by Conor Godfrey on March 12, 2011
A few days ago the African Union finally issued a definitive statement on the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, reaffirming Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the November 28th, 2010 elections.
Why did it take so damn long for the AU to come on board?
Well, up until last week eight African Counties were officially or unofficially supporting Laurent Gbagbo, the intransigent incumbent in Cote d’Ivoire.
Gbagbo’s Foreign minister described seven countries as ‘allies’; Angola, Uganda, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, and Ghana.
I would also have added Zimbabwe to this list.
While Gbagbo’s Foreign minister would not normally be a credible witness, these countries have shown their support with their silence or their actions over the last several weeks.
GhanaWeb does a nice job detailing some of these instances.
Please do not misunderstand me; support in this case did not mean supporting murderous attacks on civilians (though some of those guys might very well have done so. Obiang in E.G, Mugabe in Zim—I’m talking about you)
They simply did not support coercive measures of any kind to force Gbagbo to step down.
In this case, I call that unequivocal support for incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.
South Africa led the pro-Gbagbo camp in the weeks leading up to the AU summit last Thursday. I found South Africa’s claims to be a “neutral mediator in the political deadlock” rather ridiculous, especially when they sent a warship to the Ghanaian coast to act as a “neutral negotiating venue”. Give me a break
Alassane Outtara was the certified winner of the Ivorian election, and Gbagbo the recognized loser by the U.N. and a host of international observers.
This was not a conflict between two equal parties—that was what the election was supposed to be!
By treating both contestants equally, South Africa nullified Outtara’s biggest advantage—his international legitimacy.
So why did these eight countries fly in the face of the international consensus? I think the rumors reveal interesting nuances in pan-African politics.
First we have the autocrats who looked at Cote d’Ivoire and Laurent Gbagbo and saw the parallels to their own situations all too clearly.
Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Obiang in Equitorial Guinea were the clearest cases, but I would also include Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, and maybe Joseph Kabila in the DRC.
These rulers did not want to see international actors coalesce around the use of force to remove an incumbent, because one day in the future it might have been them on the receiving end of a naval blockade or military intervention.
The next grouping included countries concerned with the growing Nigerian hegemony in West Africa. South Africa, Ghana, and Angola all fall into this category to varying degrees.
Nigeria was at the forefront of the group of nations (Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, and Burkina Faso) calling for military intervention, and Nigerian troops will certainly constitute the plurality of any multi-national coalition attempting to remove Gbagbo by force.
Nigerian and South Africa diplomats sparred repeatedly over South Africa’s role in mediating the crisis over the last several weeks.
To warp Baron Von Clausewitz’s old adage, I tend to think that politics is just a continuation of economics by other means.
South Africa has traditionally acted as launching pad to the rest of the continent for banks, major multi-nationals, NGOs, tourists, etc…
This is still true, but regional nodes like Nigeria are increasingly usurping this role.
Nigeria has more than 3 times the population of South Africa, sizeable oil reserves, and increasingly competitive multi-national companies.
South Africa sees the writing on the wall and wants to ensure that it retains a seat at the West African table.
If it doesn’t, companies may just start their forays into the continent from Nigeria.
The U.S. should recognize its own situation in South Africa’s dilemma.
The U.S. currently spends vast amounts of blood and treasure maintaining our seat at the table in Asia and the Middle East.
I think the value proposition for these foreign entanglements is becoming increasingly dubious to voters back home.