By George E. Curry –
(NNPA) ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire -- Laurent Gbagbo, the embattled president of Côte d’Ivoire, more popularly known as the Ivory Coast, says President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and other western leaders should stop questioning the legitimacy of his re-election and accord the West African country the same respect the United States was given in the controversial 2000 presidential election contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
In an exclusive videotaped interview in his presidential residence, Gbagbo said: “You in the United States, in 2000, you had an election dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush. They did a recount of the votes. Did we go get the NATO forces to come and attack America and impose democracy on America? This is a post-electoral dispute. That’s why I’m [suspicious of] all those countries who are rushing in to condemn us. I don’t trust them.”
In three separate rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recounting of ballots in the race between Bush and Gore, allowing Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ certification of Bush as the winner to stand. Bush’s victory in Florida gave him 25 electoral votes, allowing him to defeat Gore 271 electoral votes to 266.
On October 31, 2011 there was a presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire. A run-off election was held November 28, 2010 between Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister under President Felix Houphouet-Boigny and an economist for the International Monetary Fund. The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that Ouattara was the victor, which pleased Sarkozy and other western leaders who had been supporting Ouattara.
Gbagbo, who was first elected president of the former French colony a decade ago, said those supporting Ouattara ignored the second part of a two-step electoral process. After some of the ballots were challenged by Gbagbo, the Constitutional Council – the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court – ruled that Gbagbo won the run-off with 51.45 percent of the votes, three percentage points higher than Ouattara’s 48.55 percent.
“In our constitution, the Independent Electoral Commission is just an administrative body. It organizes the election and it proclaims the provisional results,” Gbagbo explained. “The only institution which by law proclaims the final results, proclaim who won the election and who receives the oath of president is the Constitutional Council.”
Sarkozy expressed support for Ouattara before the Constitutional Council issued its ruling.
“The Independent Electoral Commission has announced the results, which signal a clear, indisputable victory for Alassane Ouattara,” Sarkozy said on December 4, 2010. “After verification of the votes, the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon endorsed the result of the ballot and congratulated President-elect M. Ouattara. Following this, President Obama and the European leaders, like me, saluted Alassane Ouattara’s victory.”
Sarkozy was relying on a 2007 peace agreement that required the United Nations to certify election results. However, Gbagbo asserted that as a sovereign nation, no outside institution is above his country’s highest court.
After throwing out voided ballots, the Constitutional Council concluded that Gbagbo had defeated Ouattara 2,054,537 to 1,938,672.
The Constitutional Council is composed of six counselors and a president. Under the constitution, the president of the National Assembly appoints three of the jurists and the president of the country picks three, plus the president of the Constitutional Council.
Critics argue that given its makeup, it is not surprising that Council ruled in Gbagbo’s favor. Gbagbo does not deny that most of the justices are his friends, but said that is no different from the president of the United States appointing members of the Supreme Court, pending Senate confirmation.
Gbagbo also noted that the Independent Electoral Commission was heavily packed with Ouattara supporters, a point mentioned in some of the Constitutional Council’s documents.
In a signed appeal to voters, dated November 27, 2010, Gbagbo and Ouattara agreed, “We solemnly pledge to accept the election results as declared at the close of polls by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Constitutional Council.”
Article 98 of the constitution proclaims, “The decisions of the Constitutional Council are not susceptible to any recourse…”
Instead of accepting the ruling by the country’s top court, however, Ouattara claimed victory and called for the physical removal of Gbagbo from Côte d’Ivoire. He remains ensconced in the Golf Hotel, protected by United Nations troops. The only way to reach or leave the hotel is aboard a U.N. helicopter.
Côte d’Ivoire, once known as the Paris of Africa, is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. Its downtown skyline is dotted with impressive skyscrapers. The country is slightly larger than New Mexico and has a population of approximately 21 million.
Ethnic, geographical, and religious factors are part of the tension between supporters of each candidate. Gbagbo is a Christian from the Bete ethnic group and lives in the south. Ouattara is a Muslim, a member of the Dioula group, whose supporters are mostly in the northern part of the country, a section held by rebels who initiated a civil war less than two years after Gbagbo became president.
Gbagbo said he was under pressure to hold elections in 2010 even though the international community that now opposes him never insisted that rebels lay down their guns as part of the peace process.
“Many Americans don’t even know what is Côte d’Ivoire,” said Gbagbo. “When I was in the U.S., I was obliged to say we are between Ghana and Liberia… So when they tell them there’s a dictator somewhere in a country called Côte d’Ivoire who lost the election and doesn’t want to go, they take it. It’s very easy when it concerns Africa because they say, ‘Well, it’s Africa.’”
Gbagbo, a former college professor, has a Ph.D in history and wrote his dissertation on French colonization of Africa. He said many of the problems on the continent stem from the relationship between African leaders and their old colonial powers.
That alone, however, does not explain why there is such widespread opposition to Gbagbo. The U.N., France, the U.S., the African Union, the Central Bank of West African States and the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) all assert that Ouattara is the duly elected president.
When asked about African opposition to his remaining in power, the prideful Pan-Africanist became subdued, selecting his words carefully.
“English-speaking countries that were colonized by Great Britain do not suffer the pressure from their colonial power as former French colonies,” Gbagbo stated. “The French have a stronger impact on its former colonies than English-speaking superpowers. That’s a factual situation. Other than that, our French-speaking countries are more fragile than English-speaking countries.”
In other words, some African leaders feel intense economic pressure to do the bidding of France.
Not everyone accepts that explanation.
Abbul-Rahma, writing in a column for GhanaWeb.com, said: “…The Ivorian problem is not an issue of colonial imperialism, but a determined effort by a tyrant to defy the will of his people and of the international community.”
Some critics are trying to use the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and other troubled Black countries as an excuse to reintroduce colonialism.
In his January 11th column in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens dismissed Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and the Sudan as basket cases.
“What, if anything, does it all mean? It means that we have come full circle,” said Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of the newspaper. “It means that colonialism, for which the West has spent the past five decades in nonstop atonement, was far from the worst thing to befall much of the colonized world. It means, also, that some new version of colonialism may be the best thing that could happen to at least some of the countries in the post-colonial world.”
Ouattara called for a “special operations” raid to seize Gbagbo and “take him somewhere else.” With France cheering them on, African leaders in ECOWAS have discussed the possibility of using military troops to remove Gbagbo from office.
Ghana President John Mills, a member of ECOWAS, said he will have no part of such a move. And one of Mills’ predecessors, Jerry Rawlings, supports his decision.
“More outrageous election results have taken place without intervention,” Rawlings stated. “How can we justify an intervention in this instance, when the results are so close and divided along ethnic lines? Let us investigate all the peaceful options available rather than a military intervention that cannot establish a peaceful political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”
President Obama is part of the international effort to isolate Gbagbo.
Like the European Union, he has announced a travel ban on Gbagbo, his wife, and three of his top aides. In addition, an executive order issued by Obama forbids U.S. citizens from conducting financial or commercial transactions with Gbagbo and his inner circle and freezes all of their U.S. assets.
“They said they are closing all of the accounts of President Gbagbo and his staff in the foreign banks, but I laughed at it,” Gbagbo said, flashing a broad smile. “I have no accounts outside [Côte d’Ivoire]. In the United States, they found a small account that’s for my daughter when she was a student there. There’s $400 in the account. She forgot that there was $400 left in it. That’s the only account that is called Gbagbo and they don’t even belong to me. They are not for me, they belong to my daughter.”
According to the White House, Obama has tried to reach Gbagbo by telephone on at least three occasions, but the African leader would not accept his calls.
When asked about refusing to speak with U.S. president, Gbagbo said, “I didn’t even know if Barack Obama called me because his ambassador, he has discredited himself. So, when he tells me something, I don’t believe him.”
That notwithstanding, Obama sent a letter to Gbagbo urging him to step aside. According to Gbagbo, Obama said “he’d give me a professor’s job in Boston.”
Despite his ability to see humor in some U.S. actions, it is clear that Gbagbo is pained about the actions of America’s first Black president, a president whose father was born in Kenya.
When this interviewer asked Gbagbo what he would say if Barack Obama were sitting across from him, Gbagbo replied: “If I was in front of him, I would say his administration is being misled, that his administration is being totally misled on this issue,” Gbagbo said. “He has to help Africans build strong states and to build those strong states, you have to re-enforce the power of the institutions on which the nations stand. He must respect those institutions.”
Gbagbo said Obama is more than simply a Black man in the White House.
“I’m very proud that when the Blacks now walk down the streets in America, they are not looked down upon like a sub-human,” Gbagbo explained. “This is my pride. But politics remain politics… He is an American president. And, he defends the interests of the United States.”