African business, politics and lifestyle
Lessons learnt from Ivory Coast
TV images of an incredulous Laurent Gbagbo being forcibly evicted from power this week by United Nations- and French-backed Ivorian soldiers send an unequivocal message to other leaders across the continent: outstay your welcome and it could be you next.
Monday’s storming of his Abidjan residence by troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara – whom the rest of the world months ago recognised as winner of the Nov. 28 election – came after Gbagbo was disowned by even his closest African peers.
So the lesson learnt is, as one U.S. official put it early on in the crisis, that the era of stealing elections in Africa is over?
Unfortunately not quite.
While Gbagbo’s fate will no doubt dissuade leaders from being caught red-handed in the act of election theft, some will be drawing up a more cynical “lessons learnt” list along the lines that follow:
Lesson 1: Don’t even entertain the prospect of elections unless you are sure – absolutely sure – of victory. Gbagbo’s mistake was to think that supporters of Henri Konan Bedie would rally to him in the second round. They didn’t. If you’re not certain of victory, best to delay the elections citing technical problems.
Lesson 2: If you get a heads-up that the result is not going your way, don’t let it get out. To be fair, Gbagbo allies did their best in this department, even snatching the results from the hands of the election commission official who was reading them out. However they were caught unawares shortly afterwards when the commission chief then walked unscheduled into a media-packed hotel and gave news of Ouattara’s eight-point victory to bemused journalists. From then on, the cat was out of the bag.
Lesson 3: If you really must rig an election, do it well in advance – and most certainly before the vote observers get there. Deny your rivals access to television and other media – it will mean that many rural voters will never get to hear of them; submit electoral registers to a “review” – it might be that the revised list is weighted in your favour; or if you are worried about being beaten in a second-round run-off simply scrap it – incumbents always have an advantage in single-round votes.
Any of that sound familiar?
If it does, it could be that some of the continent’s leaders have already learnt their lessons from the Ivorian debacle.