by Bahati Jacques
On several occasions US Senator Inhofe has called for the release of former President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo and that he be allowed an honorable exit into exile. In his opening remarks during a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on May 19th 2011, Senator Inhofe argued that allowing Gbagbo and his wife to go to exile was “a way to end the ongoing bloodshed, and begin the reconciliation process that this country so desperately needs and deserves.” What about justice for those who were victimized by his forces? Should those who victimized the vulnerable be protected when they become vulnerable?
Certainly one of those to face justice is Mr.Gbagbo, now in jail after he was apprehended by Ouattara’s forces with the help of French troops. Former United Nations Secretary General, the Ghanaian Koffi Annan warned Gbagbo of the violence he allowed long before he was arrested. He said: “He (Gbagbo) has created a situation where many innocent people have been killed. He has deepened the divisions within the country” and “He has a lot to answer for from the way he has behaved since the elections.” Mr. Annan argued that Gbagbo’s refusal to respect the rules of the election’s democratic and peaceful power transfer is at the root of the instability in Ivory Coast.
Senator Inhofe’s appeal was strongly rejected by Mr. William Fitzgerald, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bureau of African Affairs, and a witness at the hearing. Mr. Fitzgerald argued that Gbagbo had earlier been given this opportunity for exile as a peaceful settlement to the disputed elections and he did not take it. After his arrest, his case is of interest to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes he allegedly is responsible for, and he must stand trial.
Struggling to make the case for Gbagbo’s release, Senator Inhofe questioned French troops participating in the raid of the presidential compound that led to Mr. Gbabgo’s humiliating arrest. He argues: “Africans for many years were used, they were abused by colonialism and certainly no one has been worse and more offensive than the French have.” Most Ivorians agree with him on this, but how has he, as a US law maker, opposed the oppression of Africans that he is claiming to expose? To understand this, let us profile some of the people he also quoted after opposing the French.
Senator Inhofe mentioned that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni disapproved of the international community’s mishandling of the crisis in Ivory Coast and suggested that either an African Union investigation or a power sharing agreement similar to the disputed Kenyan elections of 2007 and Zimbabwe in 2008 would have been appropriate. Also Senator Inhofe said that Equatorial Guinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo stated that “Africa does not need external influence. Africa must manage its own affairs.”
It is unbelievable to hear Senator Inhofe agree with the African dictators’ power sharing obsession. This approach has failed many Africans and has prevented them from removing from power long self serving dictators. More surprising is Senator Inhofe’s choice of President Museveni and Obiang. Are these leaders authoritative voices on the issue of an election dispute? Both presidents have a record of multiple questionable re-elections. Museveni and Obiang are known for maintaining dictatorship in their respective countries and came to power by military coup and have long records of human rights violations against their own people. Recently Museveni ordered Ugandan police and army personnel to use force against civilians who were protesting against the rising prices of food and fuel. Museveni has been in power for 25 year and just got another term in February 2011 while Obiang has been in power for 32 years.
Even though Senator Inhofe prides himself for his many trips to Africa, his relationships with Africa’s heavy handed heads of states should worry African civil society and freedom fighters who tirelessly have been pushing for the end of dictatorship But they have not succeeded in many cases because the later have western friends and sponsors.
Today, Gbagbo supporters think of Senator Inhofe as a hero, but is he acting in the interest of the Ivorian people? Ivorians must remember that there is no western solution to their political crisis, but that there is an Ivorian solution to it. Similarly, the suppression of visionary, civic-minded and nationalist African leaders by repressive African heads of state collaborating with neocolonial interests keeps African societies from freeing themselves from entrenched cycles of war, poverty, corruption and under development. Heads of State have supported neocolonial interests who are eager to maintain chaos and instability throughout Africa. Under these conditions of conflict and chaos, colonial interests and powers have a pretext that justifies their continuous presence and exploitation of resources.
Ivorians must oppose French neocolonialism, refrain from replacing it by any other (China), demand justice for all and good governance, reconcile with each other, and build a strong and free nation they so deserve.
All that said, news reports continue to inform us that the violent approach that put an end to the contested presidential elections in Ivory Coast continues to claim innocent lives on President Alassane Ouattara’s watch. Victims are believed to mostly be supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo, easily identifiable in some cases by their ethnicity.
Calls for President Ouattara to stop the retaliation against Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters continue, while human rights and advocacy groups, civil society and Ivorians see the ongoing violence as Ouattara’s failure to keep his inaugural speech promise to restore order and bring about reconciliation. Although Gbagbo’s supporters still do not believe that Mr. Ouattara won the elections, the uncertainty to survive the instability and insecurity that the disputed elections created is their daily concern.
The Ouattara’s regime has recently launched the Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation Commission (DTRC) with former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny as chairman. To address the religious divisions in Ivory Coast, President Ouattara has announced that the Commission will include a Christian and a Muslim religious leader. The DTRC has sought to establish the truth about crimes committed against innocent civilians since the violence started after the elections.