By: Wilson Idahosa Aiwuyor
The former president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, was captured yesterday (April 11) by forces loyal to President Alassane Outtara after months of clinging to power, following the November 2010 disputed elections in which Mr Outtara was internationally recognized as winner. The underground bunker in the presidential palace where Gbagbo had been hiding was said to have been penetrated by Outtara’s forces with the help of French forces who have been operating in Ivory Coast under a United Nations mandate.
The Ivorian crisis has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions, and destabilized the economy of that country. There are accusations and counter accusations about massacres and human rights violations from both Gbagbo supporters and Outarra’s.
Immediately after surrendering, Gbagbo called for an end to fighting so that they could seek civilian solutions to the crisis. In a broadcast speech, President Outarra promised that justice will be served for the killings and human rights abuses. He proposed the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission.
The task ahead of the new president and the Ivorian people is enormous. These include revamping the economy, rebuilding trust and confidence between the supporters of Outarra mainly from the North and those of Gbagbo from other parts of the country, and ensuring that there is a balance between justice, peace, and reconciliation. In addition, maintaining security in a nation where weapons are now in the hands of aggrieved supporters on both sides will be a herculean task.
During the fighting, mercenaries from neighboring Liberia were said to have fought on both factions, with some abandoning one faction for the other depending on who was offering more pay at specific times.
There must now be a genuine effort by the Ivorian people and their new president to mend broken bones in the country as well as to work with the regional organization, ECOWAS, to ensure lasting national and regional solutions to the problem.
Outtara must ensure that he lives up to the democratic standards which his supporters within and outside Ivory Coast sought to uphold when they opposed Gbagbo. This was despite Gbagbo’s claim that his fight against Outtara was a struggle to save Ivory Coast from the imperial stranglehold of France.
When we opposed Gbagbo, we were not unaware that France’s neo-colonial interest in West Africa is overwhelming, and that France has been an impediment to regional integration and unity in West Africa. We are also cognizant of the fact that France would want to re-consolidate its influence in Ivory Coast through Outtara. However, despotism and anti-democratic means are futile strategies for the kind of opposition and resistance that can stand tall to France’s neo-colonialism in Africa. Removing French military bases from Africa, dismantling the anti-regional integration impediments posed by the franc zone and France-Afrique, and giving Africans more control of their resources in West Africa over France require the supremacy of people’s power. Dividing the people along ethnic, religious, and regional lines for political gains, as Gbagbo did in the name of fighting neo-imperialism does nothing but weaken the supremacy of people’s power. We have seen the people’s power in motion in North Africa. Who says we cannot do same in West Africa?
Anti-imperialists who have genuine intentions for Ivory Coast and for all African people must now work harder to pursue peace and reconciliation in Ivory Coast; we must build Ivorian democratic institutions and entrench the kind of democratic values that would give no space for xenophobia, islamophobia, chauvinism, and despotism in order to hold the new Outtara government accountable to the people while seeking to dismantle France’s imperial overreach.
Wilson Idahosa Aiwuyor is a researcher. A graduate of International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, he was a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.