(Written Before April 11)
As the war in Libya continues (sadly, that is what it has become), and unrest throughout the Middle East and Africa continues to flare up (notably in Syria and continuing in Egypt), the significant developments on this small West-African country has seldom been mentioned.
Two of the most detrimental effects as a result of military conflicts within a country are the crippling of the country’s economy and quality of life of its people, the latter of which often becomes the determining factor of which side the civilians stands with. Gbagbo’s refusal to not step down and instead launch a military campaign against Ouattara and the UN brought the nation to its knees; European-owned firms, stores, and factories have either shut down or suspended operations for fear of being attacked and losing assets. This meant that local workers lost their jobs and their salaries, and also their ability to feed their families and themselves.
As the New York Times reported, “dozens of women marched in a tight pack on Tuesday morning through the mostly pro-Ouattara Koumassi neighborhood waving leafy branches and chanting “We want peace!” — one of a number of spontaneous anti-Gbagbo demonstrations here in recent days.” These women, long with many men and children, couldn’t sleep, and haven’t eaten for some time. It never ceases to amaze me – someone who was born and raised in a Westernized world where food is always available – the energy, courage and sheer determination that a population can conjure when they are desperate. Dear Mr. Gbago: there is no better way to infuriate the people of a country than to starve them.
In the period leading up to Sunday Mr. Gbagbo’s forces gained some military grounds, recapturing several strategic neighborhoods in central Abijan and even lobbed shells at the residence of the French ambassador (French troops also exchanged heavy machine gun fire during a helicopter rescue of the Japanese ambassador and his staff). This in my mind, brings into serious question the expertise and conduct of Gbagbo’s forces. Unless UN or French troops were located near the residence, Gbagbo had no reason to attack it, as doing so would have been a blatant provocation that begs for retaliation.
It has now become quite obvious that Gbagbo will not regain the presidency, has lost all legitimacy, and has now commenced a long, drawn-out resistance that is rapidly sending the country into chaos. But, in contrast to some assertions that Mr. Gbagbo’s intention might well be to “make the country absolutely ungovernable”, I think Mr. Gbagbo follows a more generic historical pattern laid out my previous dictators, whereby the dictators have lost touch with reality and believe that only they are suitable to run their respective countries. It is a mixture of ego, arrogance, and reluctance to give up power, that drives men like Gbagbo and Hosni Mubarak to keep going despite having seemingly lost all power.