It's been over two months now that the Ivory Coast has had two presidents -- one elected, according to internationally certified results, and one who just refuses to step down. In that time, neither shuttle diplomacy, nor international scorn, nor an amped up U.N. presence, nor sanctions, nor anything else has worked to dislodge the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. And so this perilous ritual has becoming a game: Who can outlast the other. Will the world lose resolve first, or will Gbagbo's sanctioned administration run out of money?
For the moment, the latter hope -- that Gbagbo's coffers will run dry -- is about as good as it gets in terms of a solution to the problem. Now sanctioned by the European Union, the United States, the African Union, and the regional West-African economic group ECOWAS, Gbagbo is running out of options. The West African Central Bank, which was leaking him money, was purged of the the Gbagbo supporters. Alassane Ouattara, the election winner,thas pushed for an export ban on cocoa, the country's largest agricultural product. Instead of leaving through the ports of Abidjan, the product gets exported through Ghana, avoiding a tariff that would have gone to Gbagbo. Two private banks pulled out of the country this week, and it's now unclear if Gbagbo will have the money to pay his army and civil servants. Until now, the government bureacracy has been supportive of his staying in power -- in part at least because those checks were still coming. If he does go bankrupt, public opinion could shift and his supporters could dump him.
But there's a lot of perils to waiting this one out. For one, it just might not work: Gbagbo is finding ways around the cocoa export trade, for example. His supporters are seeking buyers in China and Russia who might not be as inclined to comply with the export ban.
More worrying is that, with every day that passes, the international political support for booting out Gbagbo grows weaker and weaker. Signs of splits within the African Union are most notable; reports indicate that a high-level panel of experts doesn't agree on what to do next in Cote D'Ivoire. (And the emissaries the AU has sent aren't exactly all democrats: Most recently, long-time aruling Equitorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang visited.)
Here's the worst part, however: Political violence is on the uptick. An AP report today reports that death squads, allegedly targetting Ouattara's political opponent, are exacting an incredible toll:
Nearly every day since Laurent Gbagbo was declared the loser of the Nov. 28 election, the bodies of people who voted for his opponent have been showing up on the sides of highways. Their distraught families have gone from police station to police station looking for them, but the bodies are hidden in plain sight in morgues turned into mass graves.
Maybe the world can afford to wait Gbagbo out. But maybe the Ivory Coast can't.
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This morning, Foreign Policy exclusively launches McKinsey Global Institute's new report on how to retool the U.S. economy for competitiveness in the coming years. After months of slow growth, and even slower improvements in the unemployement situation, MGI argues today that boosting productivity is key if the United States economy is to retain its position as the global leader. Check out more of the report's findings here.
MGI is at the New America Foundation this morning, discussing their findings. Check out the live streaming video here.
Earlier this week, as many as 140 people were killed in clashes in Southern Sudan, pitting the army against a break-off rebel faction. The deaths raise the ominous scepter of conflict in a region that has tried hard for unity in recent weeks, as it voted in a referendum to secede from greater Sudan. Now, as Southern Sudan becomes an independent state, it's worth remembering that north-south violence isn't the only type to fear.
Southern Sudan is of course no stranger to fighting. During years of north-south civil war, rebellions were built, splintered, personallized, and canibalized. Alliances between groups and tribes were constructed and were shattered. And the wounds the decorate the Sudanese body politic will take years to heal. Although the regional president, Salva Kiir, has done what he can to bring opponents and would-be troublemakers into the fold, he hasn't always succeeded. As FP contributor Maggie Fick reports today for the AP, the rebel leader in today's clashes was once invited to join the government.
News has a short memory and after the south secedes, the international media will likely move on. It may take Southern Sudan much longer to do so and these clashes are sadly not likely to be the last.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Just seconds after Hosni Mubarak resigned, African commentators started tweeting. "After #egypt Is the rest of #africa listening and watching? Support the protestors in #gabon #sudan #libya #algeria #cameroon #uganda ...." wrote Emeka Okafor, author of the Timbuktu Chronicles blog. Ferial Haffajee, editor of South Africa's City Press newspaper remembered the last time she'd seen something so moving: When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison exactly 21 years ago today. Then, she promptly asked, "So, if Mubarak's gone, why not Gbagbo and Mugabe too?"
Egypt is an African country, too. And while the protests have rocked the Arab world, unsettling autocrats from Algiers to Riyadh, it has equally shaken the ground under Africa's strongmen. Other tweeters report that Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is censoring the news of Egypt's protests. In Gabon, protesters took to the streets bearing banners that read, "In Tunisia, Ben Ali is gone. In Gabon, we've still got Ali Ben," (Ali Ben being a reference to president Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of the former strongman Ali Bongo). As protests broke out in Algiers today, the headlines read, "Waiting for the revolution in Algeria."
Across the continent, Mubarak's fall isn't being read as the end of the Middle Eastern autocrats. It's being read as the end of autocrats. Period. The people power that ousted Mubarak today has not been witnessed on the streets of Nairobi or Lagos or Kinshasa since the end of colonialism. Yet many of the presidents in power are the same men (or their sons) who took power back then.
Like Egyptians, the Congolese, Nigerians, Eritreans, Senegalese, Angolans … they know what their regimes are like. They mock them, curse them, and sometimes fear them. But with each day of the Egyptian protests, there was a growing sense that they can also defeat them. As one Zimbabwean tweeter wrote today, "Next time you hear a dictator say he is not going, know that if you push hard enough they will go. #Zimbabwe #Egypt."
WILS YANICK MANIENGUI/AFP/Getty Images
It's hard to see why Hosni Mubarak is so reticent to leave office -- not least because he wouldn't exactly be retiring to a life of austerity. According to a report first published in Al Khabar, the family fortune that would await the departing president could amount to as much as $70 billion.
How on earth did the Egyptian president get so rich? (For some perspective: Egypt's GDP is only slightly more than twice that amount, $188 billion.) The answer is a combination of corruption and business deals forged with foreign investors and businessmen in Egypt. Mubarak also owns countless homes and several hotels, which contribute to his family's assets.
At least some of this wealth is reported to be held in offshore accounts, notably in Switzerland. But here's some bad news for Mubarak: On Feb. 1, the Swiss government passed an interesting piece of legislation that will make it much easier for countries to repatriate illictly-stolen wealth from past dictators. One of the first applications was the wealth of Haitian ex-strongman Jean-Claude Duvalier, which has now been frozen and may well return to the government in Port au Prince.
Of course, Mubarak has lots to answer to and economics are just a piece of it. (For a extensive catalogue of all the reasons not to feel sorry for his beleaguered regime, check out our FP list.) But time and time again, illict wealth has been the achilles heel of ex-autocrats who might otherwise live their lives in quiet exile. Chile's dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, for example, still had great public support until his people learned how many billions he'd stashed away. Countless other autocrats (including Tunisia's ousted President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali) have met a similar fate.
So much for a quiet retirement in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Update: There is some disagreement about the size of Mubarak's 'estate' -- another estimate reported by MSNBC's Open Channel blog puts the sum at a still-healthy $2 billion. Lawyers and activists will be nailing down the exact sum, undoubtedly, for years.
ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images
It's been a good day for Southern Sudan: An incredible 98.83 percent of Southern Sudanese voters opted for secession last month, according to official results released today. But almost as incredible, Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir proclaimed that he was ready for (and even welcomed) and the secession of the country's southern half. "Today we received these results and we accept and welcome these results because they represent the will of the Southern people," he said on state television.
Why all the conciliatory talk? After all, this is the same Bashir who many analysts feared would cancel the referendum -- or reject its results -- pushing the country back to the brink of civil war. What gives?
In short, all the carrots that U.S. diplomats are offering the Sudanese president seem to be working. Among the prizes for Khartoum are a U.S. promise to remove Sudan from its list of terrorism-supporting states and a possible visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to the Sudan Tribune. Earlier this month, U.S. State Department officials also signaled that they would be ready to begin normalization following Sudan's acceptance of the vote.
That's great news for the south; as FP contributor Maggie Fick recently explained, normalization with Washington holds great appeal for Bashir -- in fact, it's a big part of his international agenda. So he's likely to yield to U.S. pressure if it pays off. Bashir's speech today gets Southern Sudan over one big hurdle toward declaring independence, which it is expected to formally do this July. The next test for U.S. pressure and Sudanese diplomacy is whether an equally congenial atmosphere will accompany talks over tricky issues such as border delineation and the sharing of Sudan's oil.
But if Bashir does everything right with regards to the south and Washington does begin to normalize ties, there's just one rather huge catch: The United States risks sacrificing the single-biggest point of leverage that it has over Khartoum -- at exactly that time when another region of the country, Darfur, looks like it may be getting worse, not better. Renewed clashes between government and rebel groups there have sent thousands fleeing from their homes in recent weeks. It's not the kind of behavior one might expect American diplomats to encourage.
Yet Washington forged something of a devil's bargain. In order to get Bashir to accept the referendum, U.S. diplomats announced that they were delinking Southern Sudan and Darfur on their negotiating agenda -- that is, they wanted to ensure that progress could be made in the south even if Darfur stalled. Now, that progress is indeed coming in the south. And Khartoum will soon come looking for its reward.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images.
Sudan's busy capital of Khartoum is one of the many cities where the waves of Tunisia and Egypt have hit home in recent days, sparking parallel protests against the government. And just as security forces were detaining and harassing foreign journalists in Cairo today, the government of Sudan was doing the same. Twelve journalists were among the 16 people arrested in Khartoum today, all members of the opposition communist party. It's all part of a broader crackdown that has been ongoing for a week, since protestors took to the streets on January 30.
Sudan's protests haven't been nearly as large as those in Egypt, Yemen, or Tunisia so far. Still, there are an incredible -- and even growing -- number of similarities between the political situation there and in Tunisia and Egypt. Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been in power for more than two decades. His ruling party isn't fond of opposition; the recent elections were boycotted by opposition groups who claimed that they were set up to be unfair. Sudan is marred by similarly high rates of youth unemployment, and the economy is generally concentrated in the hands of a small elite. A security service limits freedom of expression and the press.
But what I find interesting is this: One of the most commonly cited reasons for the staying power of the Sudanese regime is that Bashir has expertly divided and ruled -- splitting the opposition into weakened fragments that fight as much with one another as with him. Yet if Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have taught us one thing, it is that you don't need institutionalized opposition structures to mobilize against a regime. Egypt's many opposition factions have come together -- at least over the end of Mubarak -- after the streets were filled with demonstrators, not before. Sometimes it takes just such a pivotal historical moment for disparate interests to remember that there are also goals they share.
So I wouldn't count Sudan down and out of the Middle Eastern wave. Bashir clearly feels the same -- or perhaps he wouldn't feel compelled to detain his supposedly unthreatening opposition.
Speaking by phone from Cairo, Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork told me that he is alarmed by the U.S. media coverage portraying the clashes on the streets as spats between "rival protesters" -- citizens who have two different visions of the future of Egypt:
"These are not rival factions. This is brown-shirt tactics. This is the government sending in people -- whether they are paid or not is a very subsidiary question -- sending in thugs armed with knives, stones, sticks, to attack the pro-democracy protesters, who were there in an entirely peaceful manner."
Asked how we can be sure that the pro-government crowds had been sent by the government, Stork cited several bits of evidence, having been in Tahrir Square when the fighting erupted this morning: People he spoke to there mentioned young men being paid as much as $500 to fight for the regime; others who were caught looting were later found to have IDs indicating that they were members of the Ministry of the Interior-controlled security service.
Were this a rival protest, they could easily have gone to one of the many other public squares in Egypt. Instead, the Army began "letting people in [to the square] today who had mayhem on their minds." "Any one of these things is circumstantial," he explained, "but altogether" the conclusion is clear.
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