Ivory Coast Resolution Turns Into Neo-Colonialism
By Staff News & Analysis - April 12, 2011

Gbagbo arrest sends 'strong signal' to dictators … The capture of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo sends a strong signal to dictators that they cannot ignore the will of their people, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) said Monday. Clinton told reporters his arrest "sends a strong signal to dictators" in the region and beyond that they "may not disregard" the voice of their own people in free and fair elections. – AFP

Dominant Social Theme: Africa is a better place with one less tyrant and such individuals have got to respect the will of the electorate.

Free-Market Analysis: Now that former president Laurent Gbagbo has been captured by his rival Alassane Ouattara, the mainstream media is predicting a return to normalcy for the Ivory Coast. It is no doubt hoped by many in the West that Hillary Clinton's specific warning shall encourage democracy throughout the continent, as there are supposedly some 30 elections to be held in that vast region in the near future. The question emerges however as to whether Gbagbo's removal was done in such a way as to enforce the message that the West and the UN wanted to send or detract from it. This is the issue we examine below.

Start with a summary. The recognized story is that Ouattara – as we've written previously – won the Ivory Coast election but his rival Gbagbo refused to step down. Now some five months later, Ouattara has captured Gbagbo and proposes to put him on trial for what turned into a violent confrontation between the two leaders and their respective armed backers.

It's been a tragedy for Ivorian citizens. Perhaps a million or more have been displaced and thousands killed during the struggle between the two men. What was an election in a somewhat impoverished, tiny country has become world news; its resolution officially been turned into a larger object lesson: Respect the UN and its mandate. And listen to your wiser, Western elders.

Yet there are other interpretations as well. An analysis by CNN, no less, in an article entitled "Civil war may continue despite Gbagbo's arrest," points out there are reasons to wonder whether real peace shall return to the Ivory Coast anytime soon. "Ouattara takes over a deeply divided country," writes CNN's Amar C. Bakshi, "and accusations that his forces committed serious crimes while advancing towards Abidjan will complicate any reconciliation effort."

Bakshi explains that even U.N.-certified results show that 46 percent of the population voted for Gbagbo, and therefore the Ivory Coast, a small nation that produces much of the world's cocoa, is fairly evenly divided over the results. Not only that, but in removing Gbagbo and eventually placing him on trial, the opposition risks creating further divisions. The reports of atrocities cut both ways. Bakshi adds the following:

Human Rights Watch said forces loyal to Ouattara had killed hundreds of civilians, raped over 20 women and girls perceived as belonging to Gbagbo's camp and burned at least 10 villages in western Ivory Coast … Religious and tribal faultlines in the West mirror the divide between Gbagbo, whose traditional powerbase is in the Christian and animist south, and Ouattara's Muslim, northern-based forces.

"The conflict in Cote d'Ivoire is not simply one between two presidential candidates, but between two entrenched ethno-political factions which won't be ended simply because Gbagbo gives up," said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, managing director at DaMina Advisors. Bottom line: the world should not take its eye off Ivory Coast just because Gbagbo has been detained.

Even Baskshi's post doesn't explore the full ramifications of what has just taken place. As we've reported previously, what continues to be left out of this story by the mainstream media reporting on it (thousands of articles by now) was that Gbagbo questioned the initial results of the election in a legal manner, or at least one that observed the niceties of Ivory Coast judicial process.

The query was brought before the Ivorian Supreme Court which threw out certain results and declared Gbagbo the winner. It was at this point that the UN stepped in and declared that Ouattara was the winner nonetheless. In doing so, the UN nullified Gbagbo's complaint to the Ivorian Supreme Court and the decision of the Court itself. (Even if the court was corrupt, it would seem that this would have been the place to begin an inquiry.)

Gbagbo's refusal to abide by the UN's decision is what eventually set off the bloodshed. But Gbagbo, a history professor by training who supposedly reads classics in the original Latin and Greek, may have had other more personal reasons to confront Ouattara. The two men have a history going back several decades. They have been political rivals but also they embody, as the CNN article points out, the larger schisms of Ivory Coast society.

Ouattara was not apparently born in the Ivory Coast and constitutionally was barred from running for over a decade. Somehow, eventually, he ran anyway, as the recent election shows. In power previously, as the result of an appointment, he (or his regime) had Gbagbo and his wife arrested and tortured – or so we've read in several news articles. This could explains some of the bad blood between the two men as Gbagbo blames Ouattara directly for his plight and the attacks on his wife.

Having decided that Ouattara had won the election, the UN and the French who initially colonized the Ivory Coast had a fine line to walk. For four months, outside forces negotiated with Gbagbo asking him to step down. But eventually Ouattara had had enough. With the help of French troops and UN forces, he fought back from the hotel where he had taken refuge and managed to gain control of most of the important cities.

Unfortunately, Ouattara's forces including mercenaries left behind a string of murders and rapes that are now being investigated. (Gbago's troops are accused of atrocities as well.) Additionally, these forces had difficulty making the final attack to bring Gbagbo and his family out of the presidential palace where they hiding. Ultimately, it took the combined massed might of both French and UN troops to excavate Gbagbo. The French have claimed that they did not set foot in the presidential palace and that Ouattara's forces handled the final assault.

In summarizing this bizarre incident in a tiny African country, one is left puzzled as to why it ended as it did. Leaving aside the actual politics involved, Gbagbo apparently had a legitimate reason to cling to power. Not only that, but he also had reason to believe that his rival was behind his previous torture and that of his wife's if reports are to be believed. Finally, without the interference of both the French and the UN, Ouattara likely would not have been able to remove him.

Within this context, Hillary Clinton's warning to African leaders to respect the rule of law and abide by elections seems at least a bit tenuous, if not misguided. The French have now twice used the 2005 UN resolution that we have reported on previously – R2P – to bring military force to bear on an African country. Libya is one example and the Ivory Coast is another. But in claiming that military force is warranted to "protect civilians" from slaughter, French leaders and the Anglo-American power elite itself are making specific judgments that are bound to be subjective.

In the case of the Ivory Coast it seems clear that the French and the Western powers-that-be found Ouattara an easier person to deal with than Gbagbo. He is a former employee of both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and his installation as President of the Ivory Coast shall no doubt bring that bleeding country further into the ambit of Western influence. But the way that the resolution was handled shall leave questions and lingering bitterness at least.

After Thoughts

Gbagbo's eventual appearance at the Hague probably shall not resolve these issues. It is more likely to be viewed as a show trial. The West apparently wanted to make a point about the legitimacy of African elections and about respecting the UN's judgment. Instead, a point has been made that may have more to do with resurgent neo-colonialism than electoral justice. And that may have a host of further implications that are yet to unfold.