A big story that has made headlines over the past week has been the story of the Ivory Coast presidential elections and the political deadlock that has resulted in that country because of it. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, after clearly losing the presidential run-off election to his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, decided not to accept the outcome and hence not to concede defeat. After the electoral commission had declared Ouattara to be the rightful winner of the election, the pro-Gbagbo constitutional council reversed the provisional results in an illegal manner and declared Gbagbo to be the winner. The UN, the US, EU, AU, France and ECOWAS have called for Gbagbo to accept the election results and step down. He has refused, got himself “inaugurated” and we are now faced with the ridiculous situation where both men are claiming to be the legitimate president of the Ivory Coast.
Naturally violence has broken out in the country with supporters of both men vowing to do whatever it takes to see their man being instilled as Ivory Coast president. In the midst of all this, a familiar sight emerged, that of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, going to the Ivory Coast with an AU mandate to mediate between the two parties hoping to evade violence and to resolve the issue in an amicable, peaceful manner. Seeing all of this play out left one with a certain sense of déjà vu. We have seen all of this play out all too often in the recent past in Africa. Remember Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai, Arthur Mutambara and the “Global Political Agreement” that ushered in a “unity” government with the aim of avoiding violence once Mugabe and ZANU-PF refused to accept that they had lost an election and hence the legitimate right to power? Remember Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga and the unity government that was formed in Kenya after violence had broken out when Kibaki refused to accept that he had lost an election? All of these unity governments were celebrated as victories for the much-celebrated “African solutions for African problems” approach and as a sign of maturity and a coming of age for African politics and politicians.
However this seems to have started and encouraged a trend where African leaders who have clearly lost an election can refuse to accept the result, mobilise their supporters in a campaign of violence and intimidation and hope that the other party will eventually be willing to compromise so that they can maintain some, if not all of their hold on power, even if it is by illegitimate means. This is clearly the card that Laurent Gbagbo is playing in this situation and since a precedent has been set, it’s going to be very difficult for a different solution to be found for this impasse. It’s time that we as Africans stand up and end this culture of “political agreements” and “unity” governments that are clearly undemocratic and a betrayal of the people’s wishes. The only way to do that is for the AU to insist and ensure that Laurent Gbagbo steps down from power and allows Alassane Ouattara to take over the reins as Ivory Coast’s legitimately elected president. Anything else would be a blatant betrayal of democratic principles and an encouragement to other African leaders to follow the same approach when faced with electoral defeat.