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Opinions of Thursday, 30 December 2010

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

Gbagbo And Rawlings: The Stark Similarities And The Ironies

Laurent Gbagbo And Jerry John Rawlings: The Stark Similarities And The Ironies

By Samuel Adjei Sarfo.

The recent call by Ghana’s former President Jerry John Rawlings for extreme restraint in resolving the Ivorian crisis, and his call for truth in his Christmas message to Ghanaians, justifies the tag “ walking contradiction” put on him by Kwaku Baako. Howbeit for a man who successfully faked knowledge of governance and of foreign affairs and ruled Ghana for nineteen good years, the impact of his utterance cannot be easily dismissed. No doubt notable Gbagbo supporters have already touted JJ as the only voice of reason coming out of Africa and thanked him for his wisdom and love for democracy.

And why not? After all, what was telegraphed through JJ’s statement is simply that power should remain in the hands of Laurent Gbagbo who clearly lost the elections. To the mind of JJ, the polls registered stark irregularities in many places and therefore it could be set aside. He also asserts that there is a strong ethnic dimension to the crisis which makes its resolution go far beyond the outcome of the October elections. Thus the way around the problem is restraint and peaceful resolution. After making these allegations, Rawlings glibly intones:

Thabo Mbeki is seen as a neutral arbiter in the crises and his report should be taken seriously and efforts made at quickly working to resolve the impasse.
Again, on December 25 2010, John Rawlings called for “extreme restraint” in the management of the political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire triggered by a controversial election claimed by two candidates. In his second statement in three days released in Accra on Friday he cautioned that the situation in Cote d’Ivoire was not “a simple electoral dispute”.

According to him, it is “a web of ethnic and political complexities” and these should be handled with “tact and diplomacy rather than the open hints of forceful intervention”.

However, Rawlings warned that the disputed results clearly indicate that “Cote d’Ivoire is sharply divided on ethnic lines and that is a matter that should worry major stakeholders such as the ECOWAS, African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) as they consider options to resolve the impasse”.

“Attempts to marshal support for a military intervention lack any justification and rather will expose the UN, ECOWAS and AU as being hypocritical.”

Then later in the week, JJ’s spokesman unwittingly clarified that President Mills and the Founder held a secret meeting attended by some security Chiefs and retired Generals to discuss the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire and the role Ghana should be playing to resolve it. At this secret meeting, one can easily imagine the advice Rawlings gave to the meek Atta Mills: Prof, do nothing. Let’s articulate restraint and criticize any military intervention. That is the only way to ensure that our good friend Gbagbo remains in power.”

The situation in Ivory Coast boils down to this: Gbagbo has ruled Ivory Coast for ten years, five of which he earned by continually postponing general elections. On October 31, 2010, elections were held in which the turn-out was 80%. In the first round, Conan Bedie had 25%, Alassane Ouattara had 32% and Laurent Gbagbo had 38%. U.N. mission chief Y.J. Choi was required to sign off on the results according to the accords reached to end the political deadlock that followed the civil war in 2002-2003, which left the north of the country in rebels hands.
"After a thorough analysis and evaluation of the final results of the first round ... I have arrived at the conclusion that the process leading to the proclamation of the final results ... was determined through a fair and transparent process," Choi told a news conference regarding the first round of elections that occurred in October 31, 2010.

It is instructive to note that Gbagbo accepted the results of the first round without protest, although Konan Bedie appealed to the Constitutional Council concerning certain irregularities. As regards these irregularities, the Independent Electoral Commission took affirmative steps to correct them in the second round and Gbagbo went into this second round with his cyclopean eye open, having submitted to the mandates of the Independent Electoral Commission and the supervision of the international community.

In the second round of voting Konan Bedie threw in his support foe Alassane Ouattara, and this singular act by itself portended defeat for Gbagbo. The second round was generally successful and the electoral process was proclaimed by the international observers as generally free and fair. But trouble began to brew with the declaration of results by the Independent Electoral Commission. After several delays, an attempt by the electoral commission to announce the results was interrupted when a supporter of Gbagbo ripped the papers into pieces before the media cameras. Afterwards, the commission was frustrated from announcing the results on several occasions until on the 28 of November, when at the Golf Hotel, the commission announced to the whole world that Alassane Ouattara had won by over 54% as against Gbagbo’s 46%. The following day, the Constitutional Council of Ivory Coast, headed by a staunch supporter of Laurent Gbagbo, overturned the results after cancelling half a million votes belonging to Ouattara, and giving Gbagbo 51% percent victory. Gbagbo then swore himself in office for another five year term and has since closed his ears to the international community’s demand for him to do the right thing by handing over power to the true winner, Alassane Ouattara.

This is the fact of the matter; so when Jerry John Rawlings calls for restraint and goes on to advise the implementation of the Mbeki repor,t exactly what is he telegraphing? He can only mean that the election in the Ivory Coast should be nullified, and some power sharing arrangement put in place wherein the winner might accept some subordinate role (read Prime Minister) all for the sake of some hypothetical peace and restraint. The prototype of Rawlings’ suggestions, implemented in both Kenya an Zimbabwe, rewards a winner with a subordinate position while the loser gets to keep his job. Under these circumstances, the question to be asked is: where is truth? Where is the people’s power? And wherein lies the integrity which Rawlings claims to represent?

To see the hypocrisy and hollowness of JJ”s statement and conduct in the face of the Ivorian crisis, one needs only draw parallels between Laurent Gbagbo and Jerry John Rawlings. Like JJ Rawlings, Gbagbo came to office touting the people’s power. The two men have extreme populist notions of governance with deep pseudo-socialist roots. But whatever trappings of socialism they preach is tempered with their insatiable lust for power. In their pimple heads, they stand in loco of the people and proclaim a comfort zone for the masses insofar as they glut themselves and their cronies with the trappings and privileges of power. In other words, they ascribe the great liberties of freedom and prosperity for the masses of the people so long as they and their hangers-on remain the arch parasites of these liberties. Thus it is possible for both men to unleash the people unto the street s and call for justice only if such actions are a conduit for the accession of perpetual power. They do not, and have never respected the people’s power expressed through the popular franchise, except when they can use such power to feed their egocentric schemes.

These two men also play the ethnic card, whether directly or indirectly, to divide their countries and to reap the benefits accruing from ethnocentric schism. In Jerry John Rawlings’ case, it should be said for him that he has never openly advocated hostility between the tribes. He is half Ewe, but he left the Volta Region equally undeveloped, just like elsewhere in the country. Most of his henchmen came from the Volta Region, but that is counterbalanced by the argument that most of his votes came from the same region. Finally, he is married to an Asante, and it cannot be said that he harbors any hatred for his wife’s people or his own children who are as Asantes as they are Ewes.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, Rawlings has always kept a loud silence over tribal insinuations and has never bothered to campaign for tribal unity and peaceful co-existence He has also neither called his supporters to order nor distanced himself from them when they have sought to make him a personification of the ethnic group and morphed his fortunes with the tribe. Also, although patently aware of the silent feud between Ewes and Asantes, he has never taken care to call his supporters’ attention to the intertribal fusion of his own family in order to model tolerance between the two tribes. Given the demographics of votes in Ghana, Rawlings must have preferred the status quo of tribal division in order to maintain his support base. Thus, although in different respects, Rawlings has profited from ethnocentrism in Ghana just like Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast.

In Laurent Gbagbo’s case, the attacks on those he perceives as “immigrant” Ivorians and “Ivorian” Ivorians have been palpable and the benefits to him quite humongous. Conan Bedie provided the catalyst for the Ivorian conflict through a law quickly drafted by his government and approved in a referendum which required both parents of a presidential candidate to be born within Côte d'Ivoire. This excluded the northern presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara from the race. Ouattara represented the predominantly Muslim north, particularly the poor immigrant workers from Mali and Burkina Faso working on coffee and cocoa plantations.

This poisonous catalyst has been hugely promoted by Laurent Gbagbo, most of whose supporters consider themselves the real Ivorians. Thus Gbagbo is the real bad guy here, having stolen an election and sought to keep himself in power by dividing up the country.

Furthermore, both Rawlings and Gbagbo hate Blaise Campaore. In Rawlings’ case, the hatred resulted from Campaore’s killing of Thomas Sankara. Rawlings’ hatred extends to the people of Northern Ivory Coast, most of whom are Ouattara supporters who trace their ancestry to Bourkina Fasso. Gbagbo’s hatred for Blaise Campore stems from his accusation that Blaise Campaore lent support to rebels during the Ivorian civil war.

In the light of all the foregoing, how objective is JJ Rawlings when he speaks about restraint and peaceful resolution to the Ivorian conflict? What “truth” was Rawlings talking about when he admonished Ghanaians to abide by the principles of truth in his Christmas message? And how is the crisis in Ivory Coast to be amicably resolved where a loser has sworn a cabalistic oath not to give up power?
To Rawlings, the resolution is this: Let Laurent Gbagbo remain in power despite having been voted out of power by the people. Let Alassane Ouattara who won the elections play second fiddle to Gbagbo, and let the situation go the way of Kenya and Zimbabwe. If this works out well, then we have exercised restraint and been rewarded with a peaceful resolution. Never mind that truth has not been told. Never mind that the people spoke clearly and loudly concerning the one they want for president. Never mind that this is a resolution that begets other problems.

Indeed, if this Ivorian solution according to the warped mind of Rawlings were to succeed, it could probably be a blue print for him and his party in the nearest future. Who knows, someone who has staged a coup in Ghana three times may still dream of taking power again and this time keeping it for life, in which case Ivory Coast offers a test case…….

But facetiousness aside, all that a person needs to do to see the illogic in the Rawlings proposition is to turn it on its head. Imagine that all that is happening in the Ivory Coast had been perpetrated by Kufuor in 2008; will the apostle of violence like JJ Rawlings be calling for restraint and peaceful resolution? To wit, if the Supreme Court of Ghana had thrown out five hundred thousand NDC votes and given the victory to Akuffo Addo, would Rawlings have been busy defending Kufuor’s action on the basis that there were irregularities in voting in the Volta Region? What about if Gbagbo had won; would Rawlings have been discrediting the elections by making these irresponsible statements? Rather than call for restraint and peaceful resolution in the Ivorian crisis with a forked tongue that benefits only Gbagbo, JJ Rawlings should reflect on the stability and possibilities afforded by true and workable democratic dispensation that enables the people to decide the choice of their leadership. Rather than rehash truth in the context of his ossified mind, JJ Rawlings should be speaking the truth as it is universally understood and acclaimed from the beginning of time. If he re-orients himself to perennial values and universal principles, Rawlings will come to discover that a man who has lost an election has no business strutting in the corridors of power in the hope of sharing in the lost power. And that realization will offer an example of what truth should mean to the world. But this might be too much for a man whose frozen mind has taken him captive…..who once described General Sani Abacha as a man of integrity.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo lives in Houston, Texas. You can email him at