By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 25, 2011
Professor Kwesi Jonah is the chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Ghana at Legon. He is an expert in African politics and specializes in political economy and good governance. In 2005-06 he acted as the coordinator of West African Political Parties Programme (WAPPP), a project of the Institute of Economic Affairs located in Accra.
I spoke with him about what is taking place in Cote d’Ivoire. His duties in WAPP took him to Cote d’Ivoire where he was responsible for encouraging the practice of free and fair elections and bringing the major opposition forces together. This was an interesting assignment since many of his family members live in Cote d’Ivoire. What is happening there is not only an academic matter to him. It is also a personal matter, a case in which the personal is also political.
Cote d’Ivoire consists of twenty million persons of whom approximately one third are immigrants from Ghana, Mali, Cameroon, Burkina Faso who went there when the economy was flourishing. They provided the backbone of the cocoa industry which made Cote d’Ivoire the leading producers of cocoa in 1979 and the second largest economy West Africa. It is also the leading producer of palm oil and pineapples. Such was its prosperity the French population doubled between 1960 and 1980.
In the 1990s the country experienced sustained economic decline. When Felix Houphouet-Boigny died in1993 Henri Konan Bedie assumed the presidency. He practiced “ivoirite” that favored indigenous Ivoirians over the immigrant population and blamed the economic downturn on “foreigners.” In a region in which it is so easy to go from one country to another (with or without a visa) it is difficult to sustain such separation. However, political expedience ruled and soon ethnic cleavages divided the society. President Bedie exiled many opposition leaders and thousands of Ivoirans fled to the neighboring countries.
Ivoirite and the suppression of the opposition led to Cote d’Ivoire’s first coup d’etat in 1999 when dissident military officers seized the government, sent Bedie into exile and General Robert Guei was installed as president. In 2002 Laurent Gbagbo defeated Guei in relatively free and fair election. Allasane Ouattara, a former Prime Minister under Houghouet-Boigny, was prevented from contesting because he was of Burkinabe origins. His parents were born in Burkina Faso.
Another armed uprising took place in September 2002 when Gbagbo was visiting Italy. Guei was killed. It is alleged that he led the uprising. Outtara was forced to seek refuge in the French Embassy. Many of the immigrants in the North supported the uprising which led to harsh reprisals against them by Gbagbo. Eventually there was a rapprochement between the army and Gbagoba who ruled until 2005.
When his mandate ended in 2005, Gbabo refused to remit office claiming that conditions were not safe to hold new elections. The UN Security Council allowed his rule to continue for another year. He did not leave office until 2010 when elections were held. However, running a country without a parliament and the legitimacy of free and fair election led to massive corruption; the violation of human rights and his acquisition of tremendous illegal wealth.
The violent suppression of the opposition forces led Bedie and Ouattara to flee the country and lived in exile in Paris. They formed an alliance that was detrimental to Gbagbo. In the 2010 elections three of them contested the elections. Gbagbo recieved 35 per cent of the vote; Ouattara 32 per cent and Bedie 22 per cent. Since a candidate needed fifty percent of the votes plus one to win the election a run off election was held. Bedie supported Ouattara who was victorious. Gbagbo’s reluctance to vacate office has led to the present impasse in Cote d’Ivoire.
Most international organizations have recognized the legitimacy of Ouattara’s election; his representative was seated at the UN and the president of Bostwana invited him to an official state visit. Professor Jonah does not believe that these international bodies will use force to remove Gbagbo although they hold it out as a last resort. He believes Gbagbo will demit office after lengthy negotiations that guarantee his personal safety, assure him he will not be prosecuted for human rights violations; and allow him to keep his property and ill-gotten gains.
Professor Jonah worries about President John Atta Mills’s stance that the international community should keep its mouth out of Cote d’Ivoire’s business-his words-although Ghana is a signatory to the African Union and ECOWAS Charters. Recently he has begun to change his tune. President Mills says Ghana’s troops are overstretched and cannot commit to other overseas assignments. Professor Jonah feels “President Mills should support Ouattara since so many Ghanaians live in Cote d’Ivoire. As the leading democracy in Africa, Ghana has a moral responsibility to set the tone in terms of the peaceful transition of government, the practice of good governance and democracy.”
The spectacle of a defeated president clinging to office also worries Professor Jonah, a position that Nana Akufo Addo, the leader of the Opposition supports. They both believe it sets a bad precedent and takes West Africa back to the days when rulers refused to accept the verdict of its citizens. Professor Jonah hopes that civil society organizations in Cote d’Ivoire will play the same role they played in Ghana during the last election when they persuaded Akufo Addo (NPP) to accept his loss graciously although he was defeated by President Mills (NDC) by .016 per cent of the votes. Such an act represented an important milestone for Ghana and the continent.
Gbagbo is sinking deeper into the quagmire of obsolescence. His forces are reputed to have burnt UN vehicles, his government has used the state media to spread “false information;” thousands of Ivoirians have fled the country while countless others are displaced internally. There have also been reports of civilian massacres in the country.
Valerie Amos, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, noted that the violence in Cote d’Ivoire “shows how quickly a political crisis can have great humanitarian consequences.” The UN has dispatched 2,000 more troops to Cote d’Ivoire while the EU and Switzerland have frozen Gbagbo’s assests. Professor Jonah hopes common sense prevails and Gbagbo realizes the futility of his actions.
Raila Odinga, President of Kenya and a mediator in the crisis, believes that an amicable solution of this conflict will be in keeping with “the wave of democracy that is sweeping across Africa.” Let us hope this happens quickly.