African business, politics and lifestyle
Ivory Coast puts African credibility on the line
Mediation has already started after another bad election in Africa.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki was in Ivory Coast at the weekend to try to sort out the mess after election results ratified by the United Nations were rejected by the Constitutional Court, the army and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who had himself sworn in again as president quickly. His opponent Alassane Ouattara said he was president.
Mbeki, all smiles as he met Gbagbo, is used to brokering deals. He helped negotiate the deal for Zimbabwe’s unity government between President Robert Mugabe and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, ending months of turmoil at the time. Tsvangirai had led in the first round in early 2008 but boycotted the second after violence against his supporters.
That unity deal came months after former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan came up with an agreement in Kenya following an election in which incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was also accused of rigging, but had himself quickly sworn in. Violence followed in which at least 1,300 people were killed before a power-sharing pact was reached.
The agreements in Kenya and Zimbabwe certainly ended ruinous crises (or at least put them on hold), but could they also have been lessons in how to keep a shot at power when all might seem lost?
Until the early 1990s, most African presidents were there for life – comfortable as long as that life was not curtailed by an ambitious chief of army staff. Then came elections - some good and many not so good – under donor and popular pressure.
Could there now be a new model? Hold an election and if you win then great – you are a democrat after all – but even if you don’t there’s an escape route. The worst that happens is that an elder statesman shows up to mediate a deal which may still leave you in a strong position – perhaps even the strongest position?
Much is at stake for the United Nations in Ivory Coast, and not only the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on helping end civil war and on organizing and overseeing the election. By coming out very clearly to say that Ouattara had won the election, it will surely be discredited if that is not respected in some form.
Africa’s credibility is also on the line. A significant reason for an improving investment profile is the decrease in the number of wars and the increase in the number of elections. The mess in Ivory Coast doesn’t help and overshadows the first free election in neighbouring Guinea, where the two sides (eventually) agreed there would be one winner and one loser.
But nobody has as much at stake in Ivory Coast as Gbagbo himself and he has always been a fighter.
When Ivory Coast’s then ruler, Robert Guei, declared victory in a poll a decade ago that everyone knew the opposition had won, he was driven from power by popular protests called by the opposition leader with the support of the international community behind him. That opposition leader was of course Laurent Gbagbo.
Should Gbagbo stay or go? Will Mbeki be up to the task of sorting out the mess? What alternative is there to mediation?