They Got Him

They Got Him

By Conor Godfrey on April 12, 2011

And so it ends.

Some combination of French, U.N., and Ivorian forces loyal to President Ouattara captured Laurent Gbagbo in broad daylight at his residence.

The videos and pictures of the arrest show a broken man.

He looks a little better than Saddam did when they pulled him out of the spider hole, but not by much.

Does anyone remember the breakdown of the vote that began this long, murderous process?

In the first round, Gbagbo won a plurality of the votes with ~38% to Outtara’s ~32%.

In the second round, after promising a number of ministerial appointments to major ethnic groups cum political parties, Ouattara won the two-way runoff with ~54 percent of the vote, and this likely included small-scale instances of fraud or intimidation in Ouattara’s Northern strongholds.

Taken together, these two results suggest that 46-49% of the Ivorian population would have preferred that Gbagbo remain president.

Yikes—given the absence of significant political polling and a history of fraud and intimidation, you can see how easily pro-Gbagbo civilians would have felt cheated.

So now Allasane Ouattara will have the pleasure of ruling a country where almost 50% of the population was happy to see him imprisoned in an Abidjan hotel, his forces have been implicated in human rights abuses on their march South, and he is seen by many as a tool of French imperialism thanks to a small dose of truth and an extra large helping of pugnacious Gbagbo’s fear mongering in the weeks leading up to his arrest.

Some triumph…

In the words of Pyrrhus of Epirus—“Another such victory and [Ouattara] will be uttery ruined.”

I have a lot of admiration for the way Ouattara has handled the situation so far—he is making all the right noises about national reconciliation, investigating human rights abuses on both sides, and urging restraint among his partisans.

I also think he needs to quickly distance himself from Paris.

I was not wild about French forces being so deeply involved in Gbgagbo’s arrest. (The French claim they never entered the Presidential residence; Gbagbo’s people claimed it was the French soldiers that actually made the arrest.)

For several decades, the French propped up or toppled West African leaders at will, and whatever the rationale, it doesn’t take a master propagandist to make this look like neo-colonial meddling.

Tiken Jah Fakoly—a super-star Ivorian singer and frequent political commentator had this to say in an interview with Jeune Afrique—“Sarkozy shocked me by saying that Gbagbo and his wife were to leave office within three days. He made a serious error that led many intellectuals to support Laurent Gbagbo. Today’s generation cannot stand this kind of statement that reminds us of when the colonizer or the governor spoke to our parents”. (Find excerpts in English.)

I sympathize with Tiken’s comments, even though I think France’s motives were mostly humanitarian.

Perception is reality, and France should know better.

Ouattara was already battling the perception that he comes from Burkina Faso—the French aid will now add another layer of ‘outsiderness’ to his persona.

I can’t tell whether Ouattara’s prolonged battle has expended or generated political capital, but I certainly do not think he has enough at the moment to make Cote d’Ivoire a functioning, healthy state.

Not yet anyway.

The French can help him bomb Gbagbo into submission, but they sure can’t help him build a country.

Cote d’Ivoire in Context

Cote d’Ivoire in Context

by Conor Godfrey on March 28, 2011

So far on this blog we’ve discussed the humanitarian crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, and the merits of military intervention.

Our profile would not be complete without discussing the economic context in which all of this occurs.

This is also true in Libya of course: by Libyan nightfall yesterday, the rebels were back in control of two key oil towns and claimed to have found a gulf state buyer for the 100,000 barrels per day of production currently in rebel hands.

But back to Cote d’Ivoire.

At independence, there was a famous bet between the Kwame Nkrumah and Félix Houphouët-Boigny—the two fathers of independence for Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire respectively.

Félix Houphouët-Boigny

They bet on which country would lead West Africa two decades on. Cote d’Ivoire vigorously pursued economic integration with France and allowed capitalism to thrive.

Ghana on the other hand broke most ties with the metropole, and gave the state a much stronger hand in the economy.

We could write an entire piece on who is ‘winning’ in 2011, but the important thing to note for this piece is that Felix Boigny’s approach allowed cocoa production to soar as French investment and agricultural know-how poured into Cote d’Ivoire.

Cote d’Ivoire exports approximately 40 percent of the world’s cocoa crop, with the West African region, including Ghana (21 percent), Nigeria (5 percent), and Cameron (5 percent), accounting for about 70 percent of international production.

As violence continues to escalate in Cote d’Ivoire, international markets have responded by driving cocoa futures to their highest price in 32 years — $3,586 per metric ton for May delivery.

EU and U.S. sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the disputed November 28th, 2010 election currently forbid companies from conducting business with entities linked to the regime of the intransigent incumbent Laurent Gbabgo.

This includes critical actors in the cocoa industry such as the cocoa regulators and the ports of San Pedro and Abidjan.

On top of these sanctions, President Outtara has attempted to starve his rival of approximately one billion dollars in tax revenue by issuing, and then extending, a ban on cocoa exports.

Taken together, the targeted sanctions and the export ban constitute a virtual embargo on Ivorian cocoa.

The recent extension of the export ban comes at a moment when cocoa shipments from Côte d’Ivoire have all but dried up.

Major cocoa purchasers such as Cargill, ADM, and Barry Callebaut, have either dramatically scaled down operations or stopped exporting completely.

This means that approximately 25 percent of the Ivorian cocoa crop, equivalent to 10 percent of the world’s cocoa crop, is piling up in humid Ivorian warehouses.

Recent estimates suggest that 300,000 tons of cocoa have been stockpiled up-country and an additional 100,000 tons, at the ports.

Ivoirian cocoa is produced in large part by small holder farmers who do not have the funds for proper warehousing, and industry stakeholders fear that the remaining crop will soon spoil if the sanctions remain in place.

Recently less than 5,000 tons of cocoa has been arriving per week at Ivorian ports from farms in the interior, and even that meager flow will likely dry up completely as Ivorian banks shut down operations.

Predictably, the export ban and subsequent banking crisis have exacerbated social tensions in Côte d’Ivoire.

Approximately seven million Ivoirians rely on the cocoa industry for their livelihood. Already thousands of Ivorian farmers have symbolically burned portions of their crop to protest the embargo.

The crisis in Côte d’Ivoire will likely reshape the cocoa industry in ways that even the 2002-2004 civil war did not.

The recent sanctions crippling the Ivorian industry have led to a dramatic upsurge in cocoa being smuggled through Ghana: since the October harvest in Côte d’Ivoire, around 100,000 tons of Ivorian cocoa have left West Africa through Ghana.

The two countries share a 668 km border that runs through the middle of the most productive cocoa regions in both countries.

The Ghanaian government, which fixes the price for cocoa beans, has amplified this trend by raising the price paid to Ghanaian farmers by about 30 percent.

The Ivorian crisis also coincided with a natural increase in Ghanaian production capacity due to better use of pesticides and fertilizers.

This turbulence in the West African cocoa market comes at a time when experts predict a steady increase in demand for cocoa due to the emergence of consumers in India and China. During 2009-10, demand outstripped supply by 82,000 metric tons, according to the International Cocoa Organization.

Volatility in this market will continue, buoyed by uncertainty over the deteriorating quality of the cocoa stockpiling in Ivorian warehouses, and the threat of a price collapse as soon as a solution to the Ivoirian political crisis appears on the horizon.

In the two weeks between October 11 and October 31, 2002, when both sides discussed a truce in the Ivorian civil war, Cocoa prices sank from $2,405 to $2,040 per ton.

The banking crisis precipitated by the political instability and cocoa embargo is the final factor in prolonging the reining instability.

The consensus among analysts is that Mr. Gbagbo needs between $100-150 million per month to pay the military and essential civil service personnel.

His signature is no longer valid at the Regional Central Bank that prints Côte d’Ivoire’s currency, and Côte D’Ivoire missed $30 million in interest payments at the end of January.

Soon Mr. Gbagbo’s financial position will become untenable.

AU Finally Re-affirms Ouattara- Who Were the Hold Outs?

AU Finally Re-affirms Ouattara- Who Were the Hold Outs?

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,

"Me and my warship are totally neutral...."
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.

Real People Making Real Choices in Cote d’Ivoire

Real People Making Real Choices in Cote d’Ivoire

By Conor Godfrey on March 7, 2011

I am an avowed Africa optimist, but that doesn’t mean we can’t call a spade a spade—the situation in Cote d’Ivoire is a disaster for everybody.

Last Thursday, forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo even opened fire on women engaged in a peaceful prayer-protest.

This is a video of the crackdown taken on a participant’s cell phone.

(Warning; the violence that starts about ¾ of the way through this video is very graphic.)

I post the video for two reasons: one, I think it is interesting for a non-West African audience to see what an Ivorian protest looks like, as opposed to an American, or North or East African demonstration.

The second and more important reason is because I have noticed in myself a tendency to treat people in these conflicts as expressions of larger ideas rather than flesh and blood citizens that run mechanic shops and sell bean sandwiches at corner stores and leave grandchildren behind.

If you also sometimes watch CNN and seize on “Pro-Democracy Partisans” in Libya, or “Righteous Demonstrators” in Cote d’Ivoire, this video might help you remember that protesters are best viewed as themselves first and ideologues second.

I needed a visceral reminder.

Watching the brave women praying in the middle of an Abidjan street got me thinking about protests in general.

If violence can not win decisively, and/or the use of violence will merely serve to legitimize a violent response, what options do engaged citizens have?

Some of you may have seen the New York Times article last month about Mr. Gene Sharp.

I had never heard of Mr. Sharp or his ideas–but guess who had–Otpor in Poland, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, dissident movements in Burma, Estonia, Bosnia, Zimbabwe, and of course in Tunisia, just to name a few.

Professor Sharp’s contact with these diverse movement comes mostly in the form of two famous writings—“From Dictatorship to Democracy,” and “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.”

If you don’t have time to read the entire “From Dictatorship to Democracy” (I confess I did not), the “198 Methods of Nonviolent Actions” makes for snappy reading.

The New York Times article highlights “protest disrobing” as a creative technique; I liked “sky and Earth writing,” “mock awards,” and “mock funerals.”

While we are thinking of protests, next week, I would like to take up the case of Gbagbo and Ghaddaffi’s supporters.

In all of the unrest so far, ‘pro-regime’ has been synonymous with guilty, according to the media. I think it would be worth a few moments to think about whether or not that is always true.