Fahamu (Oxford)

Cote d'Ivoire: The Logic of the Absurd?

opinion

The worst-case scenario, outside armed intervention, having apparently been ruled out, now we see the strategy of the absurd unfurling unafraid of contradictions.

We are being promised an 'economic and financial strangulation' of the Côte d'Ivoire: A ban on the exportation of cocoa, banks banned from 'cooperating' with the regime of Laurent Gbagbo, a ban on the payment of the salaries of civil servants and soldiers, a freeze on the assets of individuals and national and private companies, restrictions on travel, just so many measures whose legality is at the very least doubtful.

With the unfolding of this strategy with clearly pernicious designs for the entire country and its inhabitants, it is legitimate to wonder whether this zeal is solely the result of the electoral dispute surrounding the presidential election of 28 November 2010.

For if that is the case, one might quite simply expect the end of the mission of the African Union, whose recommendations are supposed to be binding. In the eyes of the French government, the 'great arranger' of this zealous campaign of sanctions, how important is it basically whether Laurent Gbagbo or Alassane Ouattara is the winner of the election? But for Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made it his personal affair... who knows? Result: French diplomacy in Africa continues to be caught up in confusion of personal interests, networks and logic of the state.

The sanctions targeting individuals and Ivorian companies (and even the credentials of ambassadors) that have been imposed by the European countries, Canada and the United States will crumble, this is my personal conviction, as soon as they are brought before the courts. For these sanctions are grounded in the refusal to recognise the president said to have been 'elected' and to work for him. Yet any judge guided by his 'soul and conscience' would above all else ask to examine the Ivorian constitution before coming to a decision. And since this constitution has never been suspended by any resolution of the United Nations Security Council, it would be the sole rightful source of authority for the judge.

Apart from the measures taken by the 30 or so countries mentioned above, the only other actions taken against the Côte d'Ivoire and the inhabitants of the country have come from the seven other countries of the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (EMUWA), and from Alassane Ouattara himself.

The withdrawal of the international signature at the level of the Central Bank of West African States (CBWAS) led to the suspension of mechanisms of interbank compensation and possibly the provisional closing of many banks, impeding clients' access to their bank accounts. We risk facing serious violations of human rights in the coming future, for which these banks will be held responsible if their clients are unable to care for sick family members, feed their children properly, pay salaries in keeping with labour laws. It would be wise for non-governmental organisations and lawyers not to delay in setting to work actively to document accurately all the individual cases of human rights violations for the purpose of subsequent legal action before national, regional or international courts.

The temporary ban proclaimed by Alassane Ouattara on the exportation of cocoa beans is especially going to suit speculators who made purchases ahead of time and are going to profit from the surge in prices. In particular, the Armajaro company of the trader Anthony Ward, which in July 2010 acquired 240,000 tons cocoa, totalling 20 per cent of Ivorian production and 15 per cent of the world's stocks. This company invested US$1 billion and will profit substantially from it just as a consequence of this decision by Alassane Ouattara, whose 35 year-old stepson, Loïc Folloroux, is none other than Anthony Ward's director for Africa. Pure coincidence, needless to say. As for Ivorian producers and merchants... who cares about them? The goal is rather to 'strangle' them!

Strangling consists in stopping the breath by suffocation, in other words in killing. But who is going to be killed? Laurent Gbagbo or the Côte d'Ivoire? Who will be the killer? And why? Aren't there any other alternatives? Or is it a question of imposing Alassane Ouattara at all costs, no matter what the true outcome of the election might otherwise be? And of doing so without waiting for the conclusions of the mission of the African Union?

Let us suppose for a minute that upon verification it is found that Alassane Ouattara did not win the elections. Would that be in the realm of the impossible or utterly off the track? What is the source of this unshakeable certitude concerning Alassane Ouattara' victory? The proclamation of the outcome by the president of the independent electoral commission (CEI)? We know that there was no consensus within the CEI, which was, moreover, barred. The certification by the special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations? His haste and the lack of respect for the procedures unfortunately tarnished his certification. Whence a legitimate doubt in the minds of many. As long as we have any doubt, the least doubt, it would be disgraceful to allow a fellow country to be 'strangled'.

Unshakeable certitude in the infallibility of the arbitrators, auxiliary arbitrators on top of that, and therefore in the victory at the polls of Alassane Ouattara (or of Laurent Gbagbo for that matter) is an undeniably absurd proposition and, even worse, dangerous, even suicidal since it maintains the two protagonists in maximalist positions.

Something is absurd that is unacceptable to reason and good sense. The strategy of financial strangulation is absurd because if Alassane Ouattara succeeds, with the backing of France, in strangling (killing) the Côte d'Ivoire, he will have nothing to govern but a pile of ruins. Furthermore, supposing that Laurent Gbagbo took the Côte d'Ivoire hostage, killing a hostage that one wants to liberate does not make the would-be hostage-taker the murderer.

The murderer is definitely the one who will have done the killing (strangling) with premeditation and incompetence. Then, if Alassane Ouattara does not succeed in doing this, and the country manages to survive the attempted suffocation, no Ivorian will then want to see him come to power. Never! For it is no good telling oneself that those who wish to come into power can do whatever they like.

There are actions that one must not engage in against one's country and one's fellow citizens. I remember what Abdoulaye Wade confided to me after the Constitutional Council proclaimed his adversary victorious in the 1993 elections in Senegal that he was convinced he himself had won: 'I shall never enter the gates of the Palace stepping over the cadavers of Senegalese citizens'.

Something is absurd that is not in keeping with the rational laws of consistency and logic. The strategy of strangulation is absurd because the sanctions will not distinguish between the pro-Ouattara cocoa producers and those opposing him. The same for the civil servants deprived of their salaries. Won't they all prefer a vote recount or a new election to strangulation? What is more, the banks that will have closed are going to lose their clients' confidence whatever the outcome of the electoral dispute might otherwise be.

It is also absurd because the millions of Senegalese, Malians, Nigerians, Burkinabe, etc who live in the Côte d'Ivoire are going to suffer from these sanctions. They will perhaps even be obliged to leave their adopted country. It is easy to predict for whom they will vote when the time comes for the next election in their own countries if the decisions made by their respective heads of state happen to suffocate the economic lung of West Africa.

The tenacity of the absurd!

Laurent Gbagbo is accused of being a usurper, and to make him leave people want to suffocate the country. But he says he possesses proof of irregularities tarnishing the balloting. Saddam Hussein said that he did not possess weapons of mass destruction. He was told to 'prove it', which was absurd because the burden of proof always lies with the accusers. Laurent Gbagbo says that he has proof of fraud that distorted the final verdict. He was literally told 'we don't give a darn' and, the height of absurdity, people are preparing to strangle his country when it would be enough to verify whether these proofs are tangible or not.

And the flow of absurdity does not stop there.

A sanction is something normally imposed on a lawbreaker, but we still need to be told what law was broken. There is a simple electoral dispute and the country's Constitutional Council came to a decision and invested Laurent Gbagbo as president. The international community, not having any authority to name a president in the Côte d'Ivoire any more than in Gabon, Alassane Ouattara is, therefore, in fact a 'self-proclaimed' president, having himself in vain sought investiture by the Constitutional Council, and this being the case, he has continued to violate Ivorian law for the past three months. But it is Laurent Gbagbo who is being sanctioned! And what is more, it is he who would be removed from office by accepting a vote recount since he is already the president invested by the highest jurisdictional body there is!

How about that! We are definitely witnessing a veritable unleashing of absurdities in the Côte d'Ivoire.

All this absurdity exasperates me and leaves me perplexed.

What people are conveniently forgetting is that half of the electorate voted for Laurent Gbagbo. And who knows what the electorate of the Democratic Party of the Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) would do, heated up as it is by the discovery of the reality of the Rally of the Republic (RDR)-rebel faction, if the elections were to be held again today. All the more since each time the political leader of the rebels opens his mouth, Alassane Ouattara loses credibility. Doesn't he realise that African heads of state are 'allergic' to rebels? I furthermore defy the international community to require that new elections be held between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, so as to finally settle the electoral dispute and put an end to this 'festival of the absurd'!

Unless there was a deliberate intent to lead the country into war, civil war this time, in order to justify outside intervention! In that case, what appears absurd today will be logical and rational tomorrow.

Pathetic tale of brazenness and myopia!

In the meantime, it is obvious that what is being played out in the Côte d'Ivoire today is of prime importance for the future of our children in Africa and therefore raises questions for all of us. It is up to us to discover how to respond to this challenge at the opening of the second 50 years of the independence of our countries.

Pierre Sané, former secretary general of Amnesty International and former assistant director general of UNESCO, is the president of Imagine Africa

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