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Opinions of Saturday, 11 December 2010

Columnist: Sidibe, Abdul

Who is in Charge? The determinant of post election peace in Ghana

Who is in Charge? The determinant of post election peace in Ghana and post election
war in the Ivory Coast

By: Abdul Sidibe

Many Ghanaians would easily believe that the stalemate in the Ivory Coast would
never happen in Ghana. After all we have experience of parties transferring power to
their opponents; we do not have rebels in our north and don’t share a common
frontier with rebel invested Liberia. But come to think of it, in the 1990s
Ivoirians too were peaceful and did not anticipate themselves in a civil war. The
common thread between our two countries is democratic transition. So far in Ghana we
have successfully managed our transitions well; Rawlings handed over to Kufour and
Kufour handed to Professor Mills.

Ghanaians also seem to think that they are peaceful people, but so are Ivoirians. My
several travels to the Ivory Coast in the 1990s showed Ivoirians as peaceful people.
They enjoyed their morning street cafés, weekends and night life in the Ivory Coast
is amazing during 1990s when I was young businessman traveling almost weekly between
Accra and Abidjan. But Peace and the willing to have it is not the issue. The issue
is not whether or not a population wants peace. But how the peace can be achieved
and motive of the political actors involved. The war in Ivory Coast was caused by
bad political actors who did not act in good faith. Like the military theorist Karl
von Clausewitz noted, wars exist only when politics fail. War, he wrote is a failure
of politics.

Since Houphouet Boigny, a Boule politician from the centre of the country died in
1993, Ivory Coast was a volcanic mountain bowling to explode. The situation was not
helped by the political actors who succeeded him in 1993. In his bid to entrench his
grab of power, Henri Bedie and his largely Boule dominated government passed laws
that disqualified his political opponent from contesting him in the 1995 Ivorian
election. Under Bedie’s leadership the Ivoirian National Assemble (Parliament)
passed a law specifically designs to disqualify Alhassane Outtara, his main opponent
by requiring that to hold a political office both of your parents had to be of
Ivoirian descendant. So if your mother is an Ivoiorian and father is not, you cannot
contest elections even though you are born in the country. The same argument that
NPP, including its current flag bear, used in challenging the citizenship of Mr.
Rawlings in 1992. Bedie contested the elections unopposed and
won over 90 per cent of the votes cast. This led to a series of civil unrest in the
country leading to Bedie’s overthrow in 1999 in a military mutiny led by Robert
Guei.
In late 2000, Robert Guei called an election and declared himself winner afterwards.
But a popular uprising removed him from office and Laurent Gbagbo became President
in October that year. For Gbogbo it was a long waited dream but not a change of
cause. He had nursed this political ambition for a very long time and this is his
time to cash in. He continued the same ethnically discriminately laws that Mr. Bedie
had used in the past. In September 2002 a coup attempt against his government
failed. But the rebelling soldiers managed to hold the country’s north, including
its second largest city Bouake. Mr. Gbagbo’s tenure of office was supposed to have
ended in 2005, but because half the country was controlled by rebels, African Union
and UN extended Gbagbo’s rule until November 2010.

The November election was supposed to be the basis upon which the country was to
unify. Under UN supervision all the laws that curtailed the rights of Ivoirians
perceived to be foreigners were repealed and Alhassane Outtara, the country’s
leading northern politician contested the election. This led to the current
leadership stalemate and tension in the country and God knows when it will all come
to an end. The seeds of the civil war were sown long before Gbagbe became Ivory
Coast’s president, but his actions over the past decade made things worse.

According to several Ivoirian private newspapers Gbagbo was responsible for the
death of Robert Guie. He not only used his office to harass opponents, he also
started randomly assassinating people who just happened to disagree with him. He
stuffed the judiciary with tribesmen and friends so he could get any judgment he
wanted from the courts. This forced a group of officers from the northern and
central parts of country to attempt Coup d’tat on his government. This group nearly
succeeded in Gbagbo’s overthrow him. Officers loyal to him were able to push
dissident army out of Abidjan and surrounding areas. Since the civil war Gbagbo
could not travel to certain parts of the country he was supposed to be governing.
60 per cent of the country is already in the hands of the rebels or New Army, as
came to be known.

If we compare the situation in the Ivory Coast and our own in Ghana, most of the
elements are similar. The only difference is that in Ghana we are blessed with
leaders who placed the country’s interest ahead of their personal ambitions.

In 2000, when the presidential election went into a second around and the NPP
defeated the NDC in the runoff election, Rawlings alone stood between chaos and
peace in Ghana. Giving his popularity among a section of Ghanaians, he could have
used the Nana Akufo Addo model; dispute the election results and use his cronies in
the law court to overturn the Kufour mandate and either continue as president or
hand over to his favorite candidate. There is always the temptation to do so. He was
in power the past 19 years unchallenged. Most of the people on the highest court
were his appointments and uncertainties of leaving office and handing over to his
political opponents (enemies) could have compelled him to stay in office. The fact
that Rawlings accepted the 2000 election results without any complain, proceeded to
invite Mr. Kufour to the seat of government and organized the smoothest transition
in Ghanaian history put him in a certain category among African
politicians.

We have all bashed Mr. Rawlings in the past, but his actions after the 2000 election
pave the way for peace, and further enhanced our democratic process. If he had acted
like Mr. Gbogbo or Mr. Bedie, the outlook of our democracy and peace will be
completely different from the air of freedom in Ghana today.

There is, of cause, a school of thought that still refuses to credit Mr. Rawlings
for his courageous decision to step aside in 2000 and allow the country to move on
under a new leadership. This school of thought, which is still dominant in Ghana,
argues that Rawlings handed over because of international pressure and threats by
the international financial institution to sanction his government. But events in
Africa since 2000 have all but proven this hypotheses wrong. Sanctions and its
treats did not remove Mugabe from office; we are yet to see if the treats to
sanction Ivory Coast will force Gbagbo to depart from his entrenched position.

Like Rawlings, Mr. Kufour also needs to be applauded for the role he played after
the 2008 election. The fact that he refused to cave in to pressure from some in the
New Patriotic Party to hang on to power as Nana Akufo Addo fights to overturn the
2008 results in court makes him one of our country’s leading statesmen. This
particular position by Mr. Kufour ensured that our streets were free from violent
clashes between supporters of the National Democratic Congress and his party. For
all his faults, former President Kufour was like the father of the nation during his
presidency. His imposing stature and personality will always be remembered. He did
not want to go in the history books as the president who plunged Ghana in to
political crisis and violence. To him, his legacy was more important than Nana Akufo
Addo’s political ambitions.
Indeed, who is in charge of a country can make a huge difference between peace and
war. If Rawlings had refused to hand over power or had Kufour followed Nana Akufo
Addo’s lead, the situation in Ghana could be as unpredictable as the Ivory Coast.
The political act of these two individuals, perhaps the only thing they share in
common, made a huge difference in ensuring a peaceful Ghana.

Imagine what will happen on the streets of our major cities if Nana had succeeded in
the Ex-Parte motion he filed to restrain the EC from declaring the results of the
2008 runoff election. We should imagine Nana Addo, if he was willing to go to that
extend, in office as president seeking reelection and an opposition defeats his
government by the narrowest of margins. It can be argued based on his behavior after
the 2008 election that he would prefer his political ambition to the interest of
Ghana. Nana Akufo Addo’s action after the 2008 is similar to that of Mr. Gbagbo’s in
the Ivory Coast. The Only difference is that Nana Akufo Addo was not the incumbent
President and Thank God he wasn’t.
Who is elect to the Presidency matter a lot in Africa. It is against this background
that we call on Ghanaians to reject the NPP candidate in 2012. In this uncertain
period in our country’s history, the last thing we need is an overzealous President
who thinks he must hold on to power at all cost. Nana Akufo Addo, unfortunately, had
proven that he could be that kind of President.

Prevention, they say, is better cure.