Monday, April 11, 2011

Gbagbo in Detention

Laurent Gbagbo

Last Tuesday, April 5th, I blogged that Laurent Gbagbo was stepping down that day in a matter of hours.  The story took a dramatic twist when he decided not to take the negotiated settlement and bunkered down with his family.  With all bets off the palace was surrounded by UN and French forces including the rebels.

Technically - Gbagbo sees himself as the legitimate President because he had himself sworn in as President and as per the Ivorian constitution, as the incumbent President, he has to sign over Presidency to Ouattara.  Gbagbo thought that he could buy time and with that time he would have more sympathetic support from Ivorians particularly as it became clear that the French are behind his ousting.

Well today, the French forces captured Gbagbo and he was handed over to his rival Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in Abijan.  It has been said that his wife, Simone, is the real power behind Gbagbo and she has been the one pressing him not to give in.

Simone Gbagbo

This Ivorian civil unrest is about hoarding of power, corruption and propagated xenophobia against the Muslims in the north. These are same reasons that destroyed this potentially emerging economy in the late 1990s.  Gbagbo in his early years was considered a peaceful, Sorbonne-educated socialist but during his rule he has earned a reputation for being short-tempered particularly towards  journalists. On the other hand he is also known for his contagious laughs and powerful handshakes. He is a born communicator with a broad smile and charming laugh. He is the kind of person who lights up a room - the life of the party so to speak. He is also known for his passion for music and good food. However, politically he is a stubborn player known to use militia groups and death squads against his opponents.

For those who follow politics it is interesting to see history repeating itself. Gbagbo was one of the strident opponents of the founding President Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Mr. Houphouet-Boigny ruled Ivory Coast for 33 years with the support of the West bringing stability and economic prosperity to his country and being the envy of the continent. Over time he grew increasingly corrupt, autocratic and unpopular. Gbagbo was among the first in the opposition to call for democratization and redistribution of wealth. He was jailed for "subversive teaching" and "fomenting insecurity" and after much harassment by Houphouet-Boigny's security forces he went into exile in France. He then returned in 1988 pushing for democratic reform.

Today, this man is in detention and is being accused of inciting xenophobic attacks, corruption and despotic leadership. Gbagbo fought and was jailed in his pursuit of a democracy in Ivory Coast but today he is willing to destroy his country by refusing to accept defeat at the ballot box- democracy. The same standards he used on Houphouet-Boigny are being used on him now. A bitter pill to swallow - right Gbagbo?

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