The crisis in Ivory Coast

The crisis in Ivory Coast, precipitated probably in part by its handling by the international community has raised certain questions over the way international diplomacy is being conducted in the world today. The incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo’s camp says that polls in certain parts of the northern region of the country were fraudulent, and that when those controversy-ridden polls are excluded from consideration Mr. Gbagbo emerges as a winner. The camp of the opposing presidential candidate, Alassane Ouattara, says that Mr. Ouattara is the rightful winner of the presidential elections. The Electoral Commission has said that Mr. Ouattara won 54% of the vote as compared to Mr. Gbagbo’s 46%. The Constitutional Council has said that, discounting the results in regions where it deemed polls were not free from fraud, Mr. Gbagbo won 51% of the votes as compared to Mr. Ouatara’s 49%, and hence, Mr. Gbagbo should be declared the winner. It has been said that the Constitutional Council is headed by an ally of Mr. Gbagbo. (I am unaware whether or not the head of the Electoral Commission is an ally of Mr. Ouattara.) The control of the government machinery is currently in the hands of Mr. Gbagbo, while Mr. Ouattara is holed up in a hotel in the capital Abidjan, where he is being protected by UN forces.

The international reaction to the elections has been particularly strong in its immediate aftermath. France, the former colonial power and a nation that has been said to be wielding a lot of influence in the country, has recognized Mr. Ouattara as the elected president and has asked Mr. Gbagbo to step aside. The UN has also echoed similar sentiments. The United States also put itself in the camp demanding Mr. Gbagbo’s dismissal. The West African regional body, Ecowas and the African Union also expressed the same opinion. Ecowas went further and threatened military action if Mr. Gbagbo refuses to accept defeat.

A few things come to light here as regards the international reaction to the situation there. The powers that be have overwhelmingly come out in support of Mr. Ouatara and have been unequivocal in their demand for Mr. Gbagbo to step aside. Secondly, and what is somewhat surprising is that this coloring of Mr. Gbagbo as the defeated villain and Mr. Ouattara as the victimised victor has been done at an incredibly quick pace. The threat of application of military force by Ecowas has shown, for good or for bad, that the grouping is firmly behind Mr. Ouattara, and in essence, probably leaves little room for negotiations with Mr. Gbagbo. As was noted by a commentator, instead of acting as an arbiter in the crisis, Ecowas has probably erred by unequivocally denouncing Mr. Gbagbo’s actions. The threat of force, of international isolation, and that of economic sanctions do have an effect, but pushing Mr Gbagbo into a corner, and issuing statements that have the capacity to derail peaceful settlement, even before there has been a chance to resolve the differences at the negotiating table probably does not seem to be a solution that might be able to bring lasting peace in the long-term.

It has been noted by some commentators that Ecowas, despite its aggressive public posturing, is unlikely to send troops very soon. The international community is now trying to force Mr. Gbagbo’s hand by drying up his funds. Without funds, the theory is that he would not be able to pay the government employees and the armed forces. Economic pressure, it is thought, ought to bring his downfall sooner rather than later. True, the tactics being employed here could indeed succeed and Mr. Gbagbo left without any other options might be forced to step aside. But there are certain other consequences of such actions. Ivory Coast is split into two antagonistic regions, the north and the south. Mr. Ouattara is a representative of the mainly Muslim north. Ivory Coast has had a history in  the recent past of civil-war type violence. Though the international community may succeed by force to place the crown on Mr. Ouattara’s head, it is anyone’s guess how long it would stay there. And if Mr. Ouattara does indeed come to power as a result of international isolation of Mr. Gbagbo, the sense of alienation and persecution felt by his supporters by the events in the aftermath of the elections is unlikely to be a precursor for warm and cordial relations with Mr. Ouattara’s supporters. If anything, it would only lead to enhanced efforts by the supporters of the ousted president to avenge their defeat, and such increased antagonism in an already combustible environment is certainly not the recipe for peace and prosperity.

Diplomacy is often a highly duplicitous game, where one’s words seldom serve more than to mask one’s thoughts behind a veil worn often solely out of informed self-interest. Being that as it may, it is hard to imagine what pushing Mr. Gbagbo into a corner could possibly achieve. Even if he is required to be removed from presidency, it would probably be a better idea to provide him with a honorable route for gracefully exiting the scene. Such a manipulation, although by no means the perfect solution, would probably be one way out of this current impasse. Having said that, it needs to be added that even such a solution would not hold water in the long run. The conflict between the north and south needs to be resolved, which may possibly takes years. A power-sharing scenario, or what in the context of Iraq has been termed as a unity government, could be implemented.

It could well be true that Mr. Ouattara is the rightful winner of the elections and that Mr. Gbagbo has no business holding on to power. Democracy is indeed a nice notion in certain situations; however, a loud and seemingly discriminatory discourse on democratic scruples and ideals is probably not what is required presently given the ground situation in Ivory Coast. It needs to be remembered that Mr. Ouattara, if and when he does come to power, would have 49% of the population (or 54%, depending upon the source) against him. Such figures may not matter in a nation where democracy is well-established, and where there does not seem to be an imminent possibility of civil war breaking out. However, this could well be a recipe for disaster for Ivory Coast. It is quite possible that in such a nation, divided as it is between two warring halves, a democratic election resulting in a single victor, would end up alienating half of the population. Thus it needs to be understood that democracy, the way it is practiced in the nations of the West, may be a significantly less-than-ideal fit for a populace that at present is not ready to embrace it. it is expected that the international community at large, and especially the nations that hold tremendous sway in general in international affairs, would take into account the future prospects for peace in Ivory Coast, and possible ramifications of their actions, in determining the course of action to be followed to find a way out of this deadlock.

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