Cote d'Ivoire the Story Behind the Story

Article excerpt

So far, as usual, the reporting of the political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire by the international media has skirted the crux of the matter. The incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, has been portrayed as the bad guy who would not go peacefully after losing the second round of the presidential election. But is the Ivorian crisis only about the presidential election? Or is there more to it? Here, we tell the story behind the story in Cote d'Ivoire. This piece is by Tom Mbakwe.

AFTER THE INITIAL FEW WEEKS OF SHUTTLE diplomacy and threats of military intervention and sanctions, the political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire appears to have settled down for the long haul. Both sides have dug in and are preparing for the push and shove and the psychological warfare ahead.

Beyond the country's borders, however, reality has dawned and leaders of global, continental and regional institutions who appeared to have been swept off their feet by the events of the first few weeks, are re-assessing their positions.

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The presidents of four of the 16 Ecowas member countries met in Abuja in those tempestuous few days after the disputed presidential run-off. They hastily suspended Cote d'Ivoire from Ecowas membership and threatened to use military force to remove President Laurent Gbagbo from power if he did not go peacefully after "losing" the run-off to his main challenger, Alassane Ouatarra.

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Ghana's president, Prof John Atta Mills, one of the four leaders who met in Abuja (the others were from Nigeria, Senegal and Liberia), initially objected to military action and has since publicly reinforced his objection by saying that Ghana, a major military power in the Ecowas equation, would not take part in any military intervention in Cote d'Ivoire. Without Ghana's participation, any Ecowas military action will be hamstrung. Liberia, too, has ruled out troop contribution to Ecowas. Of course, Nigeria can go ahead single-handed (or together with others) and intervene militarily in Cote d'Ivoire, but Nigeria itself has presidential and legislative elections coming up in early April--what if a Cote d'Ivoire situation arises in Nigeria, a country with a notorious record for bad elections in the recent past. Would Ecowas similarly intervene militarily in Nigeria? Or would Big Brother Nigeria be left alone to solve its problems using its domestic electoral laws?

Cote d'Ivoire will be a major discussion point at the African Union summit at the end of January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Having had time to digest the strange goings-on in Abidjan since the presidential run-off, African leaders are now better prepared for the heated debate that is likely to happen in the Ethiopian capital.

The story behind the story

The reporting of the crisis so far by the international media has, as usual, skirted the core of the problem in Cote d'Ivoire, which goes beyond the presidential election. In fact, the presidential election is only the tip of the iceberg. According to keen observers of the Ivorian scene, the real problem is not even between Gbagbo and Ouattara; they say it is between Gbagbo and France, the former colonial master whose huge tentacles are still firmly planted in Cote d'Ivoire and in the other 13 Francophone countries in Africa. They say until the French connection is understood and resolved, real peace will be difficult to achieve in a severely polarised Cote d'Ivoire.

According to President Gbagbo's former ambassador to the United Nations, Koffi Charles (Ouattara has since sent his own UN ambassador to New York), "the core of the problem in Cote d'Ivoire is a conspiracy by the French government to use any means necessary to remove Gbagbo from power because they think he is dangerous and inimical to their interests in Francophone Africa. But Gbagbo will not allow the French to control and run Cote d'Ivoire on their own terms. …