Archive for Ivory Coast

The Crisis In West Africa

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , on January 7, 2011 by playthell

Abidjan: Capitol Of Ivory Coast

Towards A Pax Africana?

To western observers who are untutored in the history and cultural traditions of Africa, the crisis in the Ivory Coast must look like a protracted political farce, a burlesque on modern statecraft.  Yet for those of us who witnessed 20th century African history unfold it is all too familiar; everywhere we see the truth of George Santayana’s axiom: “Those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes.”  Hence as the New Year dawns we are once again facing the possibility of genocidal violence in Africa; it is becoming a redundant phenomenon, and the world is becoming cynical or indifferent to this self-destructive folly – whether it happens in Africa or elsewhere.

This time it’s the Ivory Coast, a Francophone nation that was once the wealthiest and among the most stable countries in Africa. Yet, even as I write, the newly appointed UN Ambassador for the recently elected government in waiting, Youssoufou Bamba, warns that “the country is on the brink of genocide.”  The immediate problem is that the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, won’t step down and allow the government formed by Alassane Ouattara to take the reins of power and govern.

The fact that Quattara is recognized by the international community as the legitimate winner of the presidential election has had no affect on the Gbagbo clique.  At present this includes the Ivorian Army, a rag tag group of armed miscreants who wouldn’t last an hour against a real army – like the French for instance – but is quite adept at terrorizing their civilian population at the behest of autocratic thugs like Gbagbo.  The allegiance of military men to particular leaders rather than to their constitution, which is the symbol of the nation, is a great part of the problem in Africa.

Laurent Gbagbo: Tin Horn Martinet!

What The Devil Look Like In Africa

To underscore the complexity of the Ivorian problem we have only to consider the fact that the present crisis involves antagonistic factions in different regions of the country: North vs. South, which is a synonym for ethnic conflict, added to this murderous mix is religious animosity between Christians and Muslims!   This is the same combination of malignant factors that precipitated genocidal internecine slaughter elsewhere in Africa.  It is no wonder that we are hearing warnings about impending genocide in the Ivory Coast even while genocide in the Sudan and Congo are ongoing horrors, and the mass slaughter in Rwanda remains a vivid and horrifying memory.

The fundamental issues that precipitated the present crisis are deeply rooted in the unresolved contradictions between the colonial heritage, the traditional culture and the requirements of running a successful modern state.  Resolving these contradictions would be a herculean task under any circumstances, but when the machinations of the intelligence forces of the former colonial powers – often with the assistance of the American CIA – is factored in the task of progressive, honest African leaders who are committed to national development becomes nearly impossible.

While it has become conventional wisdom that multi-party participatory democracies are the best path to modernization and economic development, this is often not the case in multi-ethnic societies that are still in the process of national integration.  What often happens is that opportunistic politicians with a stunted vision simply manipulate the political process and demagogue ethnic or racial issues to their political advantage at the expense of political stability and economic development. This is the case in much of the world; it will play a major role in shaping the future of Iraq and Afghanistan. What is most likely to emerge in these societies is not a liberal democracy such as exists in Europe and the US, but a tyranny of the majority where the dominant ethnic group rules.

When I queried a contemporary Kenyan political activists and writer, Mr. Karanga, about implications of the crisis in the Ivory Coast he offered the following observation. “To fully understand the situation in the Ivory Coast one needs to understand the complexity of the African political scene. Unscrupulous leaders capitalize on poverty, illiteracy and especially ethnic divisions in order to cling to power.  They operate on the assumption that a hungry man has no principles and thus can be easily bribed.  This has defined their approach to politics, but I believe it is gradually coming to an end and new forms of political behavior are slowly emerging.”

However no analysis of the human condition in contemporary Africa can be complete without mentioning the criminal history of subversion and murder promoted by the machinations of western intelligence services who were opposed to real African independence.  It is a history that is well documented.  Whether we read ex-CIA covert agent John Stockwell’s “In Search Of Enemies,” The marvelous catalouge of exposed covert actions “Dirty Works” volumes I and II, or Amie Caesaire’s insightful drama “A Season In The Congo,” the pattern of subversion is clear.

But for an intimate insider view, the analysis of a brilliant observer who was an eye witness on the continent as the honest revolutionary African leaders who led the independence movements being overthrown and murdered,  read Stokely Carimichal aka Kwame Toure’s autobiography “Ready For Revolution.”   Written with Ekwame Michael Thelwell – a brilliant novelist and Professor Emeritus Of Literature in the WEB Dubois Department  Of  Afro American Studies – it is the best single chronicle of the world black liberation struggle in the last half of the Twentieth Century.   It provides an indispensable first hand view of how the western neo-colonialist subverted the African revolution  and  unleashed the dogs of chaos.

The determination of the leaders of neighboring West African states to prevent the outbreak of another genocidal war has led ECOWAS – Economic Community Of West African States – to threaten the use of military force to remove the outlaw regime of Laurent Gbagbo by force if he does not soon step down and allow the lawfully elected government of Alansane Quattara to govern the country.  This is the becoming the only viable solution to this dangerous stalemate.

The Ivorian Army: Play Play Soldiers!

Can These Suckers Fight?

While it is embarrassing to witness ECOWAS spokesmen crying poor mouth and saying that they will need aid from the international community to carry out this policing function, it is nowhere near as embarrassing as having the French Army come in and resolve the conflict.  As the Kenyan scholar Dr. Ai Mazuri pointed out years ago in his insightful book “Towards A Pax Africana,” once the European powers retreat from the continent Africans themselves must find the means to keep the peace.  The crisis in the Ivory Coast is a test of whether Africans are able to meet that goal a half century since the emergence of Ghana as the first modern African state.




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

January, 7 2011