Ivory Tusks

I’ve been following this story for the past couple of weeks.  And basically, it is a big media fail.  Until earlier this morning, I hadn’t seen one single blip about it in the news except for the one place where I was following it.  Now that doesn’t mean that I’ve sat around and watched the news 24/7 over the past several weeks, but it would have worked its way down to the news that I have seen had it gotten out to a bigger audience.  The reason why you haven’t heard about this… because it comes out of Africa… and in particular, it comes from the nation of the Ivory Coast.  Honestly now, how many of you will probably stop reading this now because it has to do with Africa rather than continue reading?

First, a little background information.  It usually helps.  The country of the Ivory Coast was a very prosperous and a developing West African nation until a civil war tore it apart between 2002-2003.  The war was between the rebel-control North and the loyalist South.  Those that live in the North have always been treated as foreigners in their own country.  Because of the divided country and the ensuing conflict, the President of the Ivory Coast (Laurent Gbagbo) was able to stay in power 5-years passed the time when he was supposed to leave office.  The country was reunified in a 2007 peace deal… and a coalition government (or something close to it) was formed.  An election was recently held but with no discernible winner.  Both parties invited the United Nations in to certify the Nov. 28 runoff vote.  After the runoff vote had been held, the UN certified that challenger/former rebel leader Alassane Ouattara was the winner… which was also certified also by the country’s election commission.  And the vote between the former rebel leader and the incumbent President was pretty much right down the north/south split.

So where does the problem exist?  The incumbent President now refuses to give up power claiming he won the election after the constitution council threw out half a million votes from Ouattara strongholds claiming voter intimidation.  In fact, at the same time that election winner Ouattara was being sworn in at the Golf hotel where he has set up his government (and is being protected by UN Peace Keepers), the incumbent President Gbagbo was sworn in on state-controlled TV.  So how is it working with two men claiming the presidency?  Not so well, as you might imagine.  The internationally community recognizes Ouattara as the President of the Ivory Coast… and claims that Gbagbo is refusing to give up power.  Most of the country is under Ouattara’s control (which includes the country’s financial institutions) with only the military and media under Gbagbo’s control.   Gbagbo has ordered the UN peace keepers out of the country (which they aren’t leaving), and the leader of his youth movement had ordered Gbagbo supporters to storm the Golf hotel to remove Ouattara…which never materialized.

The international community is watching the situation very closely to see if the country falls back into civil war or not.  Sanctions has been approved by the European Union on a total of 78 people (Gbagbo and his wife among them).  And the US is placing travel sanctions on Gbagbo and about 30 of his supporters.  However, it is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that has taken the reigns in dealing with this situation.  And they have kindly asked that the western nations stay out of it for now and give them a chance to deal with it.  ECOWAS sent a 3-person peace delegation to meet with Gbagbo to get him to leave, but he refuse to listen.  ECOWAS has threatened to use their combined military force (which comes from 15-nations) to remove Gbagbo so that civil war doesn’t break out and threaten the entire region.  As for now, though, they are still attempting peace talks with the “former” leader.

So why should any of this matter to you… if you are even still reading?  First, the Ivory Coast is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa.  Second, it is an attempt by a leader to continue to hold on to power after a majority of the people in his nation have decided they don’t want him anymore.  It is against what democracy is all about.  And for those of you thinking that this is the typical way things happen in Africa, not so fast.  According to a recent post on NPR by John Dramani Mahama, who is the current Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, the people that reside on the continent of Africa are “refusing silence and staking their lives on their right to suffrage.”

Africa, which we have grown accustomed to autocracies and military overthrows, has been making great strides in democracy and free & fair elections.  In the May 2010 elections in Ethiopia, voter turnout was 90-percent.  And in the June 2010 elections in the countries of Burundi and Guinea, the voter turnout was 70 and 80-percent respectively.  It was also Guinea’s first free and fair election since 1958.  To put this into comparison, the highest voter turnout in the US ever was 81-percent in the election of 1876.

Great strides in democracy are being made on the African continent, and it is time the world (and particularly those of us here in the US) start paying more attention to it.  The media should be covering this more…and also pointing out how the type of situation that is occurring in the Ivory Coast is becoming a thing of the past.  Gbagbo is holding onto old traditions that neighboring countries (where progress and those strides have already taken root) are not going to allow him to do.  They will not let him give them a proverbial black eye.  They are attempting to resolve this situation amongst themselves and show the world that they have advanced and adapted… and that they will not stand for the old ‘business-as-usual routine’.

And if that still hasn’t triggered a reason for why you should care, then think of it this way.  Stabilized, free, and democratic African nations could give us new markets for our goods thus increasing our exports from the US… which in turn would mean more jobs here at home.   It all comes full circle.  So I will be following the situation as it continues to unfold, and I hope that you will find a way to follow along as well.  The voices of the Ivorians must be heard… that they want to be a prosperous and progressive nation in the arms of democracy.

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4 Responses to Ivory Tusks

  1. Isaac says:

    Thanks for writing about this.

    I feel like the reason this isn’t getting any coverage is (partly) because there’s not too much we can do. Finally, after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one is so stupid to think about military force, but aside from making a statement —

    http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/world/view/20101207-307542/Obama-urges-Ivory-Coast-leader-to-step-asideWhite-House

    — the US has little power. Moreover, Africa’s problems need to be solved by Africans; imperialism in any form always makes things worse. But as long as Gbagbo has control of the military, he’ll stay in power, and he can do things like this:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/cotedivoire/8232288/Ivory-Coast-president-refuses-phone-call-from-Barack-Obama.html

    • James S. says:

      Isaac, I do appreciate your comment. And I do agree… the problems on African need to be solved by the Africans. That is why I’m glad to see ECOWAS taking charge of the situation. They are trying to handle things peacefully, which should always be the first thing attempted. Unfortunately, with people like Gbagbo (who are stuck in the past), it doesn’t always work out that way. Now, I don’t mind lending assistance… but ECOWAS and the people in the Ivory Coast would have to do like 95% of the work. I do not like war and violence anymore than most people.

      Also, the UN is attempting to investigate mass grave sites from Gbagbo supporters going around and murdering Ouattara supporters. The UN has been stopped in several spots by Gbagbo’s military. And if there is systematic murdering (or genocide) being done, then that changes the game. And the world must take a bigger notice and deal with the situation because that should never be tolerated. But again…ECOWAS should be taking the lead on anything.

  2. Debrah Jacob says:

    please how is the UN protecting the Ghanaian peace keepers in ivory coast and if their condition is not well protected then pls let UN bring them back to our peaceful Ghana before is tooooooooooooo late?

    • James S. says:

      I’ve done some looking around since my source had kind of dried up. From what I can tell, pro-Gbagbo forces are attacking the UN peacekeepers. The head of the UN peacekeepers is requesting additional forces since he says that they do not have enough resources on the ground now to protect the civilian population. ECOWAS is still trying to negotiate a deal with Gbagbo, and has not yet thrown out military action if no deal can be reached. There is also talk of having the West African Economic and Monetary Union disrupt the flow of the Ivorian currency so that Gbagbo can’t pay the security forces and civil servants.

      It is a very tense situation still. ECOWAS is trying to negotiate a peaceful end to it while the UN is requesting additional resources to help try to protect the civilians and the new government.

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