Open letter to the African Heads of State
Re: “Surgical operation” in Cote d'Ivoire: the worst-case scenario?
On the 7th of August 2010 in Abidjan, the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire commemorated the 50th anniversary of its independence with the reserve appropriate to a nation destabilized by the crisis born out of the failed coup and armed rebellion of 2002. President Laurent Gbagbo did reach out to the rebels to initiate a process of reconciliation and engage the country on the road to peace and development. A presidential election organized by the political parties under the supervision of the United Nations was expected to seal this reconciliation, reunite the country and put it back to work. Unfortunately, the meticulously prepared election ended in an impasse, which will have to be one day investigated dispassionately in order to provide unbiased information to the african and international public opinions. But for now the country is threatened with military intervention to “dislodge” Laurent Gbagbo from office. And so, for the first time ever in Africa, one would resort to external forces to “restore democracy” following a polling dispute!
Such a scenario reminds me of Iraq eight years ago.
In Iraq, it all started with a systematic media campaign of disinformation, aiming at conditioning public opinion (the legendary weapons of mass destruction!), together with an abortive attempt to manipulate the U.N. system, extreme pressures on regional organizations and neighbouring countries, all relayed by local allies who were calling for a war against their own country. The latter had managed to convince the Americans that they would be welcomed “with flowers”. However, what was due to be a “surgical operation” became, as time unfolded, a deadly occupation condemned by Senator Barack Obama at the time. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but the civil war than ensued led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, to massive population displacements and colossal destruction, the consequences of which will continue to be felt over the oncoming decades.
Hence, the worst that could happen eventually did.
Comparison is not reason. Cote d'Ivoire is not Iraq; neither can anyone pretend that Laurent Gbagbo is Saddam Hussein, or Alassane Ouattara Ahmed Chalabi. Nevertheless, the threat of intervention is being held up by the French government, supported by some Africans, including a few intellectuals. What is therefore challenging us –African leaders and intellectuals alike – can be worded as follows: can democracy be imposed from abroad, and moreover through foreign armed forces? And what would be the cost for the populations, the country, and our region? Are those governments pushing neighbouring countries towards intervention suddenly driven by a quest for universal justice for the Ivorian people, and the Africans in general? Would they from now on intervene whenever democracy would be under threat anywhere in Africa? Would they over the oncoming years interfere in any election dispute in Africa (and elsewhere or only in Africa?), and impose the candidate they will have chosen as the winner, and forcibly if necessary?
Should we believe, as French President Jacques Chirac said in January 1990 in Abidjan (already!), that we are unquestionably “not mature for democracy”, and that time has come to impose it on us? Just as was imposed on us “freewheel liberalism” through the violence of
structural adjustment programmes, or dictatorships through the support to putschists or to the proponents of single party rule. President Chirac was happy to abandon us on the platform of the single party watching the train of history and democracy go by, but his successor, as a little Bush playing in his pré carré, wants us to “enter history” using the most primitive of all rights: force.
The polling process in Cote d'Ivoire definitely led to a cul-de-sac, but who in Africa can believe for one moment that governments which, from outside the continent, are trying to convince neighbouring countries to commit to the dangerous path of a deadly conflict, are really concerned with scrupulous compliance with the electoral wishes of Ivorian people? In the event of a war, would these governments open their borders to refugees fleeing the conflict? Or more likely establish camps in neighbouring countries and park them there, albeit making “generous” donations to international NGOs who would exhibit their dedication before tearful television cameras? Once peace has returned, will they not embark again in those typical “post-conflict” international conferences with the traditional pledges and never fulfilled commitments, while collecting the benefits of reconstruction deals? Not forgetting, of course, to secure offshore oil platforms, and even to may be find at last the appropriate location for Africom in a new “friendly” country…
Meanwhile, this “return to democracy” will cost the lives of populations in Cote d'Ivoire and in the whole region. The best way to turn them away for ever from democracy!
Let us try to consider this worst-case scenario, based on recent historical facts in the region.
First of all, it should be emphasised that any intervention would require clearance by the Security Council, whether under the terms outlined in chapter VII of the United Nations Charter or under the Genocide Convention. Since there is presently in Cote d'Ivoire no threat to regional peace, or even less a threat of genocide, neither Russia nor China would be likely to give their agreement at this time.
So, what sort of intervention? Mr Alassane Ouattara stated on 5th January 2011 before a French television channel that it was a simple matter of “removing Laurent Gbagbo from the presidential palace, and taking him away”. To the journalist who then asked him if he did not fear that it would trigger a civil war, he replied: “Oh! No… the Ivorians will be dancing in the streets of Abidjan on the following day”! To summarise, removing Laurent Gbagbo and replacing him by Alassane Ouattara would be enough to return to “normality”, and peace would be preserved. Alassane Ouattara then added that “it has already been done elsewhere”.
Without emphasising the unlawfulness of such an operation, the doubtful legitimacy of a President forcefully brought to office by a foreign power and his future independence from those who will have in fine done so, one can question the plausibility of such a scenario. Or even that of the assassination of Laurent Gbagbo as a prelude to “normality”, as was the case for another reluctant character, Laurent Désiré Kabila, murdered exactly ten years ago inside his presidential palace. Otherwise why would such an operation not have been carried out since?
Various sources have mentioned that Nigerian soldiers were already in Bouaké, and that rebels from the Forces Nouvelles had by now infiltrated Abidjan, as well as French members of the Special Forces, that Liberian militia had been deployed, that Angolan fighters, allies of Laurent Gbagbo, were present, not to mention the Ivorian army itself, despised by the major
powers, but whose reaction in the event of an intervention remains unpredictable, and the “Young Patriots”, whose anti-foreigner exasperation may be pushed to the limits. We have here are all the ingredients for a huge disaster, and this whether the “surgical operation” turns out to be successful or not. And moreover in the presence of the U.N. forces, …who will do what by the way in front of such a blatant aggression?
The worst-case scenario – civil war pursuant to such an operation- should not be wished because the Africans are tired of these deadly conflicts, but would it not be the most plausible? In such an event, how would it be possible to “secure” all the European populations, embassies, businesses and schools? How would we avoid the inter-ethnic carnages, considering the blend of populations in Abidjan and elsewhere in the Centre, West and North of the country? How would anyone coming forward holding a “flower” be distinguished from another approaching with a machine-gun in his back? How to make the difference between a pro-Gbagbo and a pro-Ouattara, a rebel from the Forces Nouvelles and a Liberian militiaman? Just by shooting everyone? (i.e. the traditional collateral damages)? And what about those 7 million or so Ecowas community citizens, whose security would probably not be part of the “surgical” plans of the army commanders? How to prevent the involvement of the armed gangs of the region, from Senegal (Casamance) to Liberia, on the lookout for any conflict or sponsors?
Then, and only then would it be possible to obtain a clearance from the Security Council under the terms of Chapter VII or the Genocide Convention, hence opening the way to a massive foreign intervention and a long lasting occupation in order to “maintain regional peace and prevent a genocide”.
Is that the purpose of the “surgical operation”?
May be some Ivorians will be dancing on the day after the intervention, but they will all weep a few days later. So will the whole region.
Reason should prevail. War is not the solution for the Ivorians, neither is it for the populations of West Africa, and even less in the interest of democracy. Whether Gbagbo or Ouattara are in office, the Ivorians essentially want to live in peace. And as far as democracy is concerned, it is a right and a forbearing conquest pursuant to the genius of each and every nation. It is built through education, through the evolution and outcome of internal contradictions, and power relations of the moment. Its progress in Africa will not be plain sailing, and will depend on the sincere and perennial attachment of the various actors to the democratic ideal, to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and to the common engagement to keep foreign powers away from internal political processes. It requires a slow and often chaotic establishment of the rule of law, and respect for the national institutions, however imperfect. Fifty years after African countries regained independence, and after all the soothing speeches made during the commemoration ceremonies, will we accept that a brother country be invaded, occupied and destroyed just because democracy has stumbled? What then is the point of celebrating fifty years?
In my modest opinion, the only way out is direct political dialogue. Let us not be told that an intervention would be the unavoidable consequence of the confiscation of power by Laurent Gbagbo. There is nothing unavoidable here, because peace is not under threat and the populations are not in danger. On the contrary, it is intervention, which would put the
populations and regional peace under threat. Once again, the solution can only be found through political dialogue, not a dialogue involving triumph over an opponent without resorting to violence, but a straightforward dialogue leading towards reason, truth, and the superior interest of Cote d'Ivoire. Laurent Gbagbo has already suggested that an international body be set up to assess the electoral process and that the votes be counted again, as has been the case in Haiti. Alassane Ouattara has suggested that a national unity government be set up. Why not take these proposals seriously, and sit around a table, involving members of the Ivoirian civil society? Resorting to such a national dialogue is the only way Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara can forever leave their mark on the African people's conscience, by refusing that war is brought to their country in order to remain in or access office over the bodies of their fellow countrymen and women. Also, an international community really concerned about the well being of the African populations should support this way of solving the crisis instead of preaching warfare.
As far as ECOWAS is concerned, it should not fight the wrong war. If it genuinely wants to confront the real threats facing our region, it must swiftly tackle the criminal endeavours of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, of the drug dealers attempting to take control of the state in some countries, and of the armed rebels who surf on the development blockages and on the crying inequalities that wreck our societies. The priority for ECOWAS should be to resolutely hasten and deepen the regional integration processes in West Africa, since it is the best way forward to development, democracy, and hence peace.
In 2011, there will be nearly 40 ballots in Africa! Will we be confronted again to foreign powers displaying the traditional and hypocritical “two sets of rules”?
Imagine Africa Institute
Paris,23 January 2011