Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ivorian President Ouattara has the last laugh

Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian dictator was excluded from the official photo of the Heads of State of ECOWAS who were in Abidjan to meet with Shizo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister who was leading a high-powered Japanese trade mission targeting business opportunities in Africa.  The meeting was a follow-up to to the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) which Jammeh attended last June.  He was also not extended the usual courtesies reserved for Heads of State by the host.

To understand the treatment of Yaya Jammeh at the hands of President of Cote d'Ivoire, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, affectionately known as ADO (his initials), one must understand the extent of the Gambian dictator's meddling in Ivorian politics dating back to the the first ever military coup d'etat in 1999.  Anxious to gain international and regional support, the military junta, led by retired General Robert Guei, reached out to a military-turn-civilian regime in Banjul for support, and thus an opening was created for Jammeh to meddle and play mischief.

The Gambian dictator was visited on numerous occasions by several Ivorian delegations.  Lauren Gbagbo continued the courtship after he was elected in the controversial October 2000 presidential elections that barred ADO from contesting.  Ouattara was disqualified by the 'Ivoirite' clause of the country's newly-minted Constitution which stipulated that both parents must be of Ivorian origin to contest presidential elections.  The fact that he'd proven the Ivorian citizenship of both of his parents, and that he served for three years as Prime Minister under the late Houphouet-Boigny from 1990 - 93, and occupied positions at the IMF and BCEAO as an Ivorian did not bar those who subscribed to the exclusionary nature of Ivoirite.

After the highly contentious elections of 2000 which he won, Gbagbo continued the courtship of leaders like Dos Santos of Angola and Jammeh of Gambia in an increasingly hostile diplomatic environment.  Jammeh saw immediate similarity with, and developed affinity to Gbagbo.  Like Jammeh, Gbagbo was also from a minority tribe of the Bete, and felt boxed out of the electoral process over the years, not only because of his variety of Pan-African politics which was mixed with the politics of exclusion but because he was from a minority tribe, Bete, in a country dominated by the Akan tribes (Baoule and their sub-groups), and the Dioula tribe of ADO.

Jammeh saw in Gbagbo a reliable ally who preached a variety of African politics that Jammeh can readily identified.  Both claimed to be Pan-Africanists.  Both came from minority groups who try to maintain power by constructing a coalition involving majority tribes who believe to have been cheated of the Presidency.  Jammeh was quick to see an opening in the frosty relations between Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire. The relationship between President Wade and Gbagbo was equally frosty at the personal level, despite the fact that both were and still are avoid socialists of the French variety, but that's where the similarity ends.

Wade was very pro-France and received both financial and political support from the Socialist Party and associated international groupings.  When Wade was in the opposition, he was a regular visitor to Abidjan where he received financial support from the large Senegalese communities in Cote d'Ivoire, and the Ivorian political establishment.  There's a strong historic link between Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire, apart from sharing the same colonial heritage.  After all, the Father of the Nation married a Senegalese, and had nephews of Senegalese extraction who, according to Baoule tradition, should inherit his wealth and not his immediate children.  The late President Houphouet-Boigny had, in his Yamoussoukro home, reserved a place of worship for his family of Muslims and Christians, even though he was a devout Catholic.

The Cote Ivoire crisis saw Senegal tilting in favor of the Muslim North, partly because of the Senegalese immigrant population, largely Muslims themselves and thus easily identified as supporters of a fellow Muslim in ADO.  Gbagbo saw Senegal as supporter of Ouattara for the same reason, and also someone who's been suspected of providing financial support to Senegalese politicians even when he was in exile because he's a wealthy individual, and his wife is also individually wealth in her own right.

Jammeh recognized the divide, and exploited it by throwing his full support behind Gbagbo who decided to play mischief by using Jammeh to channel support to the rebel movement in southern Casamance as payback.  He felt Senegal was supporting the Ivorian rebels who, at the time, controlled the northern half of Cote d'Ivoire, so he will help ferment more trouble in the Casamance by supporting the MFDC rebels, financially and materially.  Banjul soon became the transit point - MFDC rebels using Banjul to travel to Abidjan for medical treatment, and Gbagbo using Banjul to collect Iranian arms to supplement supplies from Angola and South Africa.  Thabo Mbeki support was more overt than Dos Santos's, although support of the former was more political and diplomatic than latter whose support took the form of arms.  Money and guns traded hands in Banjul at the height of the Ivorian crisis, and Banjul became refuge to the Gbagbo rebels who fled Cote d'Ivoire to escape capture and eventual prosecution after their electoral defeat.

The strong relationship between Gbagbo and Jammeh continued even after the Ivorian former President lost the elections and was captured by the Forces of the North with French assistance.  His support of Gbagbo continued even as his friend was being handed over to the Gambian Chief Prosecutor at the Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.  Jammeh continued his opposition, and has vowed never to recognize the government of Alassane Dramane Ouattara because "according to the Ivorian constitution Laurent Gbagbo is the legitimate president of Cote d'Ivoire."  He further stated that Gambia will never recognize " any government that has been imposed by forces outside the African continent, no matter the reason." Therefore, to visit Cote d'Ivoire and expect full presidential courtesies from a government he refuses to recognize to this day is the height of insanity.