Piracy and Anarchy in West
Africa: The Ivory Coast's Turn
By Tom Kamara
When Allasane Quattara, Ivory Coast's former Prime Minister and ex- deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, declared the Christmas Eve coup in his country as "not a coup d'etat, but a revolution supported by all Ivorian people", it was evident that the man had misread history, and ignored West Africa's unstoppable dive towards disintegration since Ivory Coast opened its gates for Charles Taylor's ruthless rebels, igniting the flames of anarchy in the region. Soldiers or warlords do not make "revolutions" in Africa. They simply seize the state to fatten their own bellies and impose poverty on the rest of society with the AK-47. The sooner Africa comes to grip with the truth that its armies and now warlords are its cancer, the faster the degree of the ongoing chaos will be understood and handled.
Contrary to expectations that what was aptly described in the West as Africa's "good coup", would lead to positive political and therefore economic changes, West Africa's biggest economy is going down as the political turmoil intensifies. In the second mutiny since the coup, soldiers stole civilians cars and killed three people. Guei blamed unnamed politicians for the abortive coup. "What just happened was a planned coup d'etat, and it's a shame that some politicians were behind it In the shadows, certain people think they can corrupt our soldiers. We have noted the evidence, but we don't want to disrupt the electoral calendar," he said.
Laughable as it may sound, as an indication of the chaos in Abidjan, Liberia is reported to be making plans to "evacuate" its citizens, hundreds of thousands of people who have refused to return to Liberia despite the fanfare of "democratic elections." Many are ethnic Krahns (slain President's Doe's tribe) expelled from Monrovia in September 1998 when Taylor's security forces attacked heavily populated Krahn neighbourhoods, killing as many as 300, according to the US Statement.
Events in the Ivory Coast, as in Liberia, point to one fundamental truth: political change led by warlords and soldiers is not intended for positive socioeconomic transformation, but to implant the seeds of piracy. Ivorian soldiers are now holding the Government of Gen. Robert Guei hostage, demanding $9000 each for their role in selecting him as their leader and therefore leader of the country. Charles Taylor is demanding $26 million dollars from the traumatized and impoverished people of Liberia for the war he waged that killed President Doe along with 250,000 people, not to mention the economic decay that followed. Nigerian soldiers are demanding pensions. This clearly is a case of hostage taking by soldiers and warlords for ransom, the new actors setting Africa's political agenda despite all the celebrations about the dawn of democratization.
As African economies erode, we are bound to see the standoff between Civil Society on the one hand, and soldiers/warlords on the other because coup d'etats and warlord rebellions in Africa have been propelled by greed and graft, not vision for a better tomorrow. The soldiers, theoretically responsible for national defense, have jealously witnessed corrupt politicians use the state as their fiefdom, caring well for their families and cronies. Once in power through "firepower", they too, practice what they know best, learning from their civilian ex-masters in a case of "My houseboy, my President." Dissatisfied over their exclusion in sharing the spoils of state, corrupt politicians have resorted to military means in winning back the state. A classic example is Liberia where perhaps the most corrupt politician within a hyper-corrupt military junta, Taylor, used military means to win back the state, killed or kicked out his soldier comrades in plunder.
This antagonistic marriage of convenience between soldiers/warlords and politicians is based on the fact that African politicians and professionals lack the courage in pursuing their convictions and agenda without aligning themselves with individuals grossly incapable of undertaking social change. Lacking self-pride, many African professionals find it impossible saying no to job appointments by pirates and bandits in political seats. Thus, they find solace in cowardly hiding behind ruthless soldiers and insane, thieving warlords, proposing political programs and economic reform packages that are soon thrown into the dustbin.
Quattara was so certain that the coup provided the basis for democratization and his own rise to power that he failed to see the inbuilt dangers. He praised the coup makers as 'brave soldiers (who) carried out what the Ivorian people wanted, a peaceful change" when he should have known that soldiers in Africa only "sacrifice" for themselves while plunging the rest of society in irrecoverable mess as we see in Nigeria and other countries. But his excessive eulogizing of the coup was understandable. With archenemy Konan Bedie out of the way, he believed the often superficial and self-serving analysis in the Western media that the throne was now all his in this country which found it normal to provide safe havens for dictators and warlords determined to destroy their own societies while investing in Ivory Coast, among them the late Mobutu, the late self-style emperor Jean Bedell Bokassa, Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh, etc.
Soon, Guei, who had promised the end of tribalism in Ivorian politics as practiced under Bedie to exclude Quattara, was sounding like his predecessor. The ethnic clause was reintroduced, and will certainly be approved in a referendum scheduled prior to the September elections. Opponents climbed on the back of his French wife, and his service as an official in the Government of Burkina Faso, then Upper Volta, to prove the point that he was not one of them. Ivorian women, disdainful of the fact their First Lady could be a white, took the stage in protest to spread the "Quattara foreigner" label. Again, Quattara should have known that if Frederick Chiluba, firmly in power, could classify Zambia's Founding Father, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, a "foreigner," proceeding to humiliate the man who won independence for what used to be Northern Rhodesia, he had no chance of winning the tribal war even if Bedie was no longer around.
Chiluba promised democracy only to institute a lootocracy and criminal political tactics which ended in the shooting death of Dr. Kaunda's son. (The case of Dr. Kaunda is typical of the criminal African political mind. Anything goes. It's like the Americans classifying George Washington as a foreigner! Similarly, at the beginning of the war, Charles Taylor referred to Dr. Amos Sawyer and his team as the "Sierra Leone mafia" bent on depriving him power as a real Liberian. Lately, he admitted that his grandfather comes from Sierra Leone. Tom Woewiyu, Taylor's war spokesman and long time friend, says in actual fact, Taylor's father is a Shebro from Sierra Leone. But the warlord was determined to use the "foreigner" label against opponents if it meant the presidency.)
As predicted, Ivory Coast's nightmare began under the late Houphouet Boigny, spreading under the inept Bedie, and now intensifying under a man Ivorians, in hopeless expectation of more bread and butter, immediately called "Le Pierre Noel" (Santa Claus). The gradual erosion of this once French colony, the world's largest cocoa producer, as an economic giant in the midst of poor and chaotic states, indicates how contagious destabilization in West Africa has become. When the Ivorian ruling elite were providing safe passage, mercenaries and diplomatic backing for one of Africa's insane rebel groups, Charles Taylor's NPFL, their soldiers were watching and learning useful lessons. If Charles Taylor could seize power in Liberia with rag-tag rebels dependent on Ivorian, Burkinabe and Libyan backing, they could similarly seize power in the Ivory Coast for themselves. They needed confidence that they could do it, and Mr. Taylor provided that confidence. With reliable reports of the Liberian warlord's determination to see his comrade Bedie back in power, the stage for Ivory Coast's chaos is being built.
The political climate in Ivory Coast is scary. West Africa cannot afford another center of instability. But finding medicine for Aids or cancer is impossible. West Africa's woes began in December 1989 from Ivory Coast.
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