Speaking of current events, I’d like to hijack my Peace Corps blog a little bit and spend today’s post talking about Ghana’s troubled neighbor to the West, Cote d’Ivoire.
Seems as though Gbagbo has been captured after a several-day standoff. Although the story is far from over, this even should provide some relief in the short term.
Further updates, well, commentary at least. The Economist weighs on on the overall situation.
And Al Jazeera gets into more detail about the media's desire to explain the narrative in simple good-guy vs. bad-guy terms, when the reality is not that straightforward.
I should note that Al Jazeera, in an ironic twist (in my opinion), is about the only publication offering any criticism of Ouattara, who is the Muslim presidential claimant. And they didn't go so far as to wonder if Ouattara may have tried to rig the election in his favor, as I have discussed below, just that post-election atrocities have been propagated by both sides, not just by Gbagbo forces. Maybe election-rigging is simply assumed by all publications since this is an "African" election and presumed to be less-than-fair as a result, which is a less-than-fair statement to make in general, but in this case is probably true.
Update: as of April 6th, 2011, Gbagbo's residence appears to be under seige by pro-Ouattara forces. A resolution to the presidential crisis may be near, but that will not be the end of the story.
Cote d’Ivoire, or the Ivory Coast as it is known in America, is right on the edge of a full-on civil war right now. I’m not even sure I want to jump in on this story because I probably don’t know all the facts, but then again, perhaps nobody does, so here goes. Cote d’Ivoire’s current acute troubles began with a presidential election in the Fall of 2010, but they have had a rough go if it for quite some time now. The recent election had been delayed for about 5 years due to ongoing conflicts and fallout from an earlier civil war, which concluded in 2004 with a practical north-south separation of the country. When the election finally concluded in December of 2010, the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo (from the South) was defeated by the challenger Alassane Ouattara (from the North). However Gbagbo did not agree with the results, and declared the election invalid, and declared that he had retained the presidency. Both challengers took the oath of president, creating a situation that pretty much guarantees a real civil war.
First of all, what’s the deal with both men being able to declare themselves president? A quick look at the way the elections were conducted may shed some light. The presidential elections were set up differently than they are in America. In Cote d’Ivoire if there is no majority winner in the election, then the top two candidates participate in a run-off election. The first presidential election was back in October of 2010, and the Cote d’Ivorian “Constitutional Council” (CC) declared no single candidate had garnered more than 50% of the vote. Gbagbo and Ouattara were the top two vote-getters, with Gbagbo receiving more votes than Ouattara, but not enough to win outright in the first round. According to the CC, Gbagbo received 38% of the vote compared to 32% for Ouattara.
So one might think that Gbagbo was in pretty good shape to win the run-off election in December. But it was not to be. As can be imagined, the run-off election was a time of great tension in the country. Election day came and went, and two different election commissions came up with two very different results. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC, or CEI) declared the election free and declaring Ouattara the winner over Gbagbo, beating him by 54% to 46%. However the Constitutional Council, which had to approce the IEC’s results, discounted many of the votes and declared Gbabgo the winner instead, with 51.45% of the vote.
From an objective standpoint it sure does seem like something is fishy. First of all, why the huge discrepancy in results? A closer look at the numbers indicates some shenanigans. Here are the stats:
Ok, nothing seems clear-cut here. In both cases, Goagbo and Ouattara received more votes than they did in the first round. So far, so good. Some people who voted for losing candidates in the first round must have chosen one or the other final round participants. Speaking of those voters, we can see that the number of votes cast for “other” candidates in the first round was almost 1,000,000 votes. So one might expect to see about 1,000,000 extra votes apportioned between the two candidates in the final round.
But according to the IEC, almost 400,000 total more votes were cast in the final election than in the first round, meaning at least 400,000 more people showed up to vote in the final round, assuming everyone who voted in the first round voted again. But according to the CC, about 200,000 fewer votes were cast in the final election than were cast in the first election, meaning 200,000 unhappy voters from the first round did not bother to vote in the final round. So there’s about a 600,000 difference in the number of votes cast between the IEC numbers and the CC numbers. So what happened? I expect the CC declared many of the IEC votes as ineligible for some reason or another. But the CC appears to have invalidated far more votes for Ouattara than for Gbagbo.
If one assumes that no one changed their minds and switched votes from Gbagbo to Ouattara or vice versa, the CC numbers indicate that Ouattara picked up about 60% of the new votes compared to Gbagbo in the run-off, but it wasn’t enough to put him over the top of the incumbent. A late run for Ouattara, but not enough. The skeptic in me has to wonder why so many of Ouattara’s votes were discarded, compared to Gbagbo’s. The ratio of votes rejected by the CC is about 10 to 1 against Ouattara! However the IEC numbers do look suspicious. According to the IEC, Ouattara picked up over 74% percent of the new votes compared to Gbagbo in the run-off. That’s 1,000,000 additional votes Ouattara didn’t get in the first round, about 67% of the total number he got all-told. And there were a lot of new votes, remember, about 400,000 additional votes cast in the run-off compared to the first round. If there was this much support for Ouattara, why didn’t these people just vote for him in the first place? This also seems suspicious.
Now my natural inclination is to mistrust the guy who is currently in power. He’s in power, he can job the system to ensure that he gets to stay in power. We’ve seen it over and over, particularly in Africa. But I have to admit the IEC numbers that favor the challenger don’t stack up either. The Carter Center does indicate that voter turnout was high during the run-off election but they don’t indicate if it was higher than the first round or not.
And who or what is the IEC anyway? And the CC for that matter? We’re not talking about The Carter Center here. I don’t think either group was a truly independent commission. Now having said that even in the States we don’t have group from, say, Canada coming in to marshal our elections, but still, you can see where I’m heading with this. The closest thing I can find to an actual website for the IEC or CEI (the same initials in French) is a web site from the Congo that says something to the effect of “content coming soon”. So who knows how legitimate that group is. And I imagine the CC is appointed by the government which has a vested interest in staying in power, so one can imagine the temptation is high to ensure the election results turn out in their favor. And in places like Cote d’Ivoire, the people who lose elections don’t usually get to go on to a speaking tour and make money selling books and things. Often times they end up needing to leave the country, or end up under house arrest, or worse. There is a strong incentive not to lose an election. And there are many incentives to stay in power. It can be a very lucrative position to hold. So given all of those factors, this mess was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
And speaking of the mess, what has happened in Cote d’Ivoire since this disputed election, you ask? Well, both men declared themselves president. The army stuck with Gbagbo, but Ouattara wasted no time in organizing a militia, and the conflict began. The last numbers I saw indicated that over one million people have fled their homes, many having fled to Ghana I would presume, and nearly 500 people have been killed. I’m surprised it’s not worse, and it might get a lot worse very soon.
As of April 5th, 2011, as I write this, Gbagbo appears to be all but defeated and may be negotiating for terms of surrender. I expect he is trying to buy time and find a country to which he can flee and live in exile. Apparently his wife and children were spotted just the other day at Labadi beach hotel in Ghana, which I’ve been to actually, fueling speculation there that Gbagbo may seek asylum in Ghana. Relations between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have never been spectacular, and I doubt this would improve matters, so I can’t say I endorse this plan on behalf of Ghanaians.
Should he choose not to surrender, the country may have to endure more fighting and conflict. Both sides have been accused of perpetrating massacres of innocent people, and this is likely to continue the longer the situation remains unresolved.
The situation is irritating, to say the least. How many innocent people have to die just because two men can not resolve a dispute peacefully? Even if Gbagbo has a legitimate issue with the election results, and I suspect he may have, willfully sacrificing your fellow countrymen and women to prove you won’t go away quietly is hardly demonstrative of quality leadership. Unless you fear things could get much worse if you do leave.
I mentioned very early on in this post that Gbagbo is the South candidate and Ouattara is the North candidate. Cote d’Ivoire is culturally divided into a Muslim North and a Christian South, same as Ghana. However unlike Ghana there seems to be a very serious rivalry between the South and the North in Cote d’Ivoire. I really can’t figure out why these two countries, so similar in this regard, seem so different when it comes to mutual acceptance and tolerance. One theory is that Cote d’Ivoire may be a victim of its own success. They are, or were, a fairly prosperous country. Cote d’Ivoire is the largest producer of cocoa in the world, for example. Nearly all the chocolate in Europe has its origin in Cote d’Ivoire. Ghana incidentally exports quite a bit of cocoa as well. Anyway because of this prosperity, Cote d’Ivoire has seen an influx of immigrants from neighboring countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Many of these immigrants are also Muslim, and politicians in the South have been accused of taking hyper-nationalist stances to provoke Southerners into passing measures aimed at keeping the immigrants from achieving citizenship, and keeping the Southern leaders in power. Influence by fear. Sounds a little familiar.
You may be asking why these immigrants don’t also go to Ghana? Probably because Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea are all French-speaking countries, and mostly all of them are part of the “CFA Zone” (Former French colonies that use the same currency). Although Ghana is also relatively prosperous compared to its neighbors, Ghana speaks English, not French, and has a different currency, and therefore is probably not as attractive for this same set of immigrants.
The fact is, since 2004 after the last civil war in Cote d’Ivoire, the country has basically been officially divided into a Muslim North and a Christian South, with UN peacekeeping forces attempting to, you know, keep the peace. This was all supposed to end after the elections but the actions by both presidential claimants have done nothing but reinforce this division. Southerners probably think that their worst fears are about to come true, that Ouattara will take power and enact revenge on the Southerners on behalf of his Muslim brothers and sisters. So even if as all indications suggest Gbagbo had one foot out the door, and is leaving soon, he will be leaving behind a legacy of fear and mistrust. Ouattara will have to be a wise president to un-do this damage. Let’s just say my hopes are not high.
And my personal hope for Ghana (let’s bring it all home!) is that they can avoid the pitfalls that Cote d’Ivoire fell in to, and continue to be a country that is, for the most part, free from this sort of bitter division.
Peace out, Cote d'Ivoirains, here's wishing you all better days ahead from the bottom of my little peace-loving heart.