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from Global News Journal:
This week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, defended the United Nations' record on Ivory Coast. In a highly unusual public rebuttal, Nambiar told former South African President and African Union mediator for the Ivory Coast conflict, Thabo Mbeki, that it was he -- not the international community -- who got it wrong in the world's top cocoa producer.
In April, Ivory Coast's long-time President Laurent Gbagbo was ousted from power by forces loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara, who won the second round of a U.N.-certified election in November 2010, with the aid of French and U.N. troops. According to Mbeki -- who has also attempted to mediate in conflicts in Sudan and Zimbabwe -- there never should have been an election last fall in the country that was once the economic powerhouse of West Africa.
Mbeki wrote in an article published by Foreign Policy magazine at the end of April: "The objective reality is that the Ivorian presidential elections should not have been held when they were held. It was perfectly foreseeable that they would further entrench the very conflict it was suggested they would end."
Ivory Coast was split in two by the 2002-3 civil war and the failure to disarm the northern rebels meant the country held an election last year with two rival armies in place, leading to a new outbreak of hostilities when Gbagbo rejected the internationally-accepted election results.
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.
In a matter of weeks, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara have undergone a role reversal which, even by the standards of recent Ivorian history, defies belief.
Before the lightning advance of pro-Ouattara forces on Abidjan last week, Gbagbo was laying siege to his rival in a plush lagoon-side hotel in downtown Abidjan.
“This is an African solution to an African problem,” was African Union chief Jean Ping’s reasoning for another round of negotiations to resolve Ivory Coast’s bitter leadership dispute.
Regional leaders and the outside world had been uncharacteristically swift to condemn Laurent Gbagbo’s bid to cling onto power. The AU itself wasted little time suspending the West African nation from the bloc.
In the bad old days of post-colonial Africa, dictators would hail their landslide re-elections as a demonstration of the will of an adoring people while international observers would dismiss the polls as electoral farce.
In the brave new Africa, it is often the other way round.
In Ivory Coast this week, the U.N. mission chief is going out of his way to hail the election as broadly democratic, while both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara have complained the vote has been marred by intimidation of their supporters.
So what is going on? Two things, at least.
Electorates are becoming more sophisticated and literate, although there is still often a big gap between urban and rural voters. Election monitoring, while still a tough job, has also improved. And even the most authoritarian of rulers knows donors will not be best pleased at any sign of meddling with monitors’ work. In Ivory Coast, there is particularly close scrutiny because the poll has costs donors $400 million and they want their money’s worth.
Put simply, it is harder to rig an election these days.
Secondly, much of the international strategy for dealing with post-crisis countries like Ivory Coast or perpetual-crisis countries like neighbouring Guinea rests is based on the hope that democratic elections will make things better.
The fear is that if the election turns out to be a joke, then the strategy falls apart. It is therefore in the interest of the internationals to defend the credibility of the vote.
The presidential race in Ivory Coast is an undeniably tight contest — neither Gbagbo nor Ouattara can hope to achieve the 96.7 percent score achieved last year by Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema in a much-criticised poll.
In that sense what is playing out in Abidjan at the moment is broadly positive — an attempt to stage a free and fair poll.
Yet what is troubling is the hiatus between the close of polls on Sunday and the announcement of preliminary results not due until Wednesday. The ballots should be pretty much in from the provinces and tallied up by now. So why the wait?
Speculation is inevitably mounting of behind-the-scenes wrangling over the vote. The local diplomatic corps is urging the two candidates to accept whatever result emerges. Perhaps there are well-meaning efforts going on to soften the blow for whomever has lost it — and reduce the risk of trouble.
The next couple of days will show just how ready for democracy Ivory Coast and its leaders really are.
Barring last-minute upsets, Ivory Coast will go to the polls on Sunday, marking the end of a five-year limbo in which the incumbent president has ruled without any real mandate and the country stagnated without a sense of identity or direction.
The following weekend, neighbouring Guinea may finally hold the serially delayed second-round of its presidential election, hoped to end nearly two years of military rule whose defining moment was a massacre of pro-democracy marchers by the security forces in a sports stadium.
Maybe it was too early in the morning. Or perhaps their hearts just weren’t in it.
Whatever the case, a rally called by Togo ‘s opposition leaders for early Tuesday — meant to voice full-throated outrage over the March 4 election they say was rigged to favour the incumbent — was a near no-show.
A few days back, I had the pleasure to moderate a lively debate on investment prospects in Africa involving private sector panellists and representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The tone was upbeat, but discussion turned heated when it came to debt restructuring in Ivory Coast.
While it might sound obscure (and I won’t go into all the details) it raised broader questions about the role of the international financial institutions in Africa and how that may be reinforced by the global financial crisis.
The concern of some in the private sector was that foreign investors with exposure to local debt in Ivory Coast looked set to suffer the same restructuring terms that holders of foreign debt would have to bear – with the approval of the IMF. Their argument was that this would discourage foreign investors from buying local bonds in Africa.
The IMF came back robustly, saying it was only playing by the rules in Ivory Coast and suggesting that investors make closer checks before putting in their money.
But private sector participants were unclear where this might leave them in future, particularly at a time many African states are eyeing bond markets again.
Some voiced broader concern over how the international financial institutions see the private sector’s role.
Before the credit crisis, a number of African countries had begun turning to international capital markets. But Eurobond plans were put on hold when global markets seized up and the institutions stepped back in to provide emergency help to hard-hit countries. Amounts have been substantial even compared to the $10 billion in concessional financing promised by China over three years. The IMF board approved a $1.4 billion standby loan arrangement for Angola this week.
The question now is how this may change the longer term balance in sources of finance for African states.
Is the private sector overly wary of institutions that are simply doing their best to give emergency help now and fend off future debt crises? Or are those institutions muscling back in to impose their dominance in telling African states how they should go about managing their debts and getting the finance they need? How will Chinese money affect the balance?
Pictures: A money dealer counts the Nigerian naira on a machine in his office in the commercial capital of Lagos, January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), is introduced at the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference in Montreal, June 8, 2009. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa grower, kicked off the 2009/10 season on bleak note on Thursday, with the head of the body overseeing the industry warning that even the most optimistic forecasts predicted a fall in production.
“Our plantations have suffered from the crisis,” said Gilbert Ano, echoing concerns about the West African country’s cocoa trees becoming too old, not being looked after properly by under-supported farmers and producing less cocoa as a result.
At 26, Annick Vangah is on top of the world. She’s in the driver’s seat of a 7.2-ton public bus in Abidjan, one of the biggest and busiest cities in West Africa and Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.
Until 2002, only men were allowed to drive the buses owned by Abidjan’s public transport company SOTRA. Today, Vangah is one of 19 women behind the wheel of the city’s public buses. The company’s nearly 1,900 other drivers are all men.