Surgical operation in Cote d’Ivoire: The worst-case scenario?

Published on Pambazuka News, by Pierre Sane, Jan. 27, 2011.

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? That is the challenge for African leaders and intellectuals alike, writes Pierre Sane.

Mr President, 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 destabilised 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 organised 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 UN system, extreme pressures on regional organisations 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 … //

… 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’? (full long text).

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