Best of a bad situation

Posted on | april 7, 2011 | No Comments

Laurent Gbagbo

The situation in Cote d’Ivoire qualifies as one in which the best options are the least bad options. Once Laurent Gbagbo decided not to step down peacefully or even with a nudge after refusing to yield after his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, clearly won last November’s presidential election there was bound to be violence that turned into low intensity warfare that turned into something resembling all-out civil war. That is precisely what happened.

I suppose there is reason to be pleased that France and the United Nations stepped forward (at least partially at the behest of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States,  members of which wondered why the West cared so much about North Africa and so little about events in West Africa) to buttress attacks by (surprisingly effective) troops loyal to Ouattara and perhaps provide a tipping point that will lead to Ouattara taking his rightful place as president of the country. Gbagbo appears to be mulling his options, including stepping down, though one imagines that fraught process will have to involve him finding a cozy exile somewhere. Exile is far from ideal. Most observers will believe Gbagbo must be forced to account for his horrible deeds, but again, we are dealing with least bad options, not with any particularly good ones.

But assuming the endgame is nigh, what sort of country will he be taking over? Certainly not the one that just a few months ago appeared  to be on the right path after seemingly overcoming years of civil war. The especially grim irony is that  Gbagbo deserved his share of credit for Cote d’Ivoire’s seemingly remarkable renaissance. Now he will go down as an intransigent bandit and murderer, another in a long line of African Big Men who confused themselves with the state and believed that they represented the only plausible form of leadership going forward even while the masses of Ivorians suffered most. Ouattara should have the sympathy of the many as he takes on the monumental task before him, but as we all know, creating instability can easily be the domain of the few.

Predictions in this case are a fool’s errand. My hope is that “the West,” especially France and the UN, will provide support for Ouattara and the Ivorian people going forward. It was important that they stepped forward as they did and every bit as vital that they did so with the imprimatur of ECOWAS. But forcing Gbagbo’s hand is the beginning and not the end of helping to ensure that the country has a reasonable chance going forward. Most of the work will fall upon Ouattara and his fellow citizens. But the West can and should ensure that the transition is as smooth as can be expected and that the country does not fall off the global radar when the next event chases it from the headlines.

AUTHOR: Derek Charles Catsam
URL: http://africa.foreignpolicyblogs.com
E-MAIL: derekcatsam [at] hotmail.com

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