Magazine article New African

In the Coming Year ... Cameron Duodu on What Is Likely to Happen in a Number of African Countries in 2011

Magazine article New African

In the Coming Year ... Cameron Duodu on What Is Likely to Happen in a Number of African Countries in 2011

Article excerpt

I HATE WRITING ABOUT THINGS THAT have not yet happened. For just as the best-laid plans of men can be negated by events of which they had no foreknowledge, so can it be with the affairs of nations. In fact it is worse with nations, because so many factors affect their future that attempting to forecast their fates is almost akin to dreaming and talking about what one sees in the dream. Indeed, I hold certain publications that have the gall to predict what may happen in a country in unmitigated contempt, the reason being that if one goes back a few years to look at what they had written in years past, their forecasts are found to be disastrously inaccurate.

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I remember that around 1987-88 for instance, The Economist Intelligence Unit in London bluntly told its subscribers that there would be "a coup" in Nigeria against President Ibrahim Babangida. This seemed foolish to me, for Babangida had assumed power only two years before, and was still wrapped in the silken shrouds of a honeymoon period with the Nigeria populace, during which he was believed to be the best thing Nigeria ever had--a soldier who was also democratic enough to throw open to the people for debate, the thorny question of whether Nigeria should seek an IMF loan or not. Needless to say, he stayed on in power until 1993-six good years after he had been rubbished by the international forecasters. So, I shall certainly do my best to give you a picture of what might happen on our continent in the days that lie ahead, but please remember that I am only looking into dark waters and trying to make sense of mere shadows in the water.

The forecast

I shall start with Cote d'Ivoire. Despite their preoccupation with their internal affairs, both Ghana and Nigeria will have to devote a lot of time and effort in 2011 to the problem in Cote d'Ivoire. Fighting had already broken out in Abidjan by mid-December, and was expected to intensify.

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ECOWAS had met in Abuja and suspended Cote d'Ivoire from its membership, as did the African Union. The UN Security Council had also called on President Laurent Gbagbo to honour the voice of the Ivorian people, as expressed in the 28 November presidential run-off election. And the USA, taking a stronger line than usual, had warned Gbagbo that he had very little time in which to avoid strong sanctions being applied against him and his followers. The problem arose when Cote d'Ivoire, which fought a civil war that tore it apart between 2002-2004, was ushered into renewed tension by Gbagbo's actions after he had lost the election. He refused to yield power to the opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara who had clearly won it.

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The UN, which has 9,000 troops in the country, has pulled out all "non-essential staff". The fear is that the UN force--as well as the French force that has been stationed in the country since the civil war--may be drawn into any extended fighting that breaks out between Gbagbo's forces and those of the "New Forces", who support Ouattara. Their involvement would set a very bad precedent and would almost certainly be condemned by the AU and ECOWAS, even though they would wish that the fighting was stopped. But how would they like the fighting to be stopped? That is the conundrum that ECOWAS will spend a lot of time trying to unravel in 2011.

Gbagbo is indeed a throwback to an Africa of yesteryears, where a "big" man got hold of power and held it tightly in his fists--unable to let go of it. Which is rather strange, because Gbagbo opposed with tooth and claw, a man who had a similar attitude to power--the late Felix Houphouet-Boigny, first president of Cote d'Ivoire (who died in 1993 after ruling for 40 years). Gbagbo has, since Houphouet's death, taken part in uncountable power-sharing schemes with his rivals. But each time, he has torn them up. His erstwhile prime minister, Guillaume Soro, is now the mainstay of Alassane Ouattara, the man Gbagbo could not beat at the 28 November election and yet won't allow to be president. …

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