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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.


Turning off the aid tap to signal dissatisfaction may get people’s attention but it leads to volatility in aid flows which can undermine the development of the very institutions that in the long run hold promise for a more secure and stable future.


In extreme cases, when national leaders are reluctant to take steps to avoid violence, international actors can threaten various forms of sanctions. For instance, sanctions against apartheid South Africa are often credited with helping to force political change in that country.  


The causal effects of sanctions, however, remain disputed. Critics cite their negative humanitarian impact and the danger of creating illicit economies that can enrich entrenched regimes.


Other initiatives to mitigate the negative effects of sanctions are targeted instruments such as financial and travel restrictions imposed on individual leaders or groups.


With little public support for the general strike called by Mr. Ouattara, Mr. Gbagbo seems determined to sit tight on his claim to the presidency. As he weighs up his options, it is the new determination of regional bodies to hold their members and neighbors to account that must be uppermost in his mind.


The Lomé Declaration establishes standards and a regional response mechanism to unconstitutional changes in government. Since it was agreed in 2000 the number of coups in Africa has declined from 15 in the 1990s to 5 through 2010.


The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are now playing a leading role in Côte D’Ivoire based on the norms of constitutional behavior they have collectively promulgated – and respect for which they are trying to enforce, including through the threat of armed intervention.


It is pressures from these newly empowered regional groupings that are likely to play an increasingly significant role in encouraging responsible leadership in fragile states.  


Thanks for refraining from picking sides in this very complex power play. There is a lot of dishonesty in the way things have been reported in western media. Let me just raise a few pointers: 1-makeup of the electoral commission, a partisan entity 2-report of the African Union observers mission 3-the troubling role played by France and UNSGR Y. Choi 4-world's #1 cocoa producer 5-Gbagbo's nationalistic stance.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I cannot agree more wtih you. Over the years, the AU and some of the regional groupings, notably ECOWAS, have adopted a set of instruments aimed at promoting good governance and democratic behaviour, as well as respect for human rights. In the case of the AU, in addition to the Lome declaration you referred to, mentionned should also be made of the decision adopted in January 2010, which significantly strenghtened AU norms on unconstitutional changes of governments. The decision focusses not only on the response aspects, but also, and more importantly, on the prevention of coup d'etat, through better governance and enhanced democratic institutions. The role played by ECOWAS, with the support of the AU, in Niger, in response to the increasinf undemocratic behavious of former president Tandja, was very instructive. Niger was then sanctioned because its leaders violated an ECOWAS protocol. And the rest of the international community followed suit and supported ECOWAS. The role of the international community should therefore be to support african institutions to enforce their own instruments, for no African country can claim that these were imposed from outside. Unfortunately, more often than not, the international partners have a tendancy of underestimating the pivotal role that could be played by african institutions.

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