African elections, Alassane Ouattara, Council on Foreign Relations, International Crisis Group, Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo
I had promised a post on the absence of the Ivory Coast from the African policy discourse in Washington DC over the weekend. Fortunately, the snowquester has allowed me to focus on this. I returned to the US following two years in Francophone Africa days before the 2010 1st round election in the Ivory Coast and moved to DC about a month after the contested 2nd round election, where the Constitutional Court controversially threw out votes for the challenger, Alassane Ouattara, allowing the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, to claim victory.
However, most of the world lined up behind Ouattara; Angola (and to a lesser extent South Africa) being the most notable exception. A few months later, Gbagbo was forcibly removed from power, largely due to French assistance.
It is parallels to this crisis in events of the past weeks that have drawn me back to the precarious situation in the Ivory Coast. On this blog I have recently covered DC think tank events on Kenyan elections and Defense contracting positions resulting from France’s military intervention in Mali. Similarly, the situation in the Ivory Coast drew significant attention from the DC policy community in the Spring of 2011. Consider this event at USIP, or this one at the Brookings Institution. Laurent Gbagbo’s step-daughter, was at least until 2011 living in DC, and she also contributed her voice to the debate.
In many ways (although at the risk of simplification), the Ivory Coast is a Francophone Kenya of West Africa – both have traditionally been strong supporters of the West, each has been a destination for migrants from the surrounding region and Asia (Lebanon vs. India) which has led to ethnic tensions, and each country is home to significant Western interests (Cocoa companies vs. NGOs). In the geopolitical military equation, each is also quite important; Kenya has taken a leading role in the fight against Islamic militants in Somalia, and the Ivory Coast has also contributed forces to the AFISMA mission in Mali.
Thus, it is all the more surprising that the Ivory Coast has taken a back seat to events in Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, and other places over the past year. In September, 2011, Ouattara did travel to the US. He had a very busy schedule (or at least attended a lot of public events) and I heard him speak at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Africa Brain Trust. The Brookings Institution also hosted him (remember when I said they were good at getting luminaries?) as did the National Endowment for Democracy.
Since then, I have not heard much about the Ivory Coast from those shaping the discourse on Africa in Washington DC. More generally, the situation seems to be outside of the current purview of the bulk of Anglophone media. Armed attacks in Abidjan on the Liberia border occasionally make headlines, as does the victors justice being meted out by Ouattara and the international community (Gbagbo at the ICC, extradition of Gbagbo loyalists who have fled to Ghana, etc.). However, comprehensive concern with reconciliation and reconstruction seems to be absent. Islamic militancy in Nigeria and South Africa labor unrest (I refer you to the Africa blog of the Council on Foreign Relations for fine examples of this discourse) grab most of the headlines reserved for ongoing civil strife in Africa.
A search on the website of the International Crisis Group (which has a DC office) reveals that the crisis level of the Ivory Coast is currently in an ‘unchanged situation’, a position it has been in since September, 2012, when it was in a ‘deteriorated situation’. Gbagbo, who everyone agrees had the support of at least 45% of the electorate, has been out of power for almost two years. It appears that little has been done domestically or internationally, to alleviate the internal divisions that led to the civil war in the first place. Ouattara is beholden to the French and Ivorian rebels for instilling him in his current position. I have suggested that the rebel heritage of the Kabila administration hinders good governance in the DRC, Ouattara’s technocratic background is no guarantee the same will not be true for his administration. I fear that the country may soon return to the prominence it enjoyed in the US capital in the Spring of 2011.
But West African nations haven’t really taken part in East African events and vice versa unless it was a special request e.g. when the Ghanaian president was requested to help with broaching peace in the post election violence in Kenya in 2007. And this is because (I think) the interests of these nations are very different trade wise, which western countries they ally with e.t.c.
Thank you for bringing attention to Cote d’Ivoire. The country has great potential, but as you’ve pointed out, it won’t get there unless the rebuilding begins.
There are countless Ivorians here in the US who want to contribute to the development and economic growth of Cote d’Ivoire. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy involved and the lack of information makes it quite challenging. Although a strong and dedicated administration to improve the country is necessary, I truly believe that the people are the answer here. Hopefully, with programs like the US – Cote d’Ivoire Business Council created by the US Chamber of commerce, these obstacles will lessen.