Thursday, December 30, 2010

Côte d'Ivoire: Rwanda redux... redux

In 2005, I wrote an essay entitled Côte d'Ivoire: Rwanda Redux.

The country was then, as now, run by the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). The FPI was a long-time opposition party that gained power through the same public outrage against a rigged election that now threatens it. The FPI has cultivated a hypernationalistic and very xenophobic streak to preserve its grip on power, against the obvious will of the people, at all costs... to the point where they are willing to destroy the country to hold on to it.

In my 2005 essay, I described the similarities between the situation then in Cote d'Ivoire and pre-genocide Rwanda as such:

There are so many parallels between the two, it's scary. From the leader who considered making peace with rebels but was opposed by extremists in his own camp. To the despicable hate media campaign against 'foreigners.' To the involvement of French and UN troops. To the meticulously planned campaign against all 'enemies' of the regime... and thus enemies of the Republic... the rhetorical unification of the government of the day with the nation as a whole is a key part of any sinister propaganda campaign. Even to the Lady MacBeth wife of the president with her own Pretorian Guard entourage (Agathe Habyrimana in Rwanda and Simone Gbagbo in Côte d'Ivoire).

Laurent Gbagbo and his FPI have changed little since that essay was written, despite being declared loser of the recent presidential runoff by the Ivorian Independent National Electoral Commission among others.

There are serious warnings of genocide in the country by pro-Gbagbo forces.

The UN has accused the regime of blocking access to mass graves.

Ivorian observers have expressed concern about the proliferation of hate media, a key component of the Rwandan genocide. As someone who's read and listened to the Ivorian media for many years, these accusations are consistent with my own experiences, both past and present.

No doubt hearing reports of serious human rights abuses and the violent fanaticism of some Gbagbo supporters, thousands of Ivorians have fled to neighboring countries, with officials fearing that influx could be as high as 100,000.

Gbagbo has been called upon to give up the power he legitimately lost not only by westerners and the UN, but also by the African Union and the West African regional body ECOWAS. ECOWAS threatened to remove Gbagbo by force by has since backed off. The military option is unlikely without the support of Ghana, which has one of the region's strongest militaries.

And that's probably just as well for the moment. Threats of outside intervention only play into the hands of the hypernationalistic Gbagbo camp and may provoke a return to civil war should it actually take place. Pressure should continue to be heaped upon the losers to give up power before a bloodbath occurs; a Nigerian human rights group has offered some suggestions in that regard. However, ECOWAS should be ready to intervene if Gbagbo's forces get out of control. Already, the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots thugs have threatened Ouattara and his aides.

Botswana's president Ian Khama rubbished the idea of a power-sharing agreement with Gbagbo remaining as president and Ouattara returning to his old job as prime minister until the next elections. And very rightly so. Power sharing agreements prevent solutions rather than addressing them.

Pres. Khama denounced the precedent that this would set, noting that "Elections there [in Kenya and Zimbabwe] were hijacked by the ruling party and if that is what is going to happen every time someone wants to dispute an election result and then stay in power by default through a mechanism of power-sharing, then it’s wrong."

Former president Gbagbo has two options. He could follow the example of Cellou Dalein Diallo in neighboring Guinea by accepting defeat with dignity and prevent his country from descending into hell. Or he might end up facing trial in the Hague, like Charles Taylor of neighboring Liberia. May he choose the path of a civilized human being.

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