Voting has not solved the problem of the Ivory Coast but military intervention may worsen it.

Voting has not solved the problem of the Ivory Coast but military intervention may worsen it.

The challenges in Cote d’Ivoire did not start with this election; they have their roots in the creation of a colonial state and simplistic demands for military action from the UN and the former colonial masters, France will only serve to escalate the crisis.  The call by ECOWAS – the regional economic and political grouping – for Ghana, a neighbouring country to lead the military intervention to remove Laurent Gbagbo who is widely believed to have stolen the election and to install Allasane Ouattara is both impractical and counterproductive as this will lead to a destabilisation of the whole region.

A background to the crisis may advance our understanding of the problem and lead us to formulating a more durable solution than the knee jerk reaction of military intervention.  A comparison with the neighbouring Ghana will also explain why Ghana should not lead any military force against the larger Ivory Cast to resolve a problem that they did not create and cannot solve.

Though Nkrumah had been involved in left wing ideologies that were favoured by the anti-colonisation movement, at independence he was clear that his agenda was Pan-Africanist; independence for all African states to the extent of providing military resources to achieve that.  He also promoted a non-aligned agenda that he articulated as   ‘ we look neither to the East or West we look forward’.   But Nkrumah also had to mould several tribes together into a unitary state in Ghana, and, as someone from a small tribe he did this very well all by forging a sense of ‘Ghanaianess’ amongst all.  His vision of independence was about rapid industrialisation with state enterprises where none existed, he felt Ghana should be in control of the commanding heights or our economy.  In the end he became a casualty of the Cold War; a Western inspired military intervention put paid to his leadership because of his alleged flirtation with the East.

Houphouet-Boigny came from two tribes in Ivory Coast, born Animist he converted to Christianity and married a Muslim woman.  He was also uniquely placed to forge the many tribes and different religions into a unitary state.  But unlike Nkrumah he abandoned the communist and socialist causes that he had flirted with prior to independence and decided to choose a path of development that favoured foreign economic interest.  As he told Nkrumah after his independence from France – “Your experience is rather impressive … But due to the human relationships between the French and the Africans, and because in the 20th century, people have become interdependent, we considered that it would perhaps be more interesting to try a new and different experience than yours and unique in itself, one of a Franco-African community based on equality and fraternity.”

Indeed for a long while Houphouet delivered economic prosperity and his country became a code name for stability in Africa since he was insulated from any military intervention from the colonial masters; he ruled his country with an iron hand from 1960 till late in life when multiparty democracy was forced on him in 1990, three years later he passed away.   His successor Konan Bedie’s  Ivorité policy exposed the deep seated tribal and religious tensions behind the facade of the unitary state, the Northern Muslims were excluded from political office; they were regarded as foreigners or ‘in-migrants’.

The country soon caught the African malaise of military intervention that had earlier afflicted others.  A coup followed and General Robert Guei transformed himself from a military dictator to a civilian president in the face of fragmented sectional political parties.  After Guei was forced out of power, Laurent Gbagbo who had been in opposition emerged as president, Allasane Ouattara at this time was debarred from contesting the elections – he was alleged to be a foreigner from Burkina Faso.

The inevitable civil war that followed saw the Northern Rebels almost overrun the whole country.  France the former colonial masters intervened and the UN stepped in to create a de facto two states with the rebels controlling 69% of the country.  Some of the leaders of the Northern Rebels including Guillame Soro who recently stepped down as Prime Minister were integrated into the government and elections were promised for 2005 but were postponed several times until this disputed 2010 election.

This election to unify the two states was billed as a ‘winner takes all’ election. But it has not delivered unity because though all parties signed up to the rules, there is still a lack of clarity as to who was supposed to declare the results or crown a winner. Was it the Electoral Commissioner, the Constitutional Committee or the UN, who presumably had paid for the election?  Should the planning for the election not have extended into planning for what would happen after the elections considering the many disputed elections in Africa that have demanded negotiations to keep the countries together?

Of course, as much pressure as possible must be brought to bear on Laurent Gbagbo to step down and cede power to Allasane Ouattara who in the eyes of the United Nations and the Western world was declared the winner at the elections.  He should be asked to play by the rules and accept defeat. If he refuses then economic sanctions should be applied against him, he should be isolated, but military action goes against all the grains of a modernist approach to conflict resolution of problems in the 21st century.

Given the background to this crisis, the existence of a de facto two states, the presence of some of the opposition in government already and the long wait for unifying elections, there is a need to look beyond the principle of democracy to formulate a lasting and sustainable solution.

Negotiated settlements have been implemented in other countries, Kenya and Zimbabwe come to mind and they have provided some comfort until the next election.  Even in Ghana the 2008 elections results were called after some tension and the loser conceded after some persuasion.

Military action in the form of a civil war has been inconclusive and has only ended up in dividing the country and if an election has failed to resolve outstanding issues, it is doubtful whether another military action will put the country back together.

To suggest that Ghana, that shares a border with Cote d’Ivoire, should provide troops and lead the charge against Gbagbo, is foolhardy.  No principle of democracy will be upheld when the intervention turns into a full scale war destabilising the whole region and wrecking havoc in a region that is only recently recovering from civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ghana does not manufacture arms so why must it waste its scarce resources to buy arms manufactured in the West to keep a principle of democracy alive that only seeks to protect Western interests.  Have we soon forgotten how the west armed Iraq to invade Iran in the early 80s and wage a 10 year war that no one won.  Have the French forgotten the lessons they learnt in Vietnam and Algeria in the 1950s when they fought to maintain some arcane principles of democracy but ended up being turfed out.

As my friend nicknamed Thomas Jefferson puts it: “why should an Akan from Ghana be sent to war against an Akan from Cote d’Ivoire to unify their country in the face of deep divisions”.  Should we not be trying to resolve the divisions and should we rather not  ask the colonial masters in France who stand to benefit from a resolution to send their sons and daughters?  Will the opposition politicians who are calling for military action arrange for their sons and daughters to be sent at the head of the army?  And who says that democracy can be preserved or sustained through military action?

We all know that it is so easy to plan a war, but military interventions come with unintended consequences and we cannot predict how they will end.  My suspicion is that after all the huffing and puffing and the bravado of threatening to force Gbagbo out using the military option, none of the countries who belong to ECOWAS  will have the stomach for implementing that threat.  A more matured and principled approach is required because going to war will be devastating.

The political pressure must continue but other ways of resolving this impasse must also investigated; it was after all resolved in America after Bush-Gore elections in 2000 and Britain found a way after five days to form a coalition government.

These may be imperfect options but they can be tried until an enduring solution can be found.  For now there are doubts whether even with Gbagbo stepping down, his supporters will agree to be ruled by the other party.

Should we not revisit the constitution to find a way of forging an inclusive government?  Should we not look at forming a coalition?  Should we indeed investigate the possibilities of a de jure two state solution that may be implemented in the Sudan?

The options are varied but we must remember that once ECOWAS took ownership of this problem and rightly so, it must not allow itself to be bounced or pressured into behaving like the former colonial powers who always threaten military action but are almost always complicit in most of the abuses of democracy in Africa.

The problem deserves a fresh pair of lenses for a long lasting solution.

Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research that focuses on formulating strategies for black and ethnic minority, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on social, political and development issues. He can be contacted by email on or through

You may subscribe to his occasional rants at

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