Situation in Cote D´Ivoire –an African tragedy

By Prof Mike Oquaye

Africa awakened to a rude political shock when ex-President Gbagbo of Cote d´Ivoire declared himself in effect as President of the Republic. Tragically, the dark era of self coronation has been revisited. In the first instance, a political functionary impudently tore into pieces, the official results compiled by the Commission responsible for elections.

By this, Gbagbo’s representative embarked on an illegality which fundamentally undermined the electoral process. Thereafter, Gbagbo is caught by a well established legal maxim: “No man can take advantage of his own wrong”. Gbagbo’s men cannot be heard to say that the results were declared late and therefore of no effect. The Electoral Commissioner subsequently went ahead and officially declared Gbagbo the loser of the elections. That declaration must stay.

The moment the run-off was on, and the opposition parties formed an alliance against Gbagbo, one did not need an apocalyptic or prophetic vision to forecast that the death knell of Gbagbo’s rule had been sounded. This was particularly so, when simple figures showed that the total votes in percentage terms were skewed against Gbagbo. Gbagbo had 38%; Ouatarra 32%; the third candidate (Bedie) 27%. All the other candidates backed Ouatarra openly. The cumulative effect was obvious.

Following the official pronouncement by the Electoral Commission, the ex-President procured a Constitutional Council pronouncement which declared him winner of the elections and the elected President. Pursuant to this, he was sworn into office with indecent haste. A Court of competent jurisdiction can receive, examine and evaluate evidence and submissions of law, and declare votes as valid or invalid. In cases of partial challenge, aspects of an election may be nullified and re-voting ordered.

This happened in Akwatia, for example. But the Court will not sink into the arena and usurp the function of the Electoral Commission and declare results according to its own pleasure. The question to ask is: If the results of the EC had been set aside, what data did the Constitutional Council use to “declare” its own results? In fact, it was a victory declared in a vacuum, without supporting details as to number of votes in various constituencies.

In effect, it was an effort to build something on nothing – an exercise in puerile futility. As Shakespeare wrote, at this stage it had become a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. We do not fully know which person or persons were procured to engage in this tragic illegality. All those involved should be called to order seriatim. This development is most regrettable, atrocious, a slap in the face of the democratic second wind of change in Africa. It should be condemned with every breath at our disposal.

We saw this in Zimbabwe and Africa vacillated. We sat with indifference as one State after another was engulfed in conflict. We cannot keep doing this. As the Akan Proverb goes: “if you see your neighbour’s beard on fire, quickly look for water to protect yours”. As one chief explained to me some years ago, this does not mean simply looking for water to protect your beard as such, but helping to quench the fire, lest it spreads to engulf you. We should rise and quench this bubonic fire in Cote d´Ivoire, before it assumes conflagration proportions.

ECOWAS and AU have virtually become clubs without any positive goals. We have not drawn the ground rules. Any nation is a member just because it has a flag, a national anthem and is geographically located in Africa. The European Union (EU) was started by France and Germany with declared goals and basic principles, before other European nations joined, as they prescribed to the set ideals. Spain and Portugal were rejected for a long time because they had what the EU described as “weak democratic credentials”.

What do we believe in? We believe in everything and in the end we believe in nothing. The Bible itself asks: “Can two walk together unless they be agreed?” Africa must redefine its fundamental principles of good governance and keep away the apostles of the rule of the jungle. Let us stop beating about the bush. Let us have well declared and ascribed principles to handle political affairs on the continent.

The parameters of sovereignty have changed in the face of globalization. Conflict in States (which we describe as intra-State conflicts) are no longer internal affairs of States, regarding which there should be no “interference”. Cote d´Ivoire covers the entire span of our Western frontier and we cannot afford a conflict in that land. Conflict in far away Liberia had untold effects on our nation Ghana.

We should recount the adverse effects of conflict on women and children especially. We should remember the untold abuse of women’s rights. This is a gender issue. All women of Africa should rise up and be counted. African women have suffered enough squalor, misery, rape, abuse and disease from the conflicts which engulf our nations, from the lust for political power.

Ghana should quickly lead the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Cote d´Ivoire, before it is too late. This evil visitation should be nipped in the bud before it grows wings. Ghana, ECOWAS, AU and UN – the time is today!

Africa must look at elections again and very seriously. From the elections in Western Nigeria which led to the coup of 1966 and civil war, up to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d´Ivoire itself, etc, etc; the conduct of elections have become a bane in Africa. We have had our own experiences in Ghana and we all know we are lucky to have escaped escalated conflict. Can we be lucky forever?

I call for electronic registration and electronic voting in Africa. No cost is too much for something which can destroy the very foundations of the State in Africa. Our oil monies must be used to secure the State by strengthening our electoral processes. And that means going electronic. Development partners who seek stability, peace, good governance and economic growth in Africa must wake up to this call. Safeguarding the electoral process is a prerequisite for peace, democracy and development in Africa.

Second, I call for a West Africa Electoral Commission, with counterparts throughout Africa. We should be committed to this. Donors and development partners should help establish this.

Reputable jurists and international experts, together with Africans should constitute this Commission. All matters of elections should be the responsibility of this body. The concept of West Africa Examinations Council will be lifted to a higher level. We cannot leave elections to the whims of power-drunk leaders – leaders who will let their nations burn if only they can hold political power. Elections in Africa should become a globalised activity and not the encapsulated struggle of village bullies.

In the attempt to resolve this tragedy, allow me to reiterate: There can be no power-sharing. This amorphous conceptualization is a recipe for undermining the sovereign will of the people.

In Zimbabwe, Mugabe miserably lost the election only to metamorphose into the senior partner and overlord in the dubious formula labeled “power sharing”.

It is my considered view that unless we in Africa stop and take stock of our elections, we shall wake up one day and lament that Africa has failed again. Why? The Second Wind of Change would have vanished into thin air.

The situation in Cote d´Ivoire is a disaster, a blot on the reputation of Africa. The whole world should rise to arms if diplomacy does not resolve the impasse immediately. Thank you.

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