Saturday, January 15, 2011

Laurent Gbagbo Shines Spotlight On Africa In A crucial Election Year

By: ralph geeplay

2011 could make or break Africa

In case you have not been listening, Africans goes to the polls across the continent this year. More than a dozen African countries are expected to elect their leaders in what is expected to be an unparalleled move since the 1960s when the zeal and zest for independence saw white colonial rule ceding state power to indigenous led black leaderships at the time. And boy, has it been a disappointment?

What is interesting is that most of the countries currently under the radar as this crucial election year comes have continually rigged the polls in their favor while suppressing political dissent, ala: Uganda, Cameroon, Gambia, Egypt, etc etc! Laurent Gbagbo refusal therefore to cede state power and a united international voice against him especially coming from the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) coupled with the United Nations (UN) is a paradigm in African politics that must be seen as a welcome development. But it remains to be seen if the arc will hold and be sustained as Africa fight in a new decade to turn around its fortunes as the least lagging continent with vast mineral resources and a huge potential for growth.

It is not clear if this is the last decade of the strongman on the African continent yet as the Gbagbo bashing shows, because quite frankly, many still abound around. Laurent Gbagbo must be wondering and fuming in his plush presidential palace why has he gotten the bad end of the bargain when so many leaders on the continent have done worse then he has done so far. Take Paul Kagame of Rwanda for example for who international praise and western aid is unreserved. Not only did he managed to eliminate all his political opponents, having locked all up and shot some point blank. Kagame went to the polls last year virtually unopposed, securing his second term with over 95 percent endorsement! Though to his credit he has kept the country safe and its economy on the rise as investment pours in, he is no more a dictator as Mr. Gbagbo! Else where, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for 25 years (Gbagbo has 10 to his credit), is bidding yet again this election year to lead that East African state. Unsurprisingly this week, he was it again arresting the editor of the Business Summit Review Magazine in Kampala for publishing a “caricature of the president that embarrasses him,” the government said, in relations to a cartoon of Mr. President standing alone and holding a knife before a cake with one candle as the country’s 48th independence approaches!

Ivory Coast's President Ouattara

Gbagbo refusal to cede power therefore, in what was a whipping he got at the polls from his opponent Alassane Ouattara will test Africa’s resolved in a crucial election year when fraud has always been a problem and norm. This virus have never received enough attention, either because leaders on the continent are patronizing each other, turning the other way, while wielding the so-called sovereignty stick of “equal nations whether small or big that must be respected and not interfered with internally,” or because Africans must die in huge numbers and live in poverty and poor health while these tired old men rule at all cost! Because come to think of it, credible polls have always been shunned and denied in Africa, as new ideas on the continent are pushed away continually, thereby, contributing to Africa’s woes as political leaderships stay ineffective and new solutions stifled. For example, “the largest population of children in Uganda and many adults cannot make it to the hospital to obtain treatment. In many cases, the drugs will not find their way to the most rural areas without additional resources for doing so,” says Vivian Glyck writing in the Huffington Post this year. Uganda alone, analyst say if commercially farmed adequately, has the potential to feed the whole of Africa! Such is the importance of governance on the continent as inept leaders cling to power while the lives of our future and children are wasted.

Since the post independence era of the 1960s wherein political freedom and economic revival and the well being of the ordinary African has always been the central themes of national governments with little to show for it, 2011 is poised to usher in a huge wave of voters going to the polls for the first time, amongst them youths and women! Take these countries: Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, and Gambia. Others are: Gabon, Guinea, and Ivory Coast (legislative elections), Liberia, Malagasy, Mauritania, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, South Africa (municipal election), Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe! In Harare, Mugabe remains a sad example of a once prosperous country run into the ground by a stinky dictator. “The naked, provocative racism that [Ian] Smith so proudly and unapologetically wore all his life unfortunately enjoys currency from the poor state of the Zimbabwe that has emerged from his Rhodesia” wrote Chido Makunike, a Zimbabwe social commentator. Ordinary Zimbabweans, According to the New York Times would prefer the racist repressive regime of Smith to Mugabe’s rule, because at least, they could afford to buy bread and put food on the table! Sadly, Gbagbo has taken a play book out of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and Mwai Kibaki’s Kenya, itching for a power sharing government, even though he lost the election to his opponent and in the process willing to see thousands of his country men die in the streets like dogs.

How these elections are conducted in 2011, and how the voices of the continent's peoples are heard will say a thing or two about Africa and its readiness to step into the future and claimed its place amongst nations that are determined to improve the lives of its own peoples, or remain backwards and a laughing stock in the international media. The fraud and incompetence committed by African leaders since independence has all, and a lot to do with the backwardness of Africa’s current problems. Nigeria most importantly will be watched.

Gbagbo and wife, happier days

The elections in Nigeria particularly will be an important milestone for several reasons. It remains Africa’s power house in Sub Sahara Africa and probably the most important country on the continent. It has not been afraid to use it military power in the last fifteen years to intervene in trouble spots on the continent for no other reason other than regional stability and solidarity, especially West Africa. The current democratic consolidation in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau plus its peace keeping efforts around the continent and the world cannot go un- noticed! The current strong posture coming out of Abuja in the wake of the Gbagbo bluff shows the capability of a regional power not willing to dance to the mess in Abidjan, unlike South Africa that has nurtured a Mugabe regime that is killing it's its own people.

While Nigeria currently ranked third behind South Africa and Egypt economically speaking, it is expected to be the biggest economy on the continent soon analysts say. “Yet while South Africa is the larger economy, Nigeria is expected to catch up in the next few years.” Continues Razia Khan, head of African research at Standard Chartered. Khan says that, "In Nigeria, you still have 70 percent of the population living on a dollar a day, but there is a demographic impact. In the next five years, Nigeria will add another 23 million people and South Africa will add another 2.8 million,” With such potential, Nigeria’s voice and wealth and military power will be needed and put to use as the continent move to consolidate it gains and entrenched its democratic values, that is, if the political leadership in Abuja is stabilized and the federal government there is accountable to democratic transition.

Smaller countries like Liberia whose civil war contributed mayhem to regional instability must make sure the polls this year are fairer and an even playing field created for all participating candidates. Calls by a segment of the opposition that the Johnson Sirleaf administration reconstitute the country’s election commission must not be taken lightly! Liberia has set an example in its democratic governance thus far of allowing dissent where a free press, political opposition and the three branches of government now co exist and independently function smoothly, howbeit flaw, since it return to constitutional rule in 2005. This move must be hailed. Violence as such that currently prostrate its neighbor La Cote Ivoire must be studied and potential weaknesses weed out of its system to avoid violence in the aftermath of the polls.

But on the whole, it is a safe bet to say that Africa has made progress and is moving forward, but governance remains its biggest cancer, as Mo Ibrahim observed. “Africa’s average growth,’ he says “is now almost five times the Euro-zone average growth, according to the latest IMF update on World Economic Outlook. These changes, however uplifting, are not the only story" he says. "We continue to lag behind in many key areas. Although we can blame many factors for this, none is more central than the lack of high-quality governance” Africa must insists that leaders like Gbagbo relinquish state power in a timely fashion when they lost elections, but the continent with one voice too must be equally determined that leaders like Museveni respect the rule of law and that strong denunciations must equally come when they subvert the rule of law and arrest journalists and political opponents for no reason other than to show raw power.