Ouattara’s victory over Gbagbo in Cote D’Ivoire is quickly generating winner’s remorse. The coalition of disparate rebel forces that united to oust Gbagbo is already breaking apart. Just this past week Ibrahim Coulibaly, a rebel commander, was killed after he refused to obey Ouattara’s order to disarm his units. Mr. Ouattara himself is facing the sisyphean challenge of cleaning up the mess from the decade long civil war and the recent onslaught on Abidjan amid economic decline and divisions within his own coalition. Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo are also not yet into the idea of having the northerner running the show. Over 40% of Ivorians, most of them southerners, voted for Gbagbo.
In the wider region, many see the heavy French involvement in the whole situation as suspect. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, had this to say in a piece posted on the FP website:
France used its privileged place in the Security Council to position itself to play an important role in determining the future of Côte d’Ivoire, its former colony in which, inter alia, it has significant economic interests. It joined the United Nations to ensure that Ouattara emerged as the victor in the Ivorian conflict.
This addressed the national interests of France, consistent with its Françafrique policies, which aim to perpetuate a particular relationship with its former African colonies. This is in keeping with remarks made by former French President François Mitterand when he said, “Without Africa, France will have no history in the 21st century,” which former French foreign minister Jacques Godfrain confirmed when he said: “A little country [France], with a small amount of strength, we can move a planet because [of our]…relations with 15 or 20 African countries…”
Mbeki has a point.
That said, I don’t totally buy into the idea that the West, or any other outsider for that matter, should keep out of Africa’s affairs. Isolationism (caused by the great sand wall that is the Sahara) has not served Africa well in the past. Africa needs more trade and involvement in international politics. Both acts necessarily require international involvement in Africa.
So to the likes of Mbeki I say, the trick is not to require the West or East or even the Emerging South to benevolently stay out of Africa’s business. Rather, African states should develop their own capacities to deal with the reality of world politics: Strong states will always prey on weak ones. If you do not want to be preyed upon, you have to get your act together. Stephen Waltz in his seminal work titled Theory of International Relations writes:
Weakness invites control; strength tempts one to exercise it, even if only for the “good” of other people.
The problem of exploitative international involvement in Africa is sustained primarily by the persistence of inept kleptocratic leadership in the region.
To go ahead and grant these dictators immunity from international pressure would be a most undesirable outcome. People like Idriss Deby, Paul Biya, Theodore Obiang, among others, should not be given space. Dictators do not have internal affairs.
It is a pipe dream to continue nurturing and protecting mediocre leadership all over Africa while expecting the strong nations of the world to benevolently keep off. It is the mismanagement of Africa by its leaders that creates fertile grounds for self-interested international
preying involvement by the likes of France – with disastrous consequences for the local populations.