nevertheless, seen against the backdrop of its much better days, there is no doubt that Ivory Coast has sunk down today. Owing to that, for the first time in 2010 perhaps the global supply of cocoa and the fortunes of Nestle would head south, at least for a while. As far as Nestle is concerned, Bloomberg reported in September that Switzerland has dwarfed “German profit growth led by Nestle-Novartis” (Bloomberg, 10 Sept). Life expectancy of Ivorians since 1998 has slumped down to 55.5 years. Household consumption from 1988-2008 has dived to -2.2 percent, according to the World Bank.
I am pleased that this time around the international community has moved out of its inertia to stand by the winner of the November election in that country, thanks to the impatience to electoral fraud by and political leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Also this time around, the response of the United Nations and the important countries of Africa, including Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, Europe, the EU, the US and AU have been swifter. It is the good fortune of Ivory Coast that the UN is heavily present since April 2004 of a UN peacekeeping force—the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI)—with a robust mandate under Chapter VII of the Organisation’s Charter.
Articles 41 and 42 of the Charter empower the Security Council, to use armed force, carry out blockade by air, sea, or land utilising the forces of Members of the United Nations. So far, this authority has been exercised sparingly, mostly due to lack of consensus, especially amongst the veto power holding members.
In the case of Ivory Coast, two important aspects of UNOCI’s mandate are the authorization granted it by the Security Council “to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate, within its capabilities and its areas of deployment.” The second one refers “to use all necessary means in order to support UNOCI in accordance with the agreement to be reached between UNOCI and the French authorities, and in particular to: (i) contribute to the general security of the area of activity of the international forces; (ii) intervene at the request of UNOCI in support of its elements whose security may be threatened, (iii) intervene against belligerent actions, if the security conditions so require, outside the areas directly controlled by UNOCI; and (iv) help to protect civilians, in the deployment areas of their units.”
UNOCI has a force presence of 9,150-strong, after the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1942 (2010) of 29 September, authorizing additional deployment of 500 police and military personnel to assist in the election. What is very rare is for the members of the Security Council to rally behind the position adopted by the Secretary-General to ensure decision of the population of Ivory Coast in the voting are respected. The technocratic and much experienced Alassane Dramane Ouattara of the Rally of the Republicans (RDD, from its French acronym) has been elected by the last election.
The use of force is not an easy decision. In Ivory Coast, it might be a necessity now to remove the man who has become obstacle to the resolution of that country’s longstanding political and security, and problems of national identity—whether a person is Ivorian or not. While it is essential to determine who is a citizen, using it as a means of dividing the country and to discredit opponents should be fought tooth and nail.
Mr Gbagbo is counting on the support of the armed forces, not for a long time though. The financial sanctions would soon bite. The armed forces could be swayed when they realise that he cannot pay their salaries. However, the UN and ECOWAS need not wait, until that realisation sinks. There is no more propitious time and opportunity than now to kick Mr Gbagbo and his cronies out of power by military means—with as little bloodshed as possible. This task is not going to be that easy, not even in the north, despite the presence of UN peacekeepers and French forces.
In collaboration between Mr Ouattara, the United Nations and ECOWAS, and other opposition parties, there is need to set up a dedicated team that would assist the president-elect in stabilisation of the country and consolidation of his powers, especially at a time when he cannot rely on the country’s armed forces and part of the civil service. To that end, the following need to be agreed upon, as necessary:
a. The UN needs to plan on one-year time table to stabilise Mr Ouattara’s government and consolidate his power;
b. The international community needs to work with Mr Ouattara, supported by a team of experts, with diverse backgrounds;
c. The president-elect needs to work with Ivorians of all stripes toward healing the north-south divide, avoiding any semblance of ethnic favouritism or political vendetta, a disgraceful habit of Africa’s strongmen. He also should seek close collaboration with ONOCI’s task force, while decision-making is entirely his.
d. All the above, including Mr Ouattara, must respect and defend the rights of the millions that have stood behind Mr Gbagbo in the south. They need to be weaned out. Special efforts need to be exerted to enable them to see that the drastic action of ejecting the former president is being taken in the interests of the whole country and its people—both northerners and southerners. Recall that Mr Gbagbo and his supporters have accused the UN peacekeeping force and French troops as Mr Ouattara’s operatives, because of which they declared he and his supporters declared them “rebel fighters.” In a traditional society such as Ivory Coast, this calls for patient and concerted efforts of transformation, not sabre rattling.
e. The ICC must gather evidence and build a case of abuse of state powers and associated crimes responsible for the current situation and prosecute Mr Gagbo and his associates for the lives lost. Let the world declare its impatience with election stealers.
The writer was a former civil servant and diplomat in the Ethiopian government. Later he served as International Staff with the United Nations and is currently in retirement, devoting his time for research and writing. He can be reached at email@example.com.