What’s With the Anti-Gbagbo Backbone?

Feb 07, 11 What’s With the Anti-Gbagbo Backbone?

The post-election crisis in Cote D’Ivoire has been met with a fairly surprising strength and consistency of response from the International Community calling for Laurent Gbagbo to step down to Allasaine Ouattara. While we can debate the efficacy of diplomatic efforts and sanctions regimes, the rather unambiguous cry (exceptions noted) from the majority of international state opinion (as well as actions taken by organisations such as the World Bank and the West African Central Bank) has been relatively clear and consistent in support of Ouattara. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case in African elections where African states prefer silence or support towards their cronies and the International Community at large continues to tally a record of reluctance and ambiguity to take much decisive action.  It begs the question, why all the fuss with Cote D’Ivoire?

It is helpful to recall that the 2010 election occurred after being rescheduled six times since Gbagbo’s term expired in 2005. The regional community has invested much effort and expense during this period to ensure what was widely perceived as a relatively fair electoral process.

That the outcome of the election itself was deemed clear enough to justify a solid response also happened to occur in a country where the bigger actors such as the USA have less complicated relationships to threaten by speaking out.

It is true that regional actors can ill-afford resumed hostilities in Cote D’Ivoire which has surely been a strong motivating factor to maintain interests in their investment in the elections after the fact. The instability and threat of resumed conflict in Cote D’Ivoire has serious consequences for the regional economy and fragile political peace and stability. Liberia is already suffering setbacks it can hardly afford to handle as hundreds of Ivorian refugees have been crossing into Liberia on a daily basis.

The regional reaction has surely provided some legitimated encouragement for more decisive continental support for Ouattarra. Conscious of the many elections scheduled in the continent in 2011, African states must surely be wary of the potential precedent Cote D’Ivoire may set in a tenuous year of elections. This lack of ambivalence from African states and the African Union has surely given leverage for action and enabled more decisive outcries from other international actors.

Seemingly the most convincing reason why reactions have been so strong lies in the opportunity of clear data. That the outcome of the election itself was deemed clear enough to justify a solid response also happened to occur in a country where the bigger actors such as the USA have less complicated relationships to threaten by speaking out.

The situation in Cote D’Ivoire may very well be a test case for the elections to follow in the African continent this year: one can only hope that international efforts succeed to save the situation for a positive precedent of vocal refusals for more bad elections. If the international and African responses are just an incidence of strategic opportunity or regional necessity, we have cause to be sceptical about how much we can expect actors to continue similar stands against undemocratic electoral interferences in the future. I am slightly less sceptical, however, in the hope that more blatant electoral data encourages less ambiguous action. Viewed through the prism of “relational sovereignty” (Helen Stacey’s motivation for instances that may justify humanitarian intervention), one can hope that elections that produce more solid articulations of the will of the people have the possibility to compel stronger international and regional reactions. A glimmer of opportunity to push towards vesting sovereignty in the citizenry bodes for an exciting increment of change for African democracies.

Image by Abdallah