It has been almost a month since the elections in Ivory Coast produced not one – but two presidents – one sworn in ceremoniously,
wrapped in a regal sash, gushing in front of cameras at the presidential palace
– the other hunkered down at the Golf Hotel where he took the wise precaution
to retreat days before the election, just in case his adversary was to get any
bright ideas. The French press is calling the latter, President of the Republic
of the Golf Hotel on account of not been able to emerge since the results were
declared that first week of December. The only thing standing between him and
the army are 800 U.N. peacekeepers; each force behind their respective
barricades allowing no one in or out, leaving no choice but to airlift food and
provisions, not to mention a healthy supply of chocolate for the crepe stand in
the lobby of the hotel where the grounds have been transformed into makeshift
ministries and cabinet offices.
As incumbent President Gbagbo clings to power in Abidjan with the help of the army and state media, President elect Ouattara continues
to consolidate his gains in the international community. The U.S and the French were among the
first to recognize him followed by the European Union, the United Nations and
the West African economic block – ECOWAS. The IMF and World Bank have withdrawn support and the
EU has placed travel restrictions as well as targeted sanctions on Mr. Gbagbo
and close circle hoping to make a dent perhaps by denying his two wives and
entourage their regular shopping sprees in the left bank boutiques of
Paris. Just last week as a final
show of no confidence the General Assembly voted 192-0 recognizing Mr. Ouattara
as the rightful head of the Ivorian state and sent the resident ambassadorial
mission of Mr. Gbagbo packing. They left in a huff, taking all the computer and
office equipment as consolation prize.
Things can be so simple when states have fields of cocoa instead of
Looking for other means of practical resistance, the West African Central Bank has ceded control of the state funds to Mr. Ouattara in an
effort to choke the life line of President Gbagbo who will soon be running on
fumes if he does not play ball – preferably in someone else’s country. It will
be interesting to see how loyal his ethnically stacked army will be once he
runs out of money. History is full
of lessons on the urgent merits of keeping armed young men well paid and well
In further attempts to isolate Mr. Gbagbo, the African Union has suspended his membership and regional allies are now considering use of
“legitimate force” to remove him. That sounds a lot like military intervention
Some of my African friends shake their heads in disgust and say “pitoyable!” -- lamenting the crisis as yet another example of Big Man
politics, typical of the sad state of democracy on a continent that has given
us the likes of Taylor, Bashir, Bongo and Mobutu. Others – echoing the nationalist refrains of Mr.
Gbagbo are denouncing the impasse as yet another proof of foreign meddling in
what they see as a sovereign matter.
The U.N., the French and all the rest of them should get out, they say
-- Ivorian solutions for Ivorian problems. How convenient in this case, to be the ones picking and
choosing who is a true Ivorian? Moreover; what exactly is it to be “sovereign”
if not recognized by peer member states, or mandated by your citizens, half of
whom were disqualified in this case.
All this talk of intervention raises the question: in an increasingly global and interdependent world where actions have far reaching
consequences often implicating those who had no part in the decisions with
enormous financial and social burden; and world bodies are tasked to pick up
the pieces, is the sovereign nation destined to become a relic of the past, to
be relegated to text books along with medieval walled cities and moat floating
For the world’s largest cocoa producer, accounting for 40% of global supply, if you think that the price of chocolate is the only thing to consider, think again.
In the past month UNHCR has logged almost 20,000 refugees, mostly women and children fleeing the crisis to neighboring Liberia – itself a
fragile state newly emerging from conflict and struggling to consolidate its
peace dividends. Youth militia
loyal to Gbagbo are mobilizing and if the nightly raids, abductions and torture
in the opposition neighborhoods of Abidjan are any indication, the country
could relapse into large scale violence with considerable human and economic
costs spilling into the whole region which relies on this country’s commercial
port. Fear of a $30 million
interest default has already made the international bond markets jittery.
The last century witnessed the creation of global institutions -- the International Criminal Court, the International Court of
Justice, the World Trade Organization and the many UN agencies; all supra
national institutions with global mandates, yet subject to sovereign whims of
national or personal interests.
Consequently -- Omar Bashir remains free in spite of the ICC
indictments; the West Bank is fast becoming an Israeli colony in spite of the
ICJ rulings; the West continues to push for agricultural subsidies that favor
their own to the detriment of the poorer nations; and the U.N. in spite of the
billions it spends in peacekeeping remains handcuffed by the narrow mandate it
is given after the big five settle on the lowest common denominator on the
And yet the stakes are higher than ever as the world is shrinking tighter. Forget the
price of chocolate and consider the global financial Tsunami unleashed by the
Sub Prime defaults and financial deregulation in the U.S – events that may not
have come to pass had international institutions had a vote in the matter.
Better yet -- Bush Junior may not have been given a carte blanche, averting two disastrous terms and two costly wars that effectively
defeated the empire better than Bin Laden could have ever in his wildest dreams
imagined. Palestinians might have had their state long ago; Bashir, Blair and
Cheney would be behind bars and The Eastern Congo would have been taken into
receivership by international trustees long ago under the principles of
Responsibility to Protect.
So, as the world connects tighter in a knot, sovereignty may be the last sacred cow offered at the altar of the juggernaut of globalization
once it is clear that we can’t have our cake and eat it too. In the meantime – as we witness our first
test case in challenging sovereign identity in Ivory Coast -- for now we may
have to settle for cheese cake instead of chocolate.