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African Democracy and the Ivorian Brigandage

For ten years, Laurent Gbagbo has manipulatively installed himself at the centre of governance without scruples and without a single block over Boigny’s foundation. Yet,…

For ten years, Laurent Gbagbo has manipulatively installed himself at the centre of governance without scruples and without a single block over Boigny’s foundation. Yet, the world accepted that the first five years were semi-legitimate mandate, the rest a crooked, callous and cruel manipulation. Boigny’s once avowed critic is now his avowed student, dexterously manipulating his country, fellow compatriots, regional and global bodies. For most of the time, he had an ally in Blaise Compaore, the murderer who has installed himself in the neighbouring Burkina Faso and who volunteered to be mediator in the political logjam that has blighted this once prosperous country. That was until early this year, when Compaore was forced to tell his homologue that his time was up.

Having ruined his country for ten years, during which he not only pushed it into a civil war, but caused the disappearance of several local and prominent opposition figures, including an investigative Canadian journalist, only a die-hard despot like Gbagbo would present himself again as candidate for the presidency. But he did. And it is evident that even if the change was for change’s sake, the people were tired of a wicked manipulative dictator. According to local and foreign observers, the turnout was massive and the message was clear – bye-bye Gbagbo. At the final end of count, Alassane Ouattara, won and ought to be calling the shots today by the rules except that Gbagbo usurped that.

With a decimated army, police and gendamerie ethnically manipulated to favour himself, Gbagbo is digging in while Ouattara, the people’s president, has only the coverage of the UN peacekeepers deployed to keep Gbagbo from decimating other ethnic groups but now with an unenviable mandate. The electoral commission declared a clear winner, but the Constitutional Court installed a different person. For the sake of arguments, if the so-called irregularity in northern Cote d’Ivoire is enough to void the votes, shouldn’t the logical option be a re-run or a by-election in the affected areas? No, the Constitutional Court, appointed by Gbagbo, applied the rule of track and field athletes with drug-induced victories by giving the medal to the second runner up.

Gbagbo digs in at State House guarded by his armed kinsmen while the legitimate winner is holed up in a hotel guarded by UN Forces. From that relative safety, Gbagbo swore himself in, with pomp and fanfare and chose his cabinet. In the ironic but creative words of wordsmiths at the BBC, Gbagbo is head of state while Ouattara heads the Hotel Republic. The apparent pretence of the regional charade called ECOWAS in Abuja, is intriguingly smoking in its condemnation. But who among the seven or so rulers who rushed to Abuja to register their condemnation is saintly or reformed enough to cast the first stone at Gbagbo?

Let us take a cursory look at the resume of the few who attended. Jonathan who heads the pack is an interim leader presenting himself to a party that technically knocked him out of competition but insists on running. The murderer, Compaore, has kept himself in office by hook and by crook since he murdered Thomas Sankara. Abdoulaye Wade is neither here nor there. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has reneged on her promise and is now presenting herself as candidate in her country’s next elections risking the destruction of all that has been attributed to her. Faure Gnassingbe is the inheritor of the Togolese heirloom whose awkward presidency is rubberstamped by a shambolic electoral process. Only Ghana’s Atta Mills, for now, can morally sit in judgement in that talk, tea, party and squander club.

Gbagbo realises this, and turned up his nose at his co-travellers reminding them they had no right to tell him how to run his fiefdom. While the world is advancing democratically, leader’s tinkering with the democratic process have led to confusing definitions ranging from sustaining outright sit-tight dictatorship to changing the posts before the ball hits the net or turning state power into family heirloom. It is so bad that recently, the Central African Republic eulogised one of the worst dictators ever known to Africa because those who took over from him have performed worse.

The latest addition to this corruption of democratic ideals is the new lexicon – power sharing. This is an ugly phenomenon where the dictator-election-loser sits tight until he hamstrings the winner to share his price. This is the contraption in place in Kenya and Zimbabwe and Gbagbo’s calculation. What more, with a little help from his colleagues, Russia, and with despondency across the global political spectrum, he may get it. With rulers like this, what hope for development of democracy, democratic ideals and the development that the continent needs?

Except the whole world put their money where their mouth is, by starving the Gbagbo dictatorship of needed recognition, there is no hope. We must tire out Gbagbo and his supporters by insisting that Ouattara gets his mandate. The Ivorian people are already down and would be the ultimate winners in such a scenario.