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Lessons learnt from Ivory Coast

April 12, 2011

gbagboTV 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.


Lesson 1: Gbagbo was wrong to proceed with the elections even though the UN have not yet disarmed the rebel forces.
Lesson 2: Gbagbo had complaints about fraud in the election, the election commission ignored it. However, the Constitutional Council looked into it, and declared Gbagbo the winner by a slim majority (after invalidating some votes).
Lesson 3: It is almost impossible to rig the election in the southern parts of the country. Most of the foreign observers were based there. The problem was in the northern parts of the country where there is “lawlessness”. And Ouattara got most of his votes from the north.

Posted by wca1956 | Report as abusive

Another Lesson is to keep the Man in the Elysee Palace sweet because he has apparently taken a much more forward Position in these Matters.
Aly-Khan Satchu

Posted by AlyKhanSatchu | Report as abusive

There is a West African proverb that says”When a monkey is about to die,it will not hear the whistle of the oncoming hunter”I just hope that people like Gaddafi,Yoweri Musevine,Robert Mugabe amongst others will learn that the days of the so-called “Africa Strongmen”are long gone.

Posted by LD.GARTOR | Report as abusive

lesson 3: make sure you control both the electoral commission and anyone else relevant.
So many African countries are pointing the way and reaping benefits of democracy and pease, when will remaining leaders be able to say they would rather relinquish power than see death and bloodshed of fellow countrypeople?

Posted by TomMinney | Report as abusive

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