President to Prisoner: Africa’s new Humpty Dumpty

Jocelyn Portales

The leader and self-proclaimed president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo has finally been detained in Abidjan and placed under UN police guard. He was arrested as forces of the internationally recognized successor Alassane Ouattara and French tanks advanced on his residence. Mr Gbagbo had refused to cede power, alledging he had won November’s presidential election. He was arrested as forces of the internationally recognized successor Alassane Ouattara and French tanks advanced on his residence. Laurent Gbagbo’s forces have surrounded newly elected president Alassan Outtara’s hotel where he has been residing for months while self-elected president Laurent Gbagbo held an illegal claim to presidential power over the Ivory Coast. CNN reports that the battle for the Ivory Coast in now over and the president Alassane Outtara has promised fair treatment in legal proceedings against Gbagbo.

Last November, Ouattara was elected president of Côte d’Ivoire, but he had been confined to an Abidjan hotel by the country’s armywho were loyal to Gbagbo.. Gbagbo’s had sought to hold onto power by playing for time, while he waited for gaps to grow among his many critics on the African continent and beyond. Instead, the international community showed rare unanimity and maintained a cohesive front against Gbagbo. The West African central bank blocked his government’s access to Ivorian state accounts; other countries ceased recognizing ambassadors appointed by Gbagbo; and in the end, even Gbagbo’s own soldiers and civil servants -knowing that he would soon be unable to pay them- leading most to defect to the pro-Ouattara side. Once Ouattara’s fighters made a southward push from their northern bases in late March, they met little resistance until they reached the last Abidjan neighborhoods held by the most loyal of Gbagbo’s remaining troops.

The UN Secretary General ordered peace keepers in the Ivory Coast to use “all means necessary” to stop Laurent Gbagbo from using heavy weapons on his own people. The UN’s Ivory Coast spokesman, Hamadoun Toure, said further action could be taken following an assessment of the destruction so far. As the months passed by and Gbagbo was clinging on to power, Gbabgo was suppressing public opinion and slowing economic growth after his arrest. As KTT Kenya states, Africa has become a theatrical circus, especially during the presidential election and the problems Laurent Gbagbo has caused for the Ivory Coast.

On April 11, 2011, soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara dragged Laurent Gbagbo from Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential palace, which by then had been bombed into ruins by French and UN attack helicopters. However, Bbagbo claims that he was arrested by French Special Forces although military forces and specialists deny that claim. This becomes a contentious issue, because if was the French Special Forces that arrested Gbagbo, rather than Outtara’s troops, the French could face charges of colonialism. Outtara’s troops are the only force with jurisdiction to arrest Gbagbo. A French arrest of Gbagbo could also put Outtara’s legitimacy in question.

So who exactly is Laurent Gbagbo? Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the Ivorian Movement, was the first to challenge the former president of the Ivory Coast Felix Houphouet-Boigny who opened the door to multiparty politics in 1990. Gbagbo has been a controversial character as early as 1971. In 1971, Gbagbo was jailed for “subversive teaching”. Subversive teaching, is the intent to subvert or advocate for the overthrow and destruction of an established or legally constituted government. In 1982, Gbagbo was exiled in Paris after engaging in union activism. In 1988, Gbagbo returned to the Ivory Coast and in 1990 was defeated in presidential elections. Then in 1992, Gbagbo was jailed following widespread student protests. Finally in 2000. Gbagbo was the winner of the Presidential election. During his presidency, his own failed coup resulted in dividing the Ivory Coast as rebellion broke out in the north. The situation quickly degraded into civil war. A semblance of peace was achieved in 2007 when he agreed to share power with the former rebels. The 2010 elections have proven to be a threat to the tenuous peace. Gbagbo ran against his long-time rival, Outtara. After two rounds of elections Outtara was declared winner. Hardcore Gbagbo supporters immediately began to question the authenticity of the election results, as Gbagbo refused to relent the presidency.

Once again the people of the Ivory Coast have been left traumatized by the violence and turmoil that has destroyed the once modern country. Côte d’Ivoire’s conflict has been a complex one. At first glance, the conflict is similar to that of Sudan; between Christian and Muslim, North and South. In recent years, Gbagbo, Ouattara, and the other major political players have all used “identity politics” in an attempt to monopolize power as they adapted to the dictates of multiparty democracy, a criterion for international recognition and development aid after the Cold War. From 1995 to 2005, Ivorian Presidents Henri Bédié, Robert Gueï, and Gbagbo have all challenged Ouattara’s citizenship in an attempt to exclude him from competition. Ouattara, a U.S.-trained economist and former International Monetary Fund official, first made his appearance in Ivorian politics in 1990, when he became prime minister to Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who had served as president from Ivorian independence in 1960 until his death in 1993.

After the tragic chain of events, the African Union has lifted the suspension it imposed on Ivory Coast. The African Union supports “The democratically elected president [Ouattara] … assum[ing] state power, marking the end of the post-election crisis” (CNN News). After heightened violence and fears of war that forced nearly one million residents to flee the main city of Abidjan, African Union officials have urged the new president Alassane Outtara to promote national reconciliation and boost socio-economic recovery.

As Foreign Affairs states, “The fall of Laurent Gbagbo was the result of a civil war many years in the making. Now, as Côte d’Ivoire eyes its political future, it is up to the international community to make sure that it helps more than it hurts.” As of right now, however, the nation is divided and the economy is broken following the arrest of Gbagbo.

Jocelyn is a junior in Eleanor Roosevelt College majoring in international relations.

1. African Union Reinstates Ivory Coast
2. Gbagbo: From President to Prisoner

3. Oiling the Crisis
4. Laurent Gbagbo

5. Ivory Coast: UN Airstrikes ordered to stop Gbagbo

6. Alassane Ouattara
7. Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo in profile
8. The Ivorian Endgame
9. Felix Houphouet-Boigny

One comment

  1. off topic, but can you guys PLEASE do an expose about “carbon guard” being chosen as the “green” company to buy carbon offsets? It’s founded by former AS member rishi ghosh! cronyism at its finest

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