I’m no expert in the electoral politics or cultural nuances of the Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producer. I can only tell you what I see through my African-American lens. And it’s breaking my heart.
I’m seeing yet another nation in my motherland caught up in a power struggle between two men on opposite sides of the post-colonial coin.
I’m seeing President Laurent Gbagbo—a former history professor and labor unionist who in 2000 defeated dictatorial General Robert Guei with popular support—exploit anti-immigrant sentiment in the nation’s Christian South to keep an office he agreed to vacate in 2005. I’m seeing how he’s delayed elections, how he’s altered the constitution to disenfranchise immigrant laborers from neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, and how he’s allowed his country to split in half following the November 2010, UN-monitored elections that reportedly favored his opponent, Alassane Ouattara.
I’m seeing Alassane Ouattara, a former IMF official from the country’s Muslim North, rest on the power of so-called rebel groups, the military support of United Nations peacekeepers, and institutional muscle of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.
I’m seeing Ivory Coast former colonizer France—which still has significant economic interests there—take Ouattara’s side.
And then I’m seeing the above video in which thousands of sisters who were peacefully, joyfully protesting Gbagbo are shot at by what looks like Gbagbo-backed tanks. Seven died. Hundreds cried.
At this moment, the words of Syracuse University African American Studies and poly sci professor Horace Campbell, are the only ones that make sense to me. They’re not immediate. Not tactical. Just true to this non-expert who can’t sit still while women, men and children die in the crossfire of political machinations.
We must have a higher standard for what is called democracy and people’s rights and peace. And part of the lessons we should learn out of this long process to democratize the Ivory Coast, that is much more than Ouattara and Gbagbo, it’s about democratic rights for the working people, democratic rights for those who work on cocoa plantation, the rights of women, the rights of people of different religious and different ideological orientations. … The central political questions in Africa are life, health and the quality of the well-being of the youth.
I’m no expert, but I know that the people must come first. If you’re shooting unarmed women protesting for their quality of life, something is desperately wrong.