With each passing day that Laurent Gbago refuses to relinquish the presidency of Ivory Coast to the winner in the recent national elections, the case for his forced removal from office grows clearer.
Though Gbagbo is trying to negotiate another power sharing agreement to extend his term as the titular head of this West African nation, he had agreed in advance of elections to step aside if he lost.
He must now go, or face arrest by the U.N. forces — about 10,000 of them — keeping the peace in Ivory Coast. As Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe recommends the time is over for governments of “unity” in Ivory Coast. Such governments have accomplished their objective: to stage a fair national election to move the country forward.
Or the French could arrest Gbagbo, and then send him into exile.
The case of Ivory Coast is an important test for the international community. If Gbagbo is allowed to remain endless in office, condmening Ivory Coast to effective partition, then the years-long effort to broker a settlement between north and south in this economically-strategic country, has been a failure. The days of babysitting demonstrably ineffective and illegitimate African leaders should be over. The days of making excuses for their vanity and their disgraceful disregard for their own promises, ought to be over. The time for giving Gbagbo more time ought to have expired. Gbagbo’s behavior should be met not with “sanctions,” but with his with his arrest and, if necessary, his removal from the country. If he cannot obey the law, he should be considered to have extinguished his claim on remaining in Ivory Coast as a private citizen.
Gbagbo need only look to his neighbors to see that the precedent for this scenario is well established. In both Nigeria and in Ghana, former presidents live peacefully, declining to interfere in unlawful ways in the political process. So does Kenneth Kuanda in the Zambia he once ruled essentially as a monarch. All of these former rulers obey the law, refuse to succumb to the temptations of extra-legal manuever for political gain. And they are honored for this commitment to law. Gbagbo ought to do the same and if he cannot do so, he should suffer the consequences of banishment. That was, after all, the tactic that sent Charles Taylor out of Liberia and enabled that nation to begin to rehabilitate itself.
To be sure, there are risks in arresting and exiling Gbagbo. His supporters could take up arms. But the alternative is to leave this magnificent country, hostage to bandits and thugs wearing suits. As a price for removing Gbagbo, Alassane Ouattara, who is the rightful winner of the election, should be required to take demonstrable steps to protect and support the southern Christian community in Ivory Coast. Ouattara has every reason to support Southerners because of their vital importance to the economy — and because Northerners depend on the South for access to the Abidjan port, the most important in West Africa.