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Opinions of Saturday, 16 April 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Power: 1500 dead and a ticket to Boston.

By George Sydney Augri

It is the weirdest of phenomena in the realms of the weird and totally defiant of any rational explanation, Jomo: It manufactures extremely dangerous buffoons and blood thirsty lunatics out of individuals of previously good counsel, causes the level-headed to suddenly part company with their faculties and robs even some of the most astute of national leaders of elementary sense and good judgment.

If you think it is called political power and that it is typically manifest in politics in Africa, you are darned right on both counts, old chap. What is it about political power that makes it do what it does to otherwise apparently rational beings in African politics, do you know?

Let us leave Laurent Gbagbo’s obsession with political power out for a moment and scan our domestic political landscape for creeping signs of this strange phenomenon:

Every election season, political parties often have to contend not only with opposition from rival parties, but also with unity-threatening heaving and shoving from within, as party members try clawing their way up to strategic positions where they could be elected to power.

Former Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama this week warned members of the New Patriotic Party against buying congress delegates’ votes with hard cash at the coming party’s parliamentary primaries. The former second gentleman of the republic, might be consoled: Others employ even less ethical means of shoving other potential contestants out of the way!

The frantic internal scramble for control of the ruling National Democratic Congress is actually a scramble for full political control of the nation, yah?

Should voters go about handing political power to anyone with a fat briefcase and a persuasive voice who comes along singing the old “vote for me” jazz tune?

The other day I heard Dr. Sekou Nkrumah, a son of Ghana’s first president, promulgating the idea of guiding and encouraging voters to give people who are in politics mainly because of an inordinate obsession with political power a wide berth. They should instead, elect to political leadership, only those whose prime motivation for seeking political office is to serve the people.

How can the voter tell the difference, Jomo? It requires a diligent exercise in discernment which unfortunately, is not as easy as in the case of the cat which sneaks into a colony of mice wearing a sign around his neck that says, “hey, you can trust me. I am a mouse.”

Gbagbo had always made himself out to his compatriots and the rest of our region as an honorable man committed to the welfare of his people.

When the time came to leave the scene after his defeat by opposition leader Allasane Ouattara, he turned into an entirely different creature whose attempt to steal power has left more than 1500 people dead in four months by UN estimates or underestimates.

The phenomenon is as annoying as it is obstructive of the processes in the development of democracy: By using the threat of civil war and genocide and a weapon of black mail, they get victorious political parties in elections and international peace negotiators to negotiate a “power-sharing deal with them.” This cannot be allowed to go on, can it?

The power-sharing swindle worked in Kenya, if only after thousands of that country’s people had needlessly been slaughtered in an unforgettable orgy of blood letting. It worked quite well in Zimbabwe where Old Bob has threatened never to ever die until he has ruled forever!

Hell, so why not Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast? So for the past four months the world has watched the bizarre case of a president who lost an election but remained put at the presidency.

So determined was he to remain president, that when rebels finally marched on the presidential palace he hunkered down in a basement bunker in the palace and refused to budge until he was captured.

That a former professor of history should throw away his history notes when he needs them most, only goes to affirm the intensity of some people’s obsession with political power.

As rebels marched on the presidential mansion in Monrovia, Liberia in 1990, Samuel Doe if you recall, stayed put until the rebels captured him, cut of an ear and forced him to eat his own flesh before a video camera.

Faced with a similar situation in 1991 and mindful of the Doe episode, Somalia’s Mohammed Siad Barre dumped political power and fled advancing rebels. By 1996, when rebels marched on Mobutu Seseko, the old fox had wizened up to the game and he too scooted.

Until the post-election madness seized him and sent him the way of others before him he had been a respected statesman, political leader and scholar.

Suddenly, very suddenly, there he was on television networks around the world: A very tired, visibly distraught and sweaty old man in an undershirt, seated on an unmade bed in a hotel room with an even more distraught looking wife!

Mediators had arranged for Gbagbo to take up a professorship position at Boston University in the United States. Alternatively he was offered an opportunity with the European Union. A third offer was that he could stay in the Ivory Coast and engage in active politics without any fear of being sent to court. He rejected all three offers! Thanks to the courage of Ouattara and his supporters and help from the UN and France, notice has been served to those on our continent who vowed to appropriate an illicit share of political power even if they lose elections, that they will meet a similar fate, sure as day is day. Yet even while we work toward driving the power-sharing monster to premature but necessary extinction, it would be fatal mistake to approach the task with ostrich intelligence which ignores one of the causes of the dangerous power-sharing electoral fad.

The phenomenon of the “winner takes all and proceeds to ride rough-shod over other political parties” usually leaves many feeling excluded from matters of governance and unwilling to corporate with ruling governments in national development.”

The other day, someone argued on radio that having won 49.77 percent of the votes in the 2008 election, Nana Akufo-Addo should have enjoyed a more visible presence in the governance of the country, at least in a consultative capacity.

Someone else asked how come the bloke did not advance a similar argument when Akufo-Addo’s NPP was in power and the ruling president in the opposition.

See? Politicians sometimes behave like children: Children are very strong in their belief in the idea of sharing the goodies but only when the goodies are in another child’s hands! Hopefully, as our democracy goes we might find a middle ground without any power sharing nonsense.

The arrest of Gbagbo may not end the decades-old conflict in the Ivory Coast as long as the so-called policy of “Ivoirite” in the Ivory Coast remains. The policy of “Ivoirite” has continued in the Ivory Coast from the days of Houphouet Boigny through each one of his successors, Henri Konan Bedie, General Robert Guei and Laurent Gbagbo. It discriminates against Ivoirians in the north many of who are of mixed parentage.

In spite of his being a former Prime Minster of the country, this policy resulted in the unjust exclusion of Ouattara from the presidential elections of 1995 and 2000.

Two wrongs never resulted in a right and having tasted of the bitter medicine himself, you can only hope that Ouattara will take steps to unify the nation as best as he can! Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com Website: www.sydneyabugri.com