Laurent Gbagbo is no Francisco Franco and the Ivory Coast, in 2011, is no Spain in 1936. But what is at stake right now in Abidjan, where civil war has just broken out, is nothing less than the future of democracy as it concerns an entire continent. In that sense there is certainly a parallel to be drawn with the young Spanish Republic at the outset of its bloody civil war.
The crisis that began in December 2010, when incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to recognize Alassane Ouattaras victory, is a battle between two men. But it is above all a battle between two types of legitimacy: one coming from the votes of popular sovereignty and one imposed by armed forces. The latter was on display yet again on March 8 when Gbagbo ordered soldiers to shoot on the crowd.
If force were to win in Ivory Coast, it would mark a triumph of brutality over law. And it would discredit any future elections held on the continent. Why bother voting if the loser stays in power or takes it anyway?
At least 18 elections are planned in Africa in 2011 alone. If Gbagbo were to stay in power, the risk of destabilization and the spread of authoritarianism would be even more dangerous. If, on the other wand, Ouattara were to effectively take power, it would be a strong warning to all Gbagbo-style candidates seeking lifelong presidencies. Ouattaras electoral victory was recognized by both the African Union and United Nations.
Saying this in no way means telling Ivorians what to do. They already expressed themselves clearly in 2010. Nor it is enough to give Ouattara a stamp of democratic approval just yet. It just means that democracy will develop in Africa when men learn to bow down to institutions.
But only Africans can win their democratic future. A president picked by the West, or appearing to be, would loose part of his legitimacy. That is not the case for Ouattara, who was elected in a process supervised by the United Nations, an election Gbagbo himself had agreed to after years of negotiations.
Half a century after gaining its independence, interference by former colonizers or by the United States would only fuel Gbagbos anti-imperialist rhetoric. This is no time, therefore, for talks of western intervention something that occurred in Spain in 1936.
The process initiated by the AU, which asked a panel of five African presidents to find a solution to the crisis, is a step in the right direction. Helping Africans solve the Ivorian crisis on their own is necessary and urgent, before the civil war divides the Ivory Coast and triggers instability in all of Western Africa.
Read the original article in French
Photo - Erik Kristensen