On November 28, 2010, Ivorians went to the polls to determine who will become that country’s next president. It was a run-off. The initial election did not produce a clear-cut winner, not unlike what happened during Ghana’s presidential elections in December 2008. Several hours after the run-off, that country’s Electoral Commission, the body tasked with organizing free and fair elections, declared opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara the winner. Shortly thereafter, however, Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council, led by an ally of President Laurent Gbagbo, set aside the Electoral Commission’s verdict. As of the time of writing this piece – Sunday, December 5, 2010 – there are two presidents in Ivory Coast: both Ouattara and Gbagbo have been sworn in! Such imbroglio is nothing new on the African continent, where sitting presidents, with the tacit support of the armed forces of their various nations, refuse to hand over power when the voters declare otherwise. Will African leaders ever learn to respect the will of their citizens?

Worried by the intransigence of both newly elected “presidents,” the African Union (AU) has dispatched former South African president Thabo Mbeki to Abidjan to try to resolve the matter before it metamorphoses into a conflagration that could affect the peace in neighboring Ghana and the rest of the West African sub-region, with an unprecedented influx of refugees into Ghana a strong possibility. This writer fully understands the AU’s concerns about a new trouble spot emerging, with its concomitant hardships, on a continent that has been unable to douse the several fires already raging in several trouble spots. But the question is: Why should the AU become embroiled in another senseless political ruckus, when it is obvious that Laurent Gbagbo has simply refused to accept the wind of change that has blown across his country? Why should the AU spend millions of dollars intervening in an imbroglio that should not have occurred in the first place?

It appears that Laurent Gbagbo is bent on repeating the sinister ploy of Kenya’s current president, Mwai Kibaki, when the latter refused to hand over power after being trounced at the polls in 2007 by a rival, Raila Odinga. Only after hundreds were killed and thousands more displaced in the aftermath of the disputed elections, did Raila Odinga accept the less powerful position of prime minister, an act that I still consider a slap in the face of democracy, even if the decision was simply to end the violence in the East African country. Could Laurent Gbagbo be leaning in the same direction? Will history repeat itself? Will Alassane Ouattara, perhaps cowed by Gbagbo’s control of the country’s armed forces, accept a completely unfair recommendation of a compromise?

Certainly, the unfolding event in Ivory Coast will become an important lesson for Ghanaians as we approach Election 2012. And Ghanaians must be grateful to Afari-Djan, the courageous head of the country’s Electoral Commission and a man I consider a national asset, for helping to navigate the country away from conflict and war on a few occasions!

On December 9, 2008, Ghanaweb.com published my piece titled “Will Africa Ever Develop?” It was at a time when I was particularly concerned about ignominious events on the continent. Reacting to two cause- and effect-espousing news items I had read online by the indefatigable Sierra Leonian-born Sorious Samura, a BBC News Panorama reporter at the time, I felt a surge of anger toward “African leaders whose toadyism, self-importance, inaction and self-aggrandizement have forlornly and incessantly impeded ordinary Africans’ attempts to lift their continent from the sordid clutches and doldrums of poverty, deprivation and disease. That Africa’s collective growth – social, political and economic – remains stunted many decades after all colonists had departed for their respective native countries is indicative of what I generally refer to as a congenital splotch on the mental terrain of the black man. If after so many decades of pervasive self-determination Africans are still unable to unflinchingly meander through the quiescent tides of basic economics and social organization, then I am sorry to state that there is little hope for both the present generation and posterity alike” (Pryce, 2008).

Guillaume Soro, who served as prime minister under Laurent Gbagbo, resigned immediately after Gbagbo was sworn in for a third term. And to make matters murkier, Ouattara appointed Soro his new prime minister. Soro, it must be remembered, was once the head of the rebel forces based in the north of the country. He has since resumed his old guerrilla position, a sign of looming danger in the country. That is the melodrama playing out in Ivory Coast at the moment!

So far, the United States of America, the European Union, France, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast have all recognized Mr. Ouattara as the country’s new president. Will Laurent Gbagbo yield to the voice of reason and capitulate on his evil machination to entrench himself as president? Will Thabo Mbeki – he had once successfully negotiated a peace deal in Ivory Coast – be given a chance to bring about a resolution, or will the former South African president leave the country without an agreement in place?

Whatever happens in Ivory Coast in the next few days will be pivotal to reaching a negotiated peace settlement. Or the country could be teetering on the verge of an all-out armed conflict. Ivorians – and Africans – must not allow another political quagmire to emasculate the continent, as the continent’s credibility is on the line. Both Gbagbo and Ouattara must place the collective wellbeing of Ivorian citizens ahead of their own parochial interests. The world expects a peaceful resolution of this pointless conflict. And Ivorians expect their leaders to prevent a complete breakdown of law and order.

Finally, it is this writer’s hope that the many conflicts that had plagued the continent in the past would serve as painful lessons to help mitigate, and eventually resolve, the current crisis in Ivory Coast. Ghanaians must see the present political problem in Ivory Coast as an opportunity to crystallize the tenets of democracy and the rule of law in their own land: we must learn to accept the results of a free and fair election, no matter who is declared winner. The presidency is not a birthright – we must always be cognizant of that fact!



Credit: Daniel K. Pryce