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Ivory Coast teeters on brink of civil war

Opinion: Africa needs to start accepting its winners and losers.

Ivory Coast supporters of Alassane Ouatarra
Supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who has claimed to have won last month's presidential election, raise their arms during a protest in Abidjan on Dec. 16, 2010. At least 15 demonstrators were shot dead in Abidjan as troops loyal to Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo mobilized to thwart an attempt to storm state television headquarters. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — No one who has been following events in Ivory Coast is surprised to see the outbreak of violence Thursday that is pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

Ivory Coast has been a slow motion train wreck ever since the disputed election at the end of November that left two rival politicians claiming to be president.

Observers fear Ivory Coast is returning to the civil war that divided the country in 2002 and 2003.

Fifteen people were killed Thursday in Abidjan, the country’s main city, in clashes between supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, the president who lost the election but refuses to leave office, and Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader who won the official count.

Gunfire and explosions shook the skyscraper-lined streets of Abidjan and brought business to a halt. Clashes have also been reported in the capital city of Yamoussoukro, as well as the rebel stronghold of Bouake and the central town of Tiebissou.

One rocket-propelled grenade struck a wall surrounding the U.S. embassy in Abidjan, but no one was injured and damage was minor, according to U.S. officials.

More violence is expected Friday now that Ouattara has vowed to push to take control of government office buildings and the state broadcasting center.

Ouattara’s election victory has been acknowledged by the United Nations, the African Union, the United States and France. Ouatarra, 68, a former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, draws much of his support from the rebel-held north.

Ggagbo, 65, has been in power since 2000 and his power base is in the south. So far Ivory Coast’s army has been loyal to Gbagbo.

The United Nations has 6,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. Many of them are guarding the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouatarra is staying along with members of his cabinet.

The Ivory Coast army is guarding the Presidential Palace where Gbagbo is running his government.

News of Ivory Coast’s violence has pushed up prices for cocoa on international markets toward a four month high. Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, providing 43 percent of the world's supply.

These events are important for Africa because it highlights the problem of disputed elections, especially in which the incumbent refuses to accept a loss and to step down from power. Kenya, Guinea and Zimbabwe are all examples of where leaders have refused to accept results and have plunged their countries into political, and often ethnic, violence.

African leaders continue to struggle to strengthen democracy across the continent. The African Union has declared the Gbagbo government illegitimate. It also sent former South African president Thabo Mbeki to mediate.

What a bad idea. Mbeki has already failed to negotiate successful solutions in Zimbabwe and Kenya. Why send him to Ivory Coast? Mbeki’s panacea “African solution for African problems” is to create a coalition government that includes representations from both sides and leaves the incumbent in the driver’s seat.

It may sound plausible, but it doesn’t work. It leaves both sides disconnected and unresponsive to their constituents. Government becomes paralyzed and ineffectual. And the politicians become kleptomaniacs who loot the state coffers.

Africa does not need more of these problematic “governments of national unity.”

Africa needs better elections and better adherence to the democratic principle of allowing the winner to govern, and the loser to prepare for the next elections.

This is especially true in Ivory Coast.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/africa/101216/ivory-coast-election-violence-civil-war