Spotlight on Geopolitics

African leaders are a breed apart. They worship power and when their hold on it is contested, either by elections or by mass protests, they are ready to kill their own citizens in order to keep it. Not only that, but leaders like Gaddafi or Mubarak wanted to keep power within their families and have their sons enjoy the fruits of it.

True to this unhealthy political tradition, the outgoing president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo refuses to recognise the results of last November’s presidential elections and to step down in favour of the winner, Alssane Outtara. Consequently, the long-suffering Ivorians now have two presidents, one that uses security forces to remain in office, whilst the other is bunked down in a hotel under the protection of United Nations forces.

Ivory Coast is the economic powerhouse in West Africa. It leads the world in cocoa production and it is well-endowed with oil resources, as well. With a 40 percent share of the West African economic and monetary union (WAEMU), a regional grouping formed in 2000, Ivory Coast’s political problems affect the member countries around it, which have decided to cut off financing for the Gbagbo forces, in the hope of hastening his departure. The conflict between the two presidents has prompted the World Bank and the IMF to follow suit and close their offices in the Ivorian capital, Yamoussoukro.

Mr Ottara’s electoral victory comes after ten years of efforts by Mr Gbagbo to avoid it, and a civil war between the country’s North and South in 2002 – 2005. Mr Gbagbo even pioneered a so-called “Ivoricity” law, defining Ivorian national identity in a narrow sense in order to prevent candidates like Mr Outtara to run for office, or certain voters’ eligibility to vote for him. As the ongoing political drama makes its fair share of victims on both sides, the neighbours and the international community can only hope that spring will finally bring an end to it.With the world’s attention concentrated on North Africa, however, Mr Gbagbo’s refusal to step down and the ensuing fights have been overshadowed.

While this primitive attachment to political power is most conspicuous on the African continent, it would be a mistake to think Western countries are free of it. Thus, in a recent op-ed published by Gregg Easterbrook on Reuters, he identifies the presence of the bug even in the United States. Political dynasties, like the Bushes or the Clintons, are still clinging to the notion that high political office is theirs by right and should be passed on from one generation to the next or to other family members. In Europe, the phenomenon is rare but not unheard of. The Romanian president, for example, tried to impose his daughter at the helm of the presidential party’s youth movement. When this manoeuvre was defeated, he parked her at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, as an EMP, and one of her lovers as a diplomat in Romania’s Paris embassy

Although we assume the current democratic rules and procedures in the West to be adequate to deal with such developments, the United States’ example is proof that political power could be kept within the same family for decades quite legally. (sources: Le Monde diplomatique, Reuters, BBC)

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