Ivorian Crisis: The Intrigues Part I

Published on 24th January 2011

Gbagbo and Kenyan PM Raila hug Photo courtesy
The Ivorian crisis is a mirror for the entire African Continent and West Africa in particular to see itself on the international stage. It also presents to the region an opportunity to hold an internal debate about the ownership and quality of African political leadership, the effectiveness of our model of governance, the façade of national institutions, cultural identity, and the ever lingering remote control nature of political decision making as demonstrated by the pre and post November 28 Ivorian elections.
The UN can never bring lasting peace to African Conflicts

My purpose is to raise the consciousness and regional public opinion for us to take collective ownership of all the spaces whether they are spiritual, economic, political, social and academic, among others over our destiny. We have what it takes to heal our land; bring justice to the oppressed; power to the weak and prosperity to the poor. We don’t need a United Nations backed solution that leads to violent confrontation that will necessitate military intervention/occupation by more Colonial armies or a surrogate ECOWAS force on Ivorian territory.

I am a big supporter of the promise of the UN but not in its current form. This institution is in great need of an overhaul because in its current Post World War II structure, only the diabolical ambition and agenda of the five permanent Security Council members get this kind of special attention under the guise of support for democratic electoral governance. (Ref: the deafening silence on recent fraudulent elections in Egypt, Togo, and Gabon, and the shameful impunity of the football stadium massacre in Guinea) These are not conspiracy theories but rather facts supported by empirical data that any astute observer knows, even without the advantage of WikiLeaks.

The governance structure of the very United Nations Organization (UNO) itself is grossly undemocratic. Chapter VII of the UN Charter has been used as a blunt object against governments when their interests are at odds with the big five. Where are the institutions of the so-called International Community since the Football Stadium Massacre in Guinea that violated so many of our women? Only China and Russia sometimes curtail the aggressive tendencies of their fellow colleagues when it is convenient, through the veto. Each of them however impose on the rest their own narrow economic interests. In the absence of unanimity, the Anglo-American-French post 1945 economic axis find other means such as non UN-approved economic sanctions to maintain their neo-colonial control and expansion across the entire African continent.

Why do we still have French troops in African States forty plus years after so called independence with the connivance of our appropriated institutions? The current international gangsterism where weak African institutions are being appropriated to deliver a government in Ivory Coast to perpetuate the interest of foreign powers is not only shameful but an act of regional treason. If Nigeria is seeking western support for its claim to a permanent Africa seat on draft proposals for a reformed UN Security Council, then the people of Ivory Coast should not be the sacrificial lamb in that ambition.

Let me disabuse any of the simplistic notions that it is President Laurent Gbagbo’s political interest that I am defending. I am disgusted with the lack of recognition of how entire ethnic groups across Africa have been manipulated, fattened with the economic and political pie of the state at the expense of other ethnic groups by the constantly reinvented colonial authorities or their agents. I am defending the millions of Ivoirians, the Ivorian southern middle class that can’t seem to reconcile themselves with a government under a President Allasan Ouatarra. I am also defending the millions of Ivoirians in the North who can’t seem to reconcile themselves with a government under a President Gbagbo. Simply replacing one region of dominance over the other under the guise of democratic electoral governance is not the solution to sustainable reconciliation.

I wonder if Mr. Y. J Choi, the UN Secretary General Special Representative is aware of the psychological, political and economic complexities of his actions. Does he even care? It is clearly stated in the UN Security Council Resolution 1765 mandate of the United Nations Operations in Cote Ivoire (UNOCI) that credible elections could only be held in an environment where certain targets of national unity had been met. The UN Special Representative should never have committed the UNO to an election process in an environment where freedom and fairness was not guaranteed and where the Northern Forces still maintained secret arms. What is the resistance to open, transparent and independent verification of the Nov 28 election results? Do they believe that they are the only ones who can add and subtract?

The scrutiny of the conduct of the elections in the North by the independent election observers suggests daylight electoral fraud with a certain amount of collusion by officials of UNOCI. In some regions, the number of votes cast was greater than the total number of voters. According to leaked independent reports by one of the international Election Observers in one region, there were 159,788 votes to 48,400 voters on the electoral register in the North. Reuter’s News Agency reported that some election observers were prevented from observing the voting in certain areas in the North and their concerns were ignored by the Electoral Commission. Even the French Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee expressed concern about the fairness of the elections in the North and summoned just before Christmas day the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michele Alliot-Marie to explain certain conduct of French officials and representatives during the voting in that region as well. A French Parliamentarian Memorandum was sent to Prime Minister Francois Fillon, saying that the interests of France and morality in politics wanted them to let the countries of the African Union address the Ivory Coast and it was certainly not the former colony to impose its views. So the conduct of UNOCI and the entire independent verification institutions in the Ivorian election needs to be investigated and audited to determine what really happened leading to this election crisis.

Perhaps the African Union could convene a team of neutral election experts comprising judges and jurists to go into the North and elsewhere in Ivory Coast and investigate and report on all the allegations of fraud. This could be coordinated with neutral French Parliamentarians who are interested in getting to the bottom of these allegations. Without such an investigation a cloud of suspicion will forever hang over the UN especially as an impartial arbiter of elections across Africa.

There are many unanswered questions and only a truly independent investigation would uncover the facts and establish the legitimacy that none of the candidates can now rightfully claim. I am sure that the UN Secretary General Special Representative and his team tried to meet targets of their mandate set out under the Security Council Resolution and the Peace Accord and much time had been spent back and forth because of the lack of trust between the two major camps of the election. But even with the UN’s best of intentions, the African facade of tribal reconciliation is too complex and intricate particularly when mixed with the powerful commercial and political force of an obstinate colonial amphibian. It leads me to the conclusion that as an institution the UNO really does not possess the African cultural intelligence and capacity to address the tribal mentality combined with  disingenuous colonial enterprises to even appreciate much less resolve African conflicts. This is something for the AU to consider as it transforms itself into an organization that takes a more direct, pre-emptive and assertive role in conflict management and governance issues of its member states.  

Background to the Conflict in Ivory Coast

The background of the conflict in the Ivory Coast is primarily ethnic, regional and cultural. The southern elite have had a long partnership with the French Colonial authorities and believe that it is there inalienable right to govern the entire Ivory Coast. The French Colonial authorities nurtured and encouraged this dynamic as has it suited their commercial enterprises and projects since Ivorian independence in 1960. In fact, to the Ivorian Southerner, the Ivorian colonial construct consists mainly of the Southern ethno-geographical groups. To them, the Northern ethnic groups are not pure Ivoirians’ but migrant workers from Burkina Faso, Mali and elsewhere. This cozy relationship between the French and the Southern Ivorian began to unravel after the death of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a southerner who presided over a one-Party state and nurtured the Franco-Southern Ivorian partnership. So the French have been a guarantor and benefactor of the alienation of the North by the South for years but have now realized that their interests are in jeopardy under President Laurent Gbagbo’s and his southern establishment. It is this falling out between the French and the Southerner which informs this peculiar African conflict.

The French and the Northern regions wish to now establish a new partnership which displaces the Southerner, which now fears their own alienation in this colonial construct. Thus when I hear African leaders parroting the US State Department and French Foreign Minister that they have offered President Gbagbo safe passage into exile, it betrays the naivety of these mindless surrogates of the peculiar Ivorian dynamics. I wonder if they are also going to extend this offer of safe exile to all the millions of Ivoirians in the south as well. These are the southern elites comprising technocrats, the military and the educated class. What about the millions of ordinary Gbagbos who are determined to never be ruled by a Northerner and also who themselves fear reprisals after years of alienation against the North.

Managing this conflict requires recognition that the disunity and hatred between the North and South in the Ivory Coast is much deeper than one or a few individuals. Characterizing this conflict as merely about the refusal of just another African Head of State to step down after an electoral defeat is at best very shallow. What is unequivocal is that the election preconditions set out under the UN Security Council Resolution mandating that the conduct of the UNOCI as well as the African Union-brokered Ouagadougou Peace Accord were not achieved. In hindsight it was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Why? Because the African Union should have insisted that the French military completely leave Ivory Coast and certainly not join as a signatory to those agreements. Secondly, the United Nations should not allow French soldiers or operatives in the Ivorian peace building process. This North-South divide is a French creation that has metamorphosized over the years into an ethnic and cultural conflict of magnanimous proportions. The very presence of the French military and its large expatriate population only serve to undermine the healing and reconciliation envisaged under those agreements.

This North-South conflict existed long before the Nov. 28th election and will continue after a President Gbagbo or a President Oauttara government if genuine, but non-meddling support is not given by non-interested international friends of the Ivory Coast. The relatively new strategy of using African surrogate States or institutions to achieve foreign objectives against another African will only divide the African Union. What is required is a mutual and genuine recognition particularly by the Southern Ivorian establishment that the people of the North are equally part of the Ivorian multiethnic construct and should share in governance. With this in mind, a new constitution is required with a new impetus to embrace each other.

The opportunity for a new African statesmanship first between these two electoral candidates exists for them to abandon their claim to the Presidency and work together in a transitional arrangement. They should meet and isolate themselves in a retreat that will draft a new constitution particularly with electoral provisions that provide guarantees to disadvantaged ethnic communities. The agenda of this process must be owned and driven by themselves after wide national consultation. It will focus on building faith and trust between the parties. All international non Ivorian assistance must come through an African Union select group of African Eminent Persons that has at its disposal all the facilities, resources and with its own dispute resolution mechanism.

The UN should divest itself permanently of such misadventures and instead help to capacitate the African Union and other sub regional bodies that will have a better chance of making sense of our realities. And since the AU as an institution lacks financial muscle then perhaps the UN should outsource conflict resolutions to the AU with all the necessary financial support but without political interference. This conflict requires home-grown models and strategies not the same old tried and failed models. The Gacaca Model of conflict resolution has worked well in Rwanda and there are other culturally specific models around the Continent that needs to be invested in. The missing element is the absence of independent African policy researchers and thinkers to draw out the peculiar African solutions to such crises.   

To be continued

By Nkrumah M. Mulmi Esq.
Nairobi, Kenya       

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