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The Ivory Coast drama, and the western role within it, is becoming predictable

December 23, 2010

A democratic election. An internationally endorsed result. An incumbent leader who refuses to hand over power. It sounds so familiar. So familiar, the danger is we yet again forget to acknowledge history, culture and context because we’ve ‘heard it all before’. 

Today, the UN announced 173 people died over night in ‘post election clashes’ – what ever they are meant to be. 

The UN and world powers have recognised Mr Ouattara as the new president. The not so powerful have an opinion on the matter; the West African group Ecowas urge  Mr Gbagbo to step down. Yet Gbagbo’s supporters have taken to the streets of London and Paris, little voices drowned out by international organisations who say they know better. 

Gbagbo supporters in London, 21 December 2010

The likelihood that Gbagbo is a leader who has no respect for the democratic process is not minimal. It is not untypical for a fledgling African democracy, with constitutions and governance inherited from meddling colonial powers, to implode after elections. 

But the UN and world powers have poor form when it comes to intervention too. Lumumba, Nkrumah, Cheddi Jagan –  if you are more knowledgeable than me you would be able to name more. All quasi-socialist leaders who were overthrown by ‘world powers’ because their nationalist agendas did not suit exploitation. This is explained better here: 

“Over the past decades, Western governments and Western corporations have been party to virtually every tyrannical regime, conflict and injustice Africa has suffered. Neo-liberal economic nostrums imposed on African governments by the West have utterly failed to provide promised economic growth but have been wildly successful in increasing grotesque inequality and in impoverishing even more Africans.” 

If Gbagbo says there was fraud in the Northern regions of his country, and his Constitutional Council agrees, dismissing the claims is not the solution. The rashness of the international response is dangerous because it makes Ivoirians defensive, western powers righteous and heightens the atmosphere for conflict. 

The energy people are expending to criticise Gbagbo should be spent questioning the motives of his opponents. Only then can you be satisfied that the powers that be are worthy of your support. History and Gbagbo’s supporters leave me inclined to keep an open mind.

Read more about interventions and the development of pre and post colonial Africa:

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Walter Rodney, 1981

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