President Laurent Gbagbo: Dancing On The Banana Peels

15 February 2011

By Bukhari Muhammed Bello Jega

Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it - Winston Churchill

 As the crisis in Cote D'Ivoire deepens, following the disputed Presidential run-off election; the once peaceful country has been panged into another vicious circle of crisis, which will destabilize the country if adequate precautions are not put in place, to save the nation from sliding into war once again. There is no doubt; the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and the popular and internationally recognized President elect, Alhassan Ouattara all claimed legitimacy as the president elect. While Alhassan Ouattara based his claims on the popular will of the people to have elected him; President Laurent Gbagbo claimed legitimacy from the constitutional court which has the final say on all election matters. So, whatever angle you may look at the crisis of legitimacy, you will not fail to say, both men are riding on the basis of constitutionality. But, however, the run-off Presidential elections and the crisis that ensued underscore the unsuitability and insincerity of African leaders to implement the virtues of democracy and good governance in the continent.      

The Cote D'Ivoire election crisis is a litmus test to the growth and development of democracy in West Africa.  The Cote D'Ivoire presidential disputed run-off election is a classical case of insensitivity of African leaders to abide by and respect the popular will of the people, to choose leaders of their choice in a free, fair and credible election over the years. There is no doubt; leadership is sacrosanct to the development of any country. But, leadership should be on the basis of respecting the common will of the people to elect leaders that they feel comfortable to represent their interests and provide platforms aimed at redirecting the ills of yesteryears for the benefit of the future. The refusal of President Laurent Gbagbo to bequeath power to Alhassan Ouattara underscores this fact in Africa. Democracy and leadership is not about the welfare of the people; but about the interests of some few class of individuals and groups to satisfy their whimsical desires.

The refusal of President Gbagbo to heed global concerns and that of his ECOWAS and AU member states, challenges the importance of regional and continental organizations as an arbiter in conflict resolutions. Although, theoretically, both men are riding on the basis of constitutionality; while Alhassan Ouattara was the popularly elected President, Laurent Gbagbo on the other hand, was confirmed by the constitutional court, which has the final word on all election matters. But practically, it can be argued that, Alhassan Ouattara was the elected president, since in all ideal democracies, the will of the people is often the basis on which leaders are recruited through free, fair and credible electoral process. The refusal of Mr. Gbagbo to step down for the popularly elected President shows the insensitivity of President Laurent Gbagbo to the mass of the people he says he is leading. The people have made their choice; it is only normal for him to have organized a befitting handing over to the peoples' choice and start preparations for the next general elections in few years to come; then reintroduce himself as a candidate. Should Alhassan Ouattara fail; the people may decide to call him back and to salvage the situation for them. This is purely a democratic tenet in action. Unfortunately African leaders never believe in the future; because of the uncertainty and their decimal failure in office; so they see themselves out of power as beginning of life of extinctions and humiliation; due to their inability to navigate the fortunes of their various states in the right direction.

President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to learn from history. It is on record that it is the same people that brought President Gbagbo into power, when the renege General Girei wanted to manipulate the 2000 election, which was won by President Gbagbo. The tenacity and sacrifice of the people in protecting their mandate necessitated the emergence of President Laurel Gbagbo into power. This is how power has intoxicated President Gbagbo to wanting to repeat the same mistake of yesterday. President Gbagbo is today in the same historical spotlight. Should he compromise his pride and ego, and handover power to the peoples' choice or destabilize his country because of his selfish interest? That is history in the making. I believe providence has been kind to President Laurent Gbagbo for coming into power through the goodwill of the people and maintained in power due to global consensus for the peaceful co-existence of the state of Cote D'Ivoire, through the instrumentality of the resolution of the United Nation Organization. I think the prolonged stubbornness and ego adventure exhibited by President Gbagbo may not end well for him.

I dot not support military intervention by ECOWAS to remove President Gbagbo from power because military intervention will only aggravate the confusion and the crisis of legitimacy among the people of Cote D'Ivoire; for people that are already divided along ethnic, regional and religious lines; any attempt to invade the country by ECOMOG, will only deepen the crisis, leading to  possible war in a once peaceful cocoa exporting country. ECOWAS and AU must use all available diplomatic channels to mediate and resolve the crisis at hand. These regional and continental bodies; must understand the fact, that, President Gbagbo just lost his value in an election that he thought he would win. Thus, in such a situation, the wounded lion needed assurance and commitment for his safety and peaceful exit from office.

It is important, for ECOWAS and AU to understand, that, they must provide the needed incentive and encouragement for President Gbagbo to live a peaceful life after office, in exile. It is on record, that, African leaders never recover from the agony of defeats; and it is almost becoming a taboo for a sitting President to loose election in Africa; the regional and continental bodies must be honest in their mediation in the crisis; let all these mediations be for the sake of an average Ivorian, not the pressure coming from some powers outside the continent who may have some hidden agenda and selfish interest in the crisis. It is paramount, for these leaders to understand, that the people of Cote D'Ivoire are tired of wars, instability, and impoverishment; what they need is a president that will answer to their yearnings and aspirations for better lives and improvement in their living standards for themselves and their children. Until all available media are exhausted; then the possibility of force should be used to remove the imposter from the grip of power and save the country from the agony of instability and war; which blows no one good.

On a closer look, the threat of invasion by ECOWAS, may sound laughable; because it is on record most of the leaders that are parading themselves around the corridors of power; were never elected in the first place but, rigged themselves in power; just like President Laurent Gbagbo just did. So, I do not see how these leaders will support military invasion in Cote D'Ivoire; because that means setting precedent for the next country that will be caught in the act of subverting the popular will of the people. There is no doubt elections in Africa have never been perfect due to weak institutions, intolerance and violence that mar all election processes. I wonder what it will be like, if the upcoming 2011 elections in Nigeria, will be massively rigged by the ruling party; will ECOWAS have the strength to threaten Nigeria with invasion, to restore peoples' mandate. I think ECOWAS leaders are barking without any seriousness to match word with action. At this level, it will be premature to intervene militarily (if it can truly be done); but to continue using all available options such as dialogue, trade sanctions, isolation, diplomatic embargoes, closure of embassies by member nations and travel bans on Mr. Gbagbo and his officials in protest against the illegitimate government in Abidjan until the popularly elected president is handed the country's leadership       

True, democracy entails free will of people to choose leaders in all ramifications. So, it is important for Mr. Gbagbo to understand that governance is about people and the people have made their choice. It only becomes morally right to respect the will of the people and hand over power to the rightfully elected President. It is important for him to swallow his ego and pride, and put the interest of the country first so as to save the country from general slide into instability, anarchy and possibly, war.

History beckons on President Laurent Gbagbo, to see the writings on the wall and relinquish his position and allow the country to move forward through the spirit of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration of the nation and its citizens in Southern and Northern part of the country. Thereby, opening a new vista to a nation, that has suffered the agonies of war, crisis and impoverishment; where peace, love and development will prevail. There is no doubt; President Gbagbo is dancing on banana peels; and the consequence of such a dance may lead to disaster. It is important he listens to the words of wisdom from all concerned. President Gbagbo, must realize that the state of Cote D'Ivoire will definitely outlive him and his social forces just as the state is still in existence after the death of long time President Felix H. Boigny. The dance steps on the banana peels might not be a good option for him now; it is better he takes his dance steps to a well paved floor. Please give peace a chance by allowing the popularly elected President, Alhassan Ouattara to take his position so that the state of Cote D'Ivoire may rejoin her other sister countries in Africa in building a prosperous continent under God. Whatever, President Laurent Gbagbo decides to do with this opportunity; history is there to either register his name in the hall of fame or hall of shame. The time to act is now…. I pray to God to give him the wisdom to do the right thing at the right time before it is too late. Ameen.


Bukhari Muhammed Bello Jega Senior Researcher and Youth Development Consultant Center for Political Research, Education and Development (CEPORED) Abuja. 


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