Africa: Democracy by Civil War By Alemayehu G. Mariam

April 4th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

The Shell Game of African Democracy

If the Ivory Coast, one of the most prosperous African countries, can be considered a template for political change on the continent, democracy can replace dictatorship only by means of a civil war. For the past 5 months, Laurent Gbagbo, the loser of the November 2010 Ivory Coast presidential race has been holed up in his palace defiantly clinging to power. He claims to have won the election by order of his handpicked “Constitutional Council”, even though the Ivorian Electoral Commission declared his challenger Alassane Ouattara the winner.

Underlying Gbagbo’s electoral shenanigans to cling to power at any cost is a lingering and recurrent problem in African politics: Rigged, stolen and shell-gamed elections.

African dictators set up elections just like the streetwise scammer sets up a shell game. African dictators know they will “win” the elections they set up by hook or crook. But they go through elaborate ceremonies to make the phony elections look real. They set up shills and call them “opposition parties”. They jail the real opposition leaders and intimidate their supporters. They trot out their handpicked “elections commissions” and put them on public display as independent observers to bless and legitimize the rigged elections. To please and hoodwink their Western donor benefactors, they being in international elections observers, adopt “election codes of conduct” and stage make-believe public debates. The outcome never changes: The African con artist dictators always win!
Well, maybe not always. On the rarest occasions, by some fluke an incumbent African dictator is defeated by a challenger despite massive election rigging and fraud. Even more incredibly, the whole world sides with the challenger winner. Then all hell breaks loose as it is happening today in the Ivory Coast. Gbagbo lost despite ballot-stuffing, ballot-shredding, ballot-stealing, voter intimidation and voting fraud.

For all African dictators, elections are an intolerable nuisance on their permanent clutch on power. They play the elections game because the international donors and multilateral banks make it a precondition for handouts and loans. Truth be told, neither the dictators nor the donors/banks are interested in genuine democratic elections as evidenced in many Wikileaks cablegrams. They want an election show to justify their immoral support for the criminal thugs. The dictators, donors and multilateral banks agree on one unitary principle so plainly and honestly articulated by former French President Jacques Chirac: “Africa is not ready for democracy” (a government of the people, by the people for the people). That is why so many African countries wallow in thugtatorships (a government of thieves, by thieves for thieves).

Democracy by Civil War

The manifest implications of this electoral shell game for the people of Africa are frigtening. There can be no peaceful transfer of power through a democratic election. If a challenger wins an election against an incumbent dictator fair and square, the challenger must be prepared to use force to remove the incumbent. Strange as it may sound, it may even be necessary to fight a full blown civil war to replace African dictatorships with African democracy. That seems to be the seminal lesson of the Ivory Coast which finds itself in a creeping civil war because Gbagbo has made peaceful transition impossible.

Over the past week, Ouattara’s “Republican Forces” have swept southwards from their bases in the north and seized the capital Yamoussoukro and the major port of San Pedro. They have now encircling the commercial capital Abidjan. Gbagbo’s army and civilian supporters have been fighting it out in the streets of Abidjan for months. Gbagbo has recruited an army of unemployed and illiterate youths in Abidjan to “defend the country, which is under attack from foreigners”, namely Ivorians from the north.

The ordinary people of the Ivory Coast are paying the price for a democracy betrayed. The number of innocent civilians killed increases by the dozens each day. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently reported the massacre of over 1,000 people in the western town of Duekoue. The perpetrators are alleged to be retreating Gbagbo soldiers who shot or hacked their victims to death with machetes. Since the elections in December 2010, over a million Ivorians have been internally displaced and over one hundred thousand have fled to Liberia. The great commercial city of Abidjan with over four million people is said to be a virtual ghost town. Street thugs are pillaging the city as Gbagbo blames the U.N. and the West for the bloodshed and civil war in the country.

Playing the Shell Game of African Democracy

Africa’s incumbent dictators will always win the elections they manufacture. They will win by hook or crook, and by incredibly absurd percentages. Meles Zenawi, the capricious dictator in Ethiopia, declared that his party won the May 2010 parliamentary election by 99.6. Such a claim may sound laughable and absurd to the reasonable mind, but it has a Gobellian logic to it. The Nazi propaganda minister said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Goebbels’ boss said, “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” To claim 100 percent or 99.6 percent of the people voted for one party is absurd, but repeated many times, the sheer audacity of such a bold-faced lie renders the listener speechless, dumbfounded and numb. Similarly, Gbagbo says he won the presidential election despite unannimous international opinion to the contrary. Elections are window-dressing exercises for thugtatorships.

When African dictators lose by some strange fluke, they will demonize a segment of their citizens and embark on a campaign to denigrate their critics and opponents just to cling to power. History Professor Gbagbo declared Ivorians from the northern part of that country “foreigners”, including Ouattara, and rejected the outcome of the election as invalid. Gbagbo has also targeted the large population of migrant workers in the country with xenophobic and hateful rhetoric. When the European Election Observer Mission declared that the May 2010 election in Ethiopia “fell below international standards”, Zenawi attacked the Mission with a torrent of insult straight from the gutter. He described the EU report as a “pack of lies and innuendoes” and “garbage”. He dismissively added that the EU report was “just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party.”

African dictators will exploit ethnic, religious and regional divisions to cling to power. Gbagbo has been promoting a nasty ideology called “Ivoirité” to exclude and marginalize northern Muslims from national political office. The ideology is based on the notion that there are “real” Ivorians (‘indigenous Ivorians’) and foreigners who pretend to be Ivorians by immigration or ancestry (false Ivorians). By creating such insidious classifications, Ivorians from the north have been denied basic citizenship rights.

Africa’s dictators have a love-hate relationship with the West. They are quick to blame the West for their political problems. Yet, they are always standing at the gate beging for handouts. It is a case of the dog that bites the hand that feeds it. Gbagbo blames France, the U.N. and the U.S. for his country’s civil war. Zenawi blames the EU “neoliberals” for his bogus election victory. Mugabe blames Britain and the U.S. for his country’s political and economic woes.

In all of the political turmoil and election-related violence, African organizations have failed to take any meaningful action. Prof. George Ayittey, the internationally renowned Ghanaian economist and “one of the top 100 public intellectuals” who is “shaping the tenor of our time” said that the African Union is a “useless continental organization” that “can’t even define ‘democracy’”. Today, the AU stands on the sidelines twiddling its thumbs as thousands of Ivorians are slaughtered and Gbagbo steals the election in broad daylight. The other equally comatose organization is ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States). For months it has been threatening to remove Gbagbo by force if a peaceful solution could not be found. The Ivory Coast is in a virtual state of civil war and the AU and ECOWAS keep on talking with little action.

The U.S. says the AU and ECOWAS will find solutions to the stalemate in the Ivory Coast. David Wharton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of African Affairs, said “what matters is not US view, but the African view”.Wahrton was merely towing the party line. President Obama said, “the ideal is African solutions to African problems” and “what US thinks is really less important than what the neighborhood feels”. Recently, the President said “It is time for former President Gbagbo to heed the will of his people, and to complete a peaceful transition of power to President Ouattara. The eyes of the world are on Cote d’Ivoire.” Should we expect Gbagbo to un-cling from power terrified by the Evil Eye of the world?!?

The Wrath of Gbagbo on the Ivory Coast

African dictators think themselves to be African gods the longer they cling to power. They demand to be worshipped and adored as living legends. For the poor and illiterate Africans, they do become the gods of fire, war, chaos, terror, anger and revenge. They become life-givers and life-takers. When they lose power — lose elections they have rigged to win — they visit their wrath upon their citizens. Today we witness the Wrath of Gbagbo on the Ivory Coast. If Gbagbo cannot have Cote d’Ivoire, no one can have Cote d’Ivoire.Apre moi, le deluge!

  1. aha!
    | #1

    The uprising for democracy in the North African countries and the Ivory cost is to remove to remove autocratic rule/dictatorship with rampant corruption and unemployment, while the impending uprising in Ethiopia is for political and economic freedom and liberty from exploitation, and political stragle hold of the country’s resources and its silent majority from TPLF and TPLF and TPLF affiliated enterprises along with ethnic ethnic and seccessioinist politics and/or policies inscribed in the constitution Article 39 (1), and lopsided balance of power in the the tree branches of governmenment Article 50 as described by Negede gobeze in his article in 2003 as pecedent causes to “Non-violence reaction/uprising to freedom, not democracy as stipilated in this article, from autocratic, ethnocratic/ethnic dictatorship,and totalitarianism from the communist ideology of the Dergue regime overtly supported by the teletafi parties and implicitely supported by the loyalist opposition parties, now forming and forming Medrek/fdre, a mirror image of TPLF/eprdf regime along a pro-democracy movement of UDJP, harping of democracy looks like what the Ethiopian saying “yekotun awerd billa yebibituan talech”. The freedom of the indiviuals in all respects is the hands of TPLF/eprdf regime with its teletafi parties, and the loyalist opposition parties hodling on to the ethnic fedralism, rather state feralism and the liberation movenent,enorsing ethnic fedrealism and secessionism upto self determination as the root cuases to political and economic cries against Ethiopian Nationalism and Ethiopian Interests. Without engaging for freedom of the individuals and individual rights ahead of ethnic rights and the teletafi and loyalist oppositon parties abandoning their ethnic agenda, the cry for democracy, a democray of the people by the peopleand for the people would not have the meaning as prcticed in the United States and elsewhere, where the etnicities can develop their languages and cultures.

  2. Sam
    | #2

    Alemayehu seemed to have understood the African dictators self-administered election ploy. They have rigged election results with manfactured lies for years. There is no sign to date that will change. But I do not agree with the writer’s assumption that evey challenger to the incumbent dictators are democracy advocates. Alemayehu wrote “if a challenger wins an election against an incumbent dictator fair and square, the challenger must be prepared to use force to remove the incumbent. Strange as it may sound, it may even be necessary to fight a full blown civil war to replace African dictatorship with African democracy.” There are two points that should be discussed from what I qouted here. Maybe Alemayehu was influenced by Ivory Coast’s experience to suggest if the losing incumbent chose to cling to power despite the people’s wish otherwise, the challenger should be ready for a real fight: Civil War. Well, First, it is difficult to repeat the Ivory Coast experience in every African country. Quite often, in Africa the military has served the interest of the incumbent dictators. Rarely, if ever, does the military switch sides. The generals who have had a vested interest– finacially and politically– seeing the regime survives any challenge could not come out to aid the challengers. Especially if the challenger is determined to implement democracy. Why I used “if?” Because unlike Alemayehu I do not believe every challenger for a dictator is necessairly believes in implementing democracy. There is likely a challenger dictator must wish the decades old dictator to be out of his way. I am not saying what is happening in Ivory Coast is a competition betwen an old and upcoming dictators. I have no way of knowing that. But I do not wrap the challenger with the flag of democracy just because he opposed a known dictator. There should be concern in Ivory Coast case. The challenger and the incumbent got votes based on geographical area. Mostly the North supporting the challenger, the South the incumbent. This is not an indicator of democracy to come. It is better to watch and see before making a judgement call in Ivory Coast politics we hardly know much about. When Tunisians and Egyptians parted way with their dictators, almost everybody seemed to have believed democracy is taking over in the Arab World. Not quite. Watch and see.

  3. NEtsanet
    | #3

    I oppose EPRDF/TPLF for its undemocratic rule over Ethiopia. Its subjugation of our people through the barrel of the gun. However, when I see the Ethiopian opposition not support the development of dams, roads, schools, hospitals etc… I know they have a long way to go before they get to a position to govern the country. If is fair to oppose the EPRDF regime, but it is sick and twisted to oppose the development of our country while living in a comfortable land from abroad. Hate shouldn’t be the guide for opposing the regime in Ethiopia, the love for freedom, justice and democracy should! By the way, I will buy the bond for the millennium dam project and am planning to attend the meeting organized by the regime and exercise my democratic right to voice my opinion. Are you going to dictate to me not to go? What makes you different from the regime in question then?

  4. Gigi
    | #4

    Dear professor I hope you are yang you are not even 30 because the world needs you.

    And I hope the world is good to you. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. tamene
    | #5

    Netsanet – good luck with your investment on ‘millenium dam’. Brutal dictators have smart way of diverting the attention of the ordinary person by bringing sensitive issues forward. They do this when they feel danger is on the horizon. Take what woyane is propagating right now – planing to remove the regime in Eritrea and so called millenium dam. That dam is mere sham propaganda and important to create the illusion in people like you. Behind the milenium dam cartel woyane is selling the fertile lands of Ethiopia. If you as a person have a value then they will sell you for money like our sisters in Arab world.

  6. Freeurself
    | #6

    Wise comments from netsi. This all coments r brainwashin. I cant read deep analysis why we should push 4 change except ‘azeb’&’tplf’ shits. Think twice before u write once.

  7. Freeurself
    | #7

    Ya u r right it needs moderation which is simply censorship. What was this forum about? Freedom of speech…kkkk..express ur self

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    NETsanet,
    LOl! why even hide who you are? Don’t you think we can see through your mask?
    The Woyane regime is beyond undemocratic and illegitimate… Ethiopians have lost freedom of speech, press and the right to organize in their own country.
    Countless number of innocent Ethiopians have been locked up and sentenced for life and deaths.
    Countless number of Ethiopians have been killed in every province. Hundred of innocent Ethiopians have been killed and some have been thrown in ditches like a piece of trash.
    Meles, his wife and their friends from their ethnic group are in control othe entire Ethiopian government.
    They have robbed the country and hidden the money in various countries around the world.
    Meles and Co. have given the thousands of acres Ethiopian land to foreigners.
    Poor Ethiopians struggle everyday to make ends meet and they can’t find cooking oil, sugar and other necessary items and the prices of everything have gone sky high.
    Ethiopians are loosing their homes because they are unable to pay unimaginably high taxes…etc.

  9. Anonymous
    | #9

    NETsanet,
    LOL! why even try to hide who you are? Don’t you think we can see through your mask?
    The Woyane regime is beyond undemocratic and illegitimate… Ethiopians have lost freedom of speech, press and the right to organize in their own country.
    Opposition leaders, teachers, journalists and countless number of innocent Ethiopians have been locked up and sentenced for life and deaths.
    Countless number of Ethiopians have been killed in every province and some have been thrown in ditches like a piece of trash.
    Meles, his wife and their friends from their ethnic group are in control of the entire Ethiopian government.
    They have robbed the country and hidden the stolen money in various banks around the world.
    Meles and Co. have given away thousands of acres Ethiopian land to foreigners.
    Poor Ethiopians struggle everyday to make ends meet and they can’t find cooking oil, sugar and other necessary items to survive and the prices of everything have gone sky high.
    Millions of Ethiopians are expected to die of food shortage.
    Ethiopians are loosing their homes because they are unable to pay unimaginably high taxes, on and on and on.

  10. TAMRAT
    | #10

    Melse regime have been different kind of game to make the people to think differently because they are really afraid of what is happening in middle east and other parts of the world. if people up rising in Ethiopia that the regime will most likely washed a way by the river so now they come up with the idea of something unthinkable. personally I dont really know how long we have to wait to see change in Ethiopia whether you like it or not the regime not easy task to move from his power. I have only one formula that let’s stand together for change. I hope that we can make it happen.

  11. rezene kadissaba
    | #11

    Criticize the opposition who have wasted 99% of our vote – what’s wrong with EPRDF winning 99% – if its ok for kinijit? Dissolve the current oppositions and start with young ones. that’s the only way to win an election. no theory or philosophy needed. everybody knows the strength and weakness of eprdf. no need to repeat it. we want to see an opposition which sounds current, relevant and ready to learn the duty of a gov. That is to work as a legislator, judiciary and executive. Whoever blogs here shows the opposition to get a vote in eth – not to condemn Meles. Oppositions don’t need condemnation advise from you they are experts

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