Lessons for Sudan from Ivory Coast

There isn’t a whole lot similar between the Ivory Coast and Sudan. The latter’s impending referendum is not at all similar to the presidential election recently held in the Ivory Coast in which Laurent Gbagbo has blatantly ignored defeat and seems intent on dragging his country into damaging conflict with the international community and his own people. One is a question of presidential power, the other of the identity of the Sudanese state. But it is the stern condemnation of Gbagbo’s petulance by ECOWAS which is of note when we begin to look forward at Sudan’s referendum in January.

There have been strong messages from the West African regional organisation, with the threat of intervention far from empty rhetoric.

The key to this referendum, much like in what we are witnessing in the Ivory Coast, is how the current leader reacts.

Neither the Ivory Coast nor Sudan are strangers to military intervention, with both experiencing violent conflict during their histories. Thus when fellow African statesmen threaten to remove Gbagbo from his illegitimate seat of power, it would behoove Sudan’s Bashir to take note.

Should the referendum go ahead without another delay, all indicators point towards a pro-secessionist south result. The key to this referendum, much like in what we are witnessing in the Ivory Coast, is how the current leader reacts. Should Bashir deny the Independence of Sudan and attempt some manner of equivocation, be it some sort of quasi-federation or simple rejection of the results, one has to question the international reaction to it. Should the United Nations and AU condemn Bashir in the advent of post-referendum political stubbornness, the current situation in the Ivory Coast sets up a decent Jus Ad Bellum in the sense that simply ignoring the will of the people is no longer acceptable in Africa. Whatever develops in the Ivory Coast will be sure to have ramifications in Sudan. How far-reaching and important this link might be will be determined almost completely by Bashir’s reaction.

In the advent of post-referendum violence, the Sudanese militia-cum-army will need help. Of that there must be no doubt. With African statesmen finally drawing the line on what is and isn’t legitimate democratic practices this much-needed help might well be easier to gain should conflict break out.

The international community has likewise taken its cue from ECOWAS in the Ivory Coast crisis, and this bodes well for the Government of South Sudan. It sends a strong message to African leaders reluctant to cede power that their self-serving tenures in office will not be tolerated, because their peers will not tolerate it. If the UN and AU can back this message up with military intervention to see the referendum decision enforced, then we might well have turned a corner in African governance. Although, to begin predicting the reaction to other elections in 2011 would be reckless (such as Zimbabwe), and in all likelihood we will still be hearing of the crisis in West Africa as the Sudanese vote. Nonetheless, the developments in the Ivory Coast, while depressing their own context, speak promisingly for Sudan’s referendum to something more than just another democratic decision steamrolled.