The inevitable question on every sensible person’s mind is: “So, was it all necessary, Mr Gbagbo?”
As I was writing this column, I received a disturbing report from Accra, Ghana. “I have left the hostel where I used to stay,” the report said. “There are too many refugees hanging about the place. Most of them are from the Ivory Coast but there are some from Libya too. It’s become dangerous to live there. You see the displaced persons everywhere – some even sleep at bus stops because they have nowhere else to go. This is happening in our peaceful Ghana! All because of Gbagbo!” My friend then asked in exasperation: “But Africa too, where at all does it pick these crazy rulers from? You play football against another team and you lose. But you don’t want to accept the result. And so you choose to kill everybody on the field rather than yield?”
“Africa doesn’t pick them,” I pointed out feebly. “These power-hungry people merely use Africa for their egoistic ends. They pretend that they want the majority of the people of their countries to decide who should rule them. But that is not what they are really after. They want to lay hands on the instruments of coercion in the state – the army, the police, the TV and radio stations, the central bank, the other public services.
“Once the majority carries them on their shoulders to capture these centres of power, then they can turn round and oppress everyone, including their own supporters. The people don’t matter to these rulers any more once they achieve total control. It is then the ruler’s ego that matters.
“Some catch the disease of megalomania more grievously than others. But there is always the possibility that it may catch a ruler. One of the main causes is that a ruler’s entourage is often sycophantic. He draws them from his own ethnic group, family or circle of friends. He appoints them not because they are efficient, but because they are loyal to him. And because they don’t want to lose the privileges the leader brings into their hitherto impoverished lives – the opening up of state funds to them blows their minds – they do everything to create illusions of grandeur for the leader. And depending on how weak the leader is, they can help turn him into a monster whose sole concern is his own survival in office.”
Even as we were chatting by phone, the television news was showing horrible pictures of sections of Abidjan – the commercial capital of the Cote d’lvoire – being bombarded by UN and French military helicopters. In the streets could be seen the uncollected bodies of scores of people killed in the fighting.
Walking past the bodies, with their hands in the air to indicate that they were not combatants, hundreds of frightened people rushed past, hoping they would find shelter – and water – somewhere. Food was a different matter for them. Estimates of those who had left for Liberia, Ghana and other neighbouring countries, were being put in the scores of thousands. You only had to hear the sound of the helicopter bombardments to understand why they should want to leave.
So many lives disrupted, just because of the ambition of one man, Laurent Gbagbo, to remain president of Côte d’lvoire, no matter what. It was obvious that the forces ranged against him were overpowering, and that no matter how well fortified the bunker was in which he was known to be hiding, he would be caught. But his sense of grandeur overrode his sense of responsibility, and he exposed his wife Simone, their children and, of course, numerous Ivorian citizens to the possibility of death.
But just like Saddam Hussein who would not recognise reality, he was caught. And just like Saddam, he was shown on television, in his singlet, sweating profusely, and wiping himself with a towel. Someone remarked that his wife was dressed “like a maid”. Another person – one of those wretches always eager to apply one African ruler’s foibles to every African on the planet – posted this on the Internet: “He was sweating like a goat at the slaughter house. I am sad to see an old man acting like a fool, but glad that this crisis is almost over. There must be something in our black genes to be so stubborn.” Because Gbagbo was unconscionably stubborn, does it mean you and I are also stubborn? If not, what have our genes got to do with it? Unfortunately, though, that is how much of the world will see the tragedy caused in Côte d’lvoire by Gbagbo. African rulers who have retired peacefully to become elder statesmen in their countries after holding office – such as Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Joachim Chissano, Festus Mogai and others – won’t be remembered when the issue of Laurent Gbagbo and Côte d’lvoire comes up.
Gbagbo was supposed to be a “historian”. But he did not really understand history. The era in which a French king, Louis XIV, could blatantly claim that “l’État c’est mo/”(I am the state!) ended in 1793, when Louis XVI, one of his successors, was beheaded during the French Revolution.
Since then, another revolution has wiped out the Russian Tsars, while other monarchies (like the one in Britain) have deftly transformed themselves from absolute monarchies into constitutional institutions with limited powers which are tolerable to the populace because they exist side by side with powerful governments that are elected by popular vote and which can be thrown out of office periodically on the say-so of the electorate.
Not only has the world of absolute monarchies ceased to exist, but even with republics, the situation has become dire for those whose heads have clung to office for too long. Even as Gbagbo was refusing to accept the result of the 28 November 2010 runoff election in which he was beaten by Alassane Ouat-tara, the massive revolts that were to break out in Tunisia and Egypt were smouldering. To expect, in the months that Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya were burning, that an election whose result was counter-confirmed by the United Nations and the European Union, would be allowed to lapse, was delusional to the first degree.
So it was that on ll April 2011, Gbagbo was caught, and taken to the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, where his arch-enemy, Ouat-tara, had himself been holed up for four solid months. Next came the humiliating pictures on TV – Gbagbo in his undershirt; Gbagbo “sweating like a goat” and wiping himself with a towel; Gbagbo pointing to a spot near his left eye, as if he had been given a blow there; Gbagbo talking soundlessly because there was no audio on the footage the television was showing. The inevitable question on every sensible person’s mind was this: “So, was it all necessary, Mr Gbagbo?”
He has made thousands of people homeless, many of whom, as stated earlier, have left for foreign shores in search of safety. Many refugees and displaced persons in the world undergo terrible psychological suffering, as a result of the people and businesses they leave behind. Sometimes, ties with these are broken forever.
It is therefore to be hoped that Ouattara will be able to create conditions in Côte d’lvoire that will enable the refugees to return home as early as possible. He has to announce a genuine amnesty for all of Gbagbo’s supporters, with the exception of military and militia leaders against whom evidence can be provided, linking them to the series of massacres which have occurred in the country since last November.
Ouattara’s background – he worked as an economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington; he also headed the Central Bank of [French-speaking] west Africa; and was prime minister under President Félix Houphouët-Boigny between 1990 and 1993 – makes him uniquely capable of assuaging the fears of the southerners in the country, who may fear that the northerners will reap vengeance on them for supporting Gbagbo.
The feather in Ouattara’s cap is that without the support of the southerners who follow former President Henri Kona Bedie in the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’lvoire (PDCl), Ouattara could not have gained a majority over Gbagbo. So, all he really has to do is to adroitly use Bédié’s southerners to prove that he has nothing against Gbagbo’s southerners, either.
For, in the end, ivorians will come to accept that “Gbagboism” was built upon a blatant lie. Like a broken record, he told all who would listen, “Alassane Ouattara was not declared the winner of the 28 November election by the Constitutional Council, I was”. But what Gbagbo fails to disclose is that it was he who appointed the president of the Constitutional Council. The man he appointed to that post was none other than his own former minister of the interior, Paul Yao N’Dré – whom he put in that position precisely to pre-empt anyone other than Gbagbo winning the election!
Was this legalistic charade worth spilling so much blood for? Gbagbo will have to answer that question before a competent court of jurisdiction.