12 December 2010
Ivory Coast: A Tale of Two Countries
By Gwynne Dyer
All the foreigners and about half the Ivorians agree that Alassane Ouattara won last month’s presidential election in Ivory Coast – but not the southerners, who say that it was their man, Laurent Gbagbo. So the Election Commission declared Ouattara the winner, and the Constitutional Council declared Gbagbo the winner.
It’s been eight years now since Ivory Coast, once the richest country in West Africa, was divided. This election was supposed to end the division, but it has just perpetuated it. Maybe it’s time to accept that Ivory Coast is two countries, not one.
Once the notion of dividing an African country in two was unthinkable. The basic rule of the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was that the former colonial borders must remain inviolable, since if they could be changed there might be a generation of civil wars.
But there was a generation of civil wars anyway – in Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Liberia, Congo and Sudan, to mention a few. There are far more ethnic groups in Africa than there are countries: some vie for dominance within the existing borders, while others simply want to secede and form their own countries.
There is also a religious split between mainly Muslim and predominantly Christian regions that extends right across the continent, but the dividing line runs THROUGH a number of countries, not between them. From Ivory Coast in West Africa to Sudan on the Red Sea, the north of every country is Muslim, and the south is Christian.
The ban on division was breaking down even before the OAU was replaced by the African Union in 2002. Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia in 1993 was accepted by the OAU, although the subsequent secession of Somaliland and Puntland from Somalia has not received official blessing. And next month southern Sudan will almost certainly secede from the rest of the country in a referendum overseen by the African Union.
It’s becoming almost commonplace – and maybe Ivory Coast is a suitable case for treatment. It enjoyed three decades of peace and prosperity under the rule of its first post-independence president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, but since his death in 1993 there has been almost continuous political upheaval. Finally, in 2002, rebel “New Forces” in the army seized control of the Muslim north and split the country.
It has remained split ever since, and there are some 8,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the country. But neither negotiations nor outside pressure have ended the division – and neither have elections.
Reunification was supposed to be achieved by the recent election, which was closely scrutinised by all manner of foreign observers from Africa and beyond. Almost everybody voted on the basis of ethnic and religious loyalties, and the winner was a Muslim northerner, Alassanne Ouattara. He got 54.1 percent of the votes, to 45.9 percent for the incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo.
Gbagbo is a Christian southerner, and he lost because there are a few hundred thousand more people in the Muslim north of the country. But he did control the Constitutional Court, which promptly declared that hundreds of thousands of northern votes were invalid, either because the voters in question were actually foreigners, or because they simply didn’t exist.
So Ouattara was inaugurated as president at a luxury hotel in Abidjan guarded by United Nations troops, with the blessing of the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the United States. But at the presidential palace, guarded by the Ivorian army, Gbagbo was also sworn in for a new term as president. “We didn’t ask anyone to come and run our country,” said Gbagbo defiantly. “Our sovereignty is something I am going to defend.”
The African Union is trying very hard these days to ensure that electoral results are respected in Africa, so it has suspended Ivory Coast’s membership until Ouattara is actually in power. Since Gbagbo still has the support of the army and controls the state television channel, however, it will be very hard to get him out. Besides, the rights and wrongs of the situation are not as clear-cut as they seem.
Because Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest exporter of cocoa, was the richest country in West Africa, for decades it received a large flow of immigrants from the poorer countries to the north, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. The immigrants were all Muslims, and their languages were closely related to Dioula, the dominant language of northern Ivory Coast. They were all illegal, of course, but some of them voted anyway.
Ivorian elections have therefore long been troubled by accusations that many voters in the north are not citizens. Even Ouattara himself was banned from running in the 2002 election because his parents, it was alleged, were from Burkina Faso. And it doesn’t matter who is right: southerners will always think they have been cheated if their candidate loses, while northerners will always insist that the vote was legitimate.
The problem has crippled Ivory Coast for almost twenty years, and it will not go away. Mercifully, the killing so far has only been in the thousands, not the tens or hundreds of thousands. But if Ivorians can’t resolve the current dispute quickly, it may be time to consider a divorce.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 11. (“Reunification…Gbagbo”; and “So Ouattara…defend”)
24 May 2010
The Nile: Water War?
By Gwynne Dyer
After he signed the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said: “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” Well, the world kept turning, and now a potential war over water is creeping onto Egypt’s agenda.
Egypt is the economic and cultural superpower of the Arab world: its 78 million people account for almost a third of the world’s Arabic-speaking population. But 99 percent of it is open desert, and if it were not for the Nile river running through that desert, Egypt’s population would not be any bigger than Libya’s (5 million). So Cairo takes a dim view of anything that might diminish the flow of that river.
Back in 1929, when the British empire controlled Egypt, Sudan, and most of the countries further upstream in East Africa, it sponsored an agreement giving Cairo the right to veto any developments upstream that would decrease the amount of water in Nile. The rationale at the time was that the upstream countries had ample rainfall, whereas Egypt and Sudan (at the time ruled as one country) depended totally on the Nile’s waters.
Thirty years later, in 1959, when Egypt and Sudan were already independent but all of the upstream states except Ethiopia were still colonies, Egypt and Sudan signed another agreement that left only 10 percent of the Nile’s water to the seven upstream countries, while giving Egypt almost 80 percent and Sudan the rest. The argument was still the same: the countries further upstream had rainfall, while it hardly ever rains in Egypt or Sudan.
Now the upstream countries that got almost no water in that deal are rejecting it. Thirteen years ago, they persuaded Egypt and Sudan to start talks on the river, but they have now concluded that the two Arab countries really only joined the talks to prevent any new deal. So they are now going ahead without them.
Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia signed an agreement on 14 May to seek more water from the Nile. Kenya signed last week, and the Congo and Burundi are expected to do so soon. Kenya’s minister of water resources, Charity Ngilu, described the 1929 treaty as “obsolete and timeworn”, and said that Egypt and Sudan had “no choice” but to negotiate a reallocation of the Nile’s waters.
The Egyptian government replied that the new agreement “is in no way binding on Egypt from a legal perspective,” and that “Egypt will not join or sign any agreement that affects its share.” It’s an understandable perspective, since Cairo must figure out how to feed not 78 but 95 million Egyptians in only fifteen years’ time.
But it is a perspective that gets little sympathy in Addis Ababa, which must feed 91 million Ethiopians now but will have to find food for 140 million fifteen years from now. All the countries in East Africa and the Horn of Africa have far higher population growth rates than Egypt, and they are getting worried about how to feed their people. So they want to use some of the Nile’s water for irrigation projects for their own.
Ethiopia, whose rivers provides 85 percent of the water that eventually reaches Egypt, is especially militant. As Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi said earlier this year: “The current regime cannot be sustained. It’s being sustained because of the diplomatic clout of Egypt. There will come a time when the people of East Africa and Ethiopia will become too desperate to care about these diplomatic niceties. Then, they are going to act.”
Predictions of “water wars” are commonplace, and yet they hardly ever happen: it’s almost always cheaper to cut a deal and share the water. But the Nile basin contains 400 million people today, and Egypt and Sudan, with only 120 million people, are using almost all of its water.
In fifteen years’ time there will be almost 800 million people in the Nile basin, and only 150 million of them will be Egyptians and Sudanese. It is very hard to believe that the latter two countries will still be able to keep 90 percent of the river’s water for their own use. On the other hand, how do they survive without it?
In the past, Egypt has safeguarded its share by threats of military action. Since it was in an entirely different military league from the countries to the south, those threats had some substance. But now the military disparities are less impressive, and Egypt’s options have narrowed dramatically.
As Meles Zenawi said recently: “I think it is an open secret that the Egyptians have troops that are specialised in jungle warfare. Egypt is not known for its jungles. So if these troops are trained in jungle warfare, they are probably trained to fight in the jungles of the East African countries.”
“From time to time Egyptian presidents have threatened countries with military action if they move. While I cannot completely discount the sabre-rattling, I do not think it is a feasible option. If Egypt were to plan to stop Ethiopia from utilising the Nile waters it would have to occupy Ethiopia, and no country on earth has done that in the past.”
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 10. (“Egypt…river”; and “Predictions…water”)
31 January 2010
Africa: The Right to Secede
By Gwynne Dyer
Ban Ki-moon is not the best secretary-general the United Nations ever had, but he has grasped the essential nature of his job. The UN is an organisation made up of sovereign states, and their highest priority is the preservation of their own privileges. It is the trade union of the sovereign states of the world, and Ban is their shop steward. Which is why he said what he did last weekend.
Speaking just before the African Union summit opened in Addis Ababa, the UN secretary-general declared that both the UN and the AU had a big responsibility “to maintain peace in Sudan and make unity attractive.” It is not immediately obvious that “peace” and “unity” are compatible in Sudan, where civil war killed about 2 million people and created 4 million refugees between 1983 and 2005, but Ban was in no doubt about it.
The fighting in Sudan ended in 2005 when the northern-based government and the southern-based rebels signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement that created a unity government in Khartoum and a separate regional government in the south – and promised the southerners a referendum on secession next year. That promise was what stopped the fighting, and despite many crises and clashes it has held for five years.
Not only that, but the dictator in Khartoum, President (and ex-general) Omar al-Bashir, recently declared yet again that he will respect a southern decision to secede. “The National Congress Party favours unity,” he said in December. “But if the result of the referendum is separation, then we in the NCP will be the first to take note of this decision and to support it.”
So here is this Korean bureaucrat, Ban Ki-moon, urging African countries to back the unity campaign of the regime in Khartoum – a regime whose leader, President Bashir, is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for the massacres carried out by government-backed militias in Darfur.
What’s more, Ban Ki-moon is ultimately in control of the United Nations troops who are stationed in Sudan to guarantee the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Yet he clearly said which side he backed in the referendum: “We’ll work hard to avoid a possible secession.” Who does this guy think he is?
He knows. He is the shop steward of the Federation of Sovereign States and Allied Trades (also known as the United Nations), and his job is to preserve the rights and privileges of its members. Their most important right, of course, is to keep control of all their territory forever, regardless of the views of the local people.
The African Union is particularly devoted to “preserving the unity” of all its members, because Africa’s borders are particularly arbitrary and irrational. If any of the disparate ethnic groups that are trapped together in country A were allowed to secede, then the demand for similar secessions in countries B to Z would become irresistible, or so the African orthodoxy has it.
“No Secessions” was the paramount rule of the old Organisation of African Unity, and it survived unbroken until Eritrea got its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. That was not an encouraging precedent, since Eritrea and Ethiopia soon ended up at war with each other, and no further secessions have been recognised since then.
But there is another way to look at this, and that is to count the cost of all the wars that have been fought in Africa to prevent secessions. From the Biafran war in Nigeria in the 1960s down through the various secessionist movements in Congo and Ethiopia and on to the breakaway movements in Sudan’s south and west (Darfur) today, at least ten million Africans have been killed. For what?
Nobody except some ruling elites would be worse off if the secessions had been allowed to succeed. The Nigerian elite would have somewhat less money to put into its overseas bank accounts, since the oil money would have stayed in the south-east (Biafra), and a new Biafran ruling elite would have bigger Swiss accounts.
Maybe what remained of Nigeria would have split into a Muslim north and a Yoruba-speaking Christian south-west, since without Biafra the country would have become a Muslim-majority state. So what? Maybe everybody would have been happier that way.
Most people will probably be happier if Sudan does split in the referendum planned for January, 2011. Those in the Muslim, Arabic-speaking north would have co-existed peacefully with the various Christian and animist ethnic groups of the south if they had been left to their own devices. However, the northern ruling elite imposed Islamic law to consolidate its power, and the southern elites responded with appeal to ethnic solidarity.
If the south leaves next year, it will take most of the oil with it. That is why the northern elite fought so hard to save “national unity.”. But the oil still has to go out to the sea through northern territory, so the revenue will still be shared. After two decades of killing, Sudan is broken, and the best solution is independence for the south. Unless Ban Ki-moon and his trade union get their way, in which case the war will resume.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9, 11 and 12. (“No…then”; and “Nobody…way”)
16 July 2008
Omar al-Bashir: Politics and the Law
By Gwynne Dyer
All the opposition groups in Darfur celebrated when the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced on 14 July that he was seeking the indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir on the charge of genocide, but almost everybody else had a problem with it. They don’t doubt that Bashir is a ruthless dictator who is guilty of ordering many thousands of deaths. They just think that putting him on an international “wanted” list is unwise.
Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe, speaking on behalf of the African Union, said: “We are asking for the ICC to re-examine its decision….If you arrest Bashir, you will create a leadership vacuum in Sudan. The outcome could be equal to that of Iraq.” Membe and many other people fear that the indictment of Bashir, far from ending the conflict in Darfur, could reignite the much bigger civil war between northern and southern Sudan.
Andrew Natsios, the former US special envoy for Sudan, was equally worried that the ICC was playing with fire: “This indictment may well shut off the last remaining hope for a peaceful settlement (for Darfur).” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon phoned Bashir personally to assure him that the ICC is quite separate from the UN. In Khartoum there was defiance from Bashir personally, but also warnings from opposition leaders that this was not a good idea.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which led the predominantly African and Christian south of the country in the 22-year civil war, was emphatically not for rocking the boat right now. The SPLM spokesman said that “indicting (Omar al-Bashir) has created a dangerous situation in Sudan threatening peace and stability in the country.”
What is at stake, in the SPLM’s view, is the 2005 peace deal that gave the south its autonomy, and promised elections for next year in which the south could choose independence from the mainly Muslim and Arabic-speaking north if it wants. The election might also bring democracy to Sudan (or to the two halves, if they separate), after nineteen years of Bashir’s dictatorship.
An estimated two million people died in the north-south civil war, compared to perhaps 200,000 in the past five years in Darfur. Nobody wants to go back to that, and with oil revenues starting to build up, both the northern and the southern political elites have every incentive to make the deal work.
Sudan is in the midst of a difficult but still promising transition, but it may not succeed if Bashir’s only choices are to live as a hunted criminal facing arrest and trial on genocide charges, or to cling to power forever. More immediately, his indictment could wreck the possibility of a peace deal to end the war in Darfur. So most of the northern opposition parties opposed the ICC’s action, too.
But that is irrelevant to the International Criminal Court, because it is not a political organisation. It is a COURT, and courts operate by different rules. It may be politically inconvenient to indict Bashir right now, but as the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, said last week, “I don’t have the luxury to look away. I have the evidence.”
Moreno-Ocampo, and the three judges (Ghanaian, Lithuanian and Brazilian) who must now decide whether or not to indict Bashir, and the whole ICC, are quite rightly barred from taking political considerations into account. They are there to administer the laws.
The law in question is the new international law that seeks to make even senior military and political leaders legally responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Since such people are unlikely to face legal action in their own countries, which are generally tyrannies of one sort or another, it must be done at the international level. Hence the creation of the ICC in 2002.
The ICC is a fragile new growth that challenges the old de facto rule that sovereign states can forgive themselves and their servants for any abuse or atrocity, however wicked. 147 countries have signed the treaty that created it, although neither China nor India accepts the ICC’s jurisdiction, and the United States and Israel have both “unsigned” the treaty.
The most powerful states are always the most reluctant to give up their sovereign powers in the interests of international law, so the rest of the world tends to go ahead without them, on the assumption that they will catch up later. In the meantime, the main problem for those who do support the ICC is to remember that they are trying to build the rule of law in the world, not to solve some local problem.
It is important that Sudan finally gets peace and prosperity, after endless years of war, tyranny and poverty. It is even more important that leaders who commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes know that they will have to answer to an international court.
In the end, these two goals are probably not irreconcilable. Or do you really think that Sudan’s political elites are so stupid and supine that they will let their whole future be wrecked in order to protect one brutal, blood-soaked general who has long outlived his usefulness?
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 11 and 12. (“The ICC…problem”)