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Cote d'Ivoire

Whither Côte d’Ivoire?

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

    Don't assume anything.   Photo source FP.

The stand-off between Messrs Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara in Côte D’Ivoire highlights the new role of regional organizations in dealing with the challenges of irresponsible leadership in their own backyards.

In microeconomics we assume perfect information in the same way we often assume responsible leadership in fragile states. While the former is a convenient analytical artifice, the latter can be downright misleading.  

 

It is important to recognize this because our prescriptions for building public confidence and conflict-resistant institutions are predicated on a view of national leadership that may be the exception rather than the rule.

 

Leaders in violence-prone places are not necessarily thinking of some higher good when they choose a particular course of action. Many see their responsibility in narrow terms; an obligation that goes no further than serving their own self-interest and looking out for their friends.

 

These kinds of behaviors are hard to influence where politics is played as a zero sum game. To change them, the United Nations, the World Bank, and some bilateral agencies have supported programs to foster cooperative leadership and build coalitions. This takes a long time to show results and, of course, there’s no guarantee such a soft approach will work in a high stakes environment.   

 

Another way is to spell out the consequences of things turning sour. The diplomatic and development community tried this in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s by underlining the growing gap in social and economic outcomes between Zimbabwe and its neighbors.

 

To vote or not to vote

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  

A vote too soon?    Photo © Corbis

The wisdom of elections in fragile places is questioned by those who fear they will exacerbate tensions and provoke the kind of violence we saw in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti last week.  This poses a big question: whether to plough ahead regardless or to hold-off on elections until conditions are propitious.

While some conflict experts argue it would be better to wait, many citizens are keen to vote. It’s humbling to see the determination of people in fragile countries who put up with threats to their safety and long lines at polling booths, as well as fraud and intimidation.

Is this another example of hope triumphing over experience?  Perhaps, but it also demonstrates people’s desire to have their voices heard and to influence the course of their lives. So we need to think hard before postponing plebiscites.

Electoral politics are always polarizing, no matter where.  I remember watching CNN night after night in my hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the hanging chad saga that followed the US presidential elections in November 2000.  Even at a distance of 10,000 kilometers, the negative energy was palpable.  After weeks of wrangling, it took US citizens a while to unwind and accept the outcome.