Ivory Coast: Lessons from the Arab world

2011-02-26 10:26

The revolution in Egypt that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak has once again given voice to the street and revived a more just vision for our world.

The preservation of what has been ­attained will be a difficult phase, but one can compare this moment of pure rejoicing to the fall of the Berlin Wall or the liberation of ­Nelson Mandela.

What lessons can Ivory Coast, and by extension the rest of the continent, take from Egypt?

» Lesson 1: The desire for change,?when it seizes a country, is a powerful wave that is difficult to contain.

The people descend into the street and say no.

» Lesson 2: Democracy is perhaps what is best at the present time, but this best must change if it no longer responds to the aspirations of a growing number of individuals. A democracy that is not genuine or that operates at various speeds is a dangerous thing.

In Ivory Coast, what cannot be said enough is that in the second round of presidential elections Ivorians found themselves before an invidious choice: Laurent Gbagbo, whose flagrant poor management of the country for 10 years, or Alassane Ouattara, whose political past and personality were controversial in the southern part of the country?

Furthermore, one wonders if the conditions were there for the holding of free and fair elections when one takes into ­account that the after-effects of the rebellion of 2002 are still visible.

By all accounts, the answer is no.

Today, the social cracks have never been so deep.

The least that one can say is that the electoral system put in place under the arbitration of the United Nations operation in Ivory Coast went seriously wrong.

The two leaders in opposition – Ouattara or Gbagbo – have both been declared president: one by the Constitutional Court and the other by the Independent Electoral Commission.

One asks oneself if these elections had any chance of being democratic.

In effect, the most important thing for Gbagbo was to avoid free and fair elections in Ivory Coast and simply stay in his position for five more years, even though this could put his people in danger.

Since the beginning of the post-electoral crisis, violence and repression have been rife.

» Lesson 3: Regarding Ouattara, there has not been any movement of collective protest by his supporters, which would have given him legitimacy – Egyptian style.

The brutal force against the marches on the television station, the prime minister’s office in Abidjan and against the more recent marches cannot be underestimated, but it does not explain all.

It is necessary to see the failure of these attempts relative to popular uprisings ­elsewhere.

True, it took several decades for the Tunisians and the Egyptians to come to this stage of individual and collective awareness, but it is all the same a good lesson to retain.

Above all, this lack of effective support puts Ouattara and the members of his entourage in a very precarious situation.

Holed up at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, their lives are entirely in the hands of the international ­forces that ensure their protection.

» Lesson 4: You cannot turn your weapons against your own people and hope to retain legitimacy.

Soro Guillaume, the prime minister of the government of Ouattara, is asking for military intervention in Ivory Coast to ­“dislodge Gbagbo” by force.

Yet as the former head of the ­rebellion, he is fully aware that a confrontation between an African force and the Ivorian army would result in enormous loss of life and risks setting the whole region on fire.

As for the option of financially strangling Gbagbo, favoured by the international community, it is slow and very costly for national and regional economies. It could also lead to a civil war that the whole world wants to avoid.

» Lesson 5: Defuse self-destruction.

The situation in Ivory Coast has taken on the dimension of a struggle to the death that drives the two protagonists to a scorched earth policy.

»?Lesson 6: Rediscover a sense of self-sacrifice, the recognition of an interest greater than the ascension to power.

»?Lesson 7: Remain optimistic.

In the face of what seems like ­insurmountable odds today, ­confidence in the future must prevail.

That is why an interim ­presidency has to be part of the ­solution envisaged by the African Union.

After several attempts at mediation without success, the idea is to support an ­internal ­process that will identify a new ­Ivorian man or woman with a ­profile sufficiently neutral to achieve national consensus.

It is a delicate task but is not unattain-able.

At this stage, the participation of the UN and the international ­community is vital if it will ­translate into the recognition of the legitimate aspirations of a ­people for peace.

» ?Lesson 8: The army has a historic role to play if it chooses to dedicate itself to the “superior interest of the nation” and ensure the protection of citizens.

» Lesson 9: Young people have shown that they can take their destiny in hand.

Let us not forget either that in 2008 many African capitals were shaken by hunger riots denouncing endemic poverty.

» Lesson 10: If we can restore hope, then we can achieve ­anything.

» Tadjo is a writer and academic from Ivory Coast. She is the head of French Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand

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