by Claude Gatebuke
The current crisis in the disputed presidential election results in the Ivory Coast has brought unprecedented attention to the country as the international community mobilizes to resolve the crisis. The level of attention and unified front presented by the international community towards the Ivory Coast political crisis is impressive. The United States, European Union, United Kingdom, France, United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union are all aligned in condemning the outgoing Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, and demanding that he leave the presidency to his opponent and the alleged winner of the November elections, Alassane Ouattara.
So overzealous is the condemnation of Laurent Gbagbo for not relinquishing the presidential seat to his challenger Alasane Ouattara that certain countries and organizations have called for military action in order to install Ouattara. However, the case of Ivory Coast is neither unique in Africa nor to Western democracies. Three years ago in Kenya, a disputed election between then incumbent Mwai Kibaki and his opponent, Raila Odinga, threatened peace in the country. The international community rushed and mediated a power sharing agreement, persuading Raila Odinga – arguably the legitimate winner of the election – to accept being Kibaki’s prime minister.
In the year 2000 a controversial election resulted in George W. Bush becoming president of the United States in a heated battle against former Vice President Al Gore. The final results were ultimately settled through the Supreme Court. Fortunately, no one from the international community threatened military intervention in order to settle an alleged “stolen” election. Moreover, Belgium, another democracy in Western Europe, came to a stalemate in installing a government; they recently set a record in Europe for the longest period spent without a government. However, the international community is not declaring military threats against Belgium to install a government.
In line with undemocratic election processes, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame staged a sham election giving himself 93 percent of the vote in August of 2010. Kagame’s blatant disregard and violation of human rights and the undermining of the democratic process was unconscionable. President Kagame’s regime jailed all viable political opponents during the election process and suspended local language independent media, while an opposition leader was beheaded and a journalist was assassinated after writing a story implicating the government in the attempted assassination of Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa, an exiled former Rwandan military officer and President Kagame’s right hand man.
The overwhelming reaction from the international community was consent by silence. Although the Obama administration expressed “concern” over Rwanda’s elections, it is still planning to send nearly a quarter billion dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds to Rwanda in 2011 but is not threatening military intervention to facilitate a democratic Rwanda.
Even more contemptible, shortly after the Rwandan elections, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a damning report, the Mapping Exercise Report, about atrocities in the Congo. The report documented the commission of human rights violations in neighboring Congo between 1993 and 2003, including possible genocide. In reacting to the U.N. report, President Kagame threatened to withdraw his “peacekeeping” troops from Sudan.
Rather than publicly condemn the sham elections and the human rights violations and atrocities committed by Kagame’s troops in Congo, the international community obsequiously sent U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to Rwanda to appease President Kagame’s anger over the Mapping Exercise Report’s findings. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon made the effort even though Kagame has been indicted for war crimes and for the murder of French, Spanish, Rwandan and Congolese people by judges in Spain and France.
In Ivory Coast, however, the international community is quick to engage in military intervention that will certainly spill the blood of countless Ivorian civilians in order to force Gbagbo to relinquish power. In contrast, despite the U.N.’s Mapping Exercise Report indicating a possible genocide and two judicial indictments against him and members of his army and cabinet, President Kagame gets coddled by the international community.
The lessons learned from the U.N. Mapping Exercise report show that even with Rwanda and Uganda’s invasion and occupation of Congo in the last 15 years, political issues have not been resolved by war. The predominant results from that conflict have been more than 5 million innocent lives lost, of which 3 million were children under the age of 5, while hundreds of thousands of women were raped and Congo’s resources plundered. The international community should take heed of these ugly lessons and not engage in military solutions in Ivory Coast to resolve a political dispute.
The problem in the Ivory Coast is a political one and requires a political solution. The same international community that coddles war criminals without intervention should not seek brutal military solutions for political disputes as a means to settle election results. Due to regional conflicts and civil wars, West African communities are vulnerable and delicate. War will not only exacerbate the issues, but it will also create new problems for Ivory Cost and the region.
It is highly likely that a military intervention to install one candidate over another as a solution to the crisis could plunge Ivory Coast into civil war. This civil war could have lasting negative impacts and devastation on the region as did the conflicts in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. A negotiated solution such as the Kenyan example or the United States’ judicial process are more sensible. The best policy for the international community is to use diplomatic dialogue to resolve the crisis rather than military intervention as a means of installing a winner.
Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan Genocide and civil war survivor and human rights advocate. He is the executive director and co-founder of African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN), an organization focused on justice, peace and prosperity in the African Great Lakes Region, and a member of the African Great Lakes Advocacy Coalition that brings together over a dozen advocacy organizations with a common vision for a peaceful Great Lakes Region of Africa. He is a regular guest at campuses, churches, community organizations and conferences around the U.S. and has appeared on local, national and international radio and television stations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.