The world's top academic experts on African affairs have a message: What's happening in the Ivory Coast isn't ethnic cleansing or genocide. But it is -- very rapidly -- moving toward civil war.
First, to back up slightly -- what is happening? As the stand-off between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and election-winner Alassane Ouattara continues, violence is picking up. Pro-Gbagbo militias are said to be arresting, torturing, killing, and raping opponents (or percieved opponents.) The United Nations has put the death toll so far at more than 250. U.N. officials have also warned that there is a real possibility of war crimes, genocide, and other atrocities.
In a letter, originally published in French in Le Monde but now published in English here -- with many more signatories -- the academics push back hard against the emerging (but they say wrong) consensus that violence in Ivory Coast has any ethnic base: "We must insist that there is no evidence for any primal hatred between supposedly rival ethnic groups, nor for that matter between local populations and foreigners, between northerners and southerners, much less between Muslims and Christians."
Instead what's going on, they write, is a political power struggle. "Ideology is undoubtedly not the key to understanding the ongoing crisis. The Gbagbo mafia is struggling first and foremost for power; for an exclusive hold on power, for the very enjoyment of power, with all its attendant material benefits."
As I've written before, these nuances in how we understand the ongoing situation matter immensly. Not because what's going on in Ivory Coast is any less serious than genocide or ethnic cleansing in terms of the attention or moral weight we should accord it -- but because the way one would address genocide, compared with a political crisis, is very different. Civil war, were it to begin again in Ivory Coast, would require a political solution -- a means to incorporate various demands and grievances into a settlement that requires concessions from and gives benefits to all sides. Genocide, by contrast, suggests there is only a perpetrator and a victim -- which means that the solution treats each side as such. This seemingly academic difference makes all the difference on the ground.
With the launch of his 2011 annual letter in New York this morning, Bill Gates threw the weight of his $36 billion foundation behind the drive to eradicate polio. It's a campaign that began more than 50 years ago, when Jonas Salk developed the first vaccine to combat the disease. Now, after numerous global pushes -- by the March of Dimes, by the World Health Organization, and by Rotary International among others -- the disease still remains endemic in more than a dozen countries. Gates's hope? To bring that number to zero. "The Gates foundation has made polio eradication its main priority," he opened his address this morning.
Polio is already history in much of the world -- including here in the United States. But travel to pockets of West Africa and Central Asia, for example, and you'll still see the victims of polio, crippled by the disease. In old French movies from places such as Senegal, the polio-stricken beggars, dragging their legs behind them as they crawl through the streets, were perennial characters -- a sort of emobidment of poverty and pestilence in contrast to the colonialists' opulence. Polio has always been an unfair disease. Its persistence among the poorest -- in the most difficult countries -- makes that ever more true today.
But why now and why polio? Gates's argument is severalfold. First, he argued, if we don't act now, the many millions of dollars that the world has spent fighting polio so far will be for naught as the disease creeps across borders. Second, finishing the job on polio would also free up "tens of billions of dollars" currently being spent on that vaccine and delivery -- which could then be spent elsewhere. Finally, Gates hopes that ending polio would make a big difference in global health more broadly. Small pox, Gates argued, envigorated the drive to eradicate further diseases and increase vaccination rates. Polio could also give new energy for such global health initiatives. Plus, if vaccinations are done right, their introduction can actually help boost or even create local health infrastructure to administer future vaccines.
So, what's the plan? How does the Gates foundation plan to succeed where so many have just barely failed? The announcement was a bit short on details -- aside from talking about the money that will be needed. Gates estimated that $2 billion would be needed to finish the push, of which $700 million still needs to be raised. Gates is paying 15 percent. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi offered a helpful $50 million last week, and Britain's David Cameron also promised to boost his country's contribution from $30 to $60 million.
The tricky part will be solving the politics. As uncontroversial and non-political as international vaccination schemes sound, they can actually churn up quite a lot of trouble. Smallpox was eradicated -- an unmitigated international success -- by doctors who knocked on the doors across the world. That's not always as welcome as you might expect. In Northern Nigeria, one of the remaining pockets of polio, the vaccinations were rejected by locals as an effort to sterilize Muslims undertaken by the West. Obviously false, but also not so obviously crazy; just a few years before this rumor started circulating, a handful of children died in a Pfizer meningitis vaccine trial undertaken in the same communities. (Gates claims that Nigeria has not been "solved" -- with political and religious leaders now actively dispelling the rumors.)
Another flare-up on polio this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost certainly cropped up after political conflict there rendered health systems inept, under-resourced, and often non-existent altogether. The doctors might be apolitical, but the rebels and government forces fighting on top of a civilian population are not.
Which is why raising the money is probably the easiest part of this campaign. In truth, there has been money behind the campaign all along; Rotary International, for example, has poured millions into polio erradication in recent years as its signiture initiative. Gates seems to understand all this; he noted that patience and persistence will be needed to finish this fight. And yes, $2 billion certainly can't hurt. But the real work will have to be left not just to the doctors but of the local politicians and community leaders who can really make polio erradication happen. Here's hoping there's a solid plan for that.
Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/AFP/Getty Images
How much would you pay for a change to hobnob with political and economic elite... and presumably Bono? If you're attending the World Economic Forum in Davos this week -- hailed as a forum for sorting out the world's trickiest issues -- the answer is quite a lot, as Andrew Ross Sorkin points out in the New York Times's Dealbook today:
There are several levels of membership: the basic level, which will get you one invitation to Davos, costs 50,000 Swiss francs, or about $52,000. The ticket itself is another 18,000 Swiss francs ($19,000), plus tax, bringing the total cost of membership and entrance fee to $71,000.
But that fee just gets you in the door with the masses at Davos, with entry to all the general sessions. If you want to be invited behind the velvet rope to participate in private sessions among your industry’s peers, you need to step up to the “Industry Associate” level. That costs $137,000, plus the price of the ticket, bringing the total to about $156,000.
Of course, most chief executives don’t like going anywhere alone, so they might ask a colleague along. Well, the World Economic Forum doesn’t just let you buy an additional ticket for $19,000. Instead, you need to upgrade your annual membership to the “Industry Partner” level. That will set you back about $263,000, plus the cost of two tickets, bringing the total to $301,000.
And if you want to take an entourage, say, five people? Now you’re talking about the “Strategic Partner” level. The price tag: $527,000. (That’s just the annual membership entitling you to as many as five invitations. Each invitation is still $19,000 each, so if five people come, that’s $95,000, making the total $622,000.)
All this makes the conceit that Davos actually solves any problems sound a bit absurd. Imagine for a moment that the delegates really are paying for the opportunity to find global solutions in a room with talented people -- rather than paying for simply the opportunity to be elbow distance from those people. Would we really pick only the people who could afford a Davos ticket to save the world? Attendees are largely wealthy, working elite. Americans and Britons are over-represented, relative to their countries' share of global GDP. And despite measures to boost gender inequality, most attendees are still men. I'm all for wealthy American men. But food for a thought when you read the usual hype in the coming days -- Maybe it's kind of a good thing that Davos always "fails" to solve the world's troubles in three short days?
Across the board, the rhetoric on the Ivory Coast is escalating. The West African economic community, ECOWAS, says it is set to intervene militarily to unseat should-be-outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo. African Union mediator and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga left Abidjan without making progress earlier this week, saying that mediation was failing. On Jan. 19, the United Nations' Security Council unanimously approved boosting the number of peacekeepers in the country up by 2,000. And on the same day, U.N. officials expressed concern about possible "genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Cote d'Ivoire."
Wait, so if all this is to be believed, are West Africa and the United Nations about to intervene militarily to prevent a genocide?
No. Start with the fears of "genocide" -- which is a very specific word that means very specific things, all of which would be a stretch to say about Ivory Coast right now. Genocide is defined as the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." And the conflict in Ivory Coast is so far a very political -- and two-sided -- one. Fighting has been primarily between the two military forces loyal to the two presidential claimants, Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. The U.N. has reported nighttime raids by pro-Gbagbo forces (i.e., the national military) against the pro-Ouattara camp, as well as the presence of at least one mass grave.
Alarming as these reports are, all evidence points to their being roundups of suspected or real opposition supporters -- not just anyone who happens to belong to a certain "group." Elsewhere in the countryside, refugees are fleeing from both political sides and from all ethnicities. "If they are in the stronghold of Ouattara, then [the people who are fleeing] are pro-Gbagbo, and vice versa," UNHCR's Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba told me by phone. In other words, there are abuses going on on both political sides. This is much closer to war than extermination.
To be sure, the violence is horrible no matter what we call it. But how to deal with it changes entirely if we start calling this genocide. If the "g" word is evoked, this becomes primarily a humanitarian, rather than a political, crisis. And it means there is only one side to blame. In fact, it's both. And the soft touch of diplomacy is needed here to finesse a way out of this situation. As I've written before, Ivory Coast really is split down the middle between Gbagbo and Ouattara. So if we hit this situation with a blunt instrument, at least half of all Ivorians are going to feel cheated. As a congressional analyst watching Ivory Coast told me today, "If Gbagbo is forced to step down, his hard-core supporters -- which is a good number of people -- will have grievances."
Speaking of blunt instruments, what are the chances of a military intervention? Despite tough words, I'm not convinced that West Africa is really very likely to send in its heavy guns. Were it to do so, it would likely require a nod of approval from the African Union, and not everyone there is on board. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma expressed concern today, for example, that the election results might not be as clear-cut in Ouattara's favor as everyone believes.
If there's one thing everyone does agree on, however, it's that things are going to get worse before they get better. UNHCR is concerned enough about conflict to have contingency plans in place for Ivory Coast as well as every country that it borders. Refugees who have fled to Liberia already are eager to be settled in camps -- meaning they are in no hurry to return to Ivory Coast.
What's the answer here? It's looking increasingly like the only way to get Gbagbo out will be to slowly bleed him of financial resources. Nearly everyone has already cut him off -- the European Union, the United States, the World Bank, and the IMF. Though even here, there's a catch: Some spoilers in the West African central bank are rumored to be feeding him cash.
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In the span of a mere 48 hours, Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has returned to the troubled island from exile in Paris and been arrested in Port au Prince. France24 reported this afternoon that he had been indicted for theft, corruption, and misallocation of funds. But those would be just a few of many crimes Duvalier is accused of committing during his 15 years in office, from 1971 to 1986.
"If he is going to be put on trial, he should be put on trial [for] all the human rights violations," Javier Zuñiga, special advisor to Amnesty International, told me by phone. "I think it will be travesty of justice if [he is tried for] only corruption, and not the extensive torture and disappearances."
Like most dictators, Duvalier took power promising to change the country's old, repressive ways. When he became president at age 19, Duvalier was trying to clean up the fallout from his father's messy regime.
Francois Duvalier, a medical doctor turned autocrat nicknamed Papa Doc, had presided over a literal reign of terror from 1956 to 1971. The army and the police ran the state and opponents -- or perceived opponents -- were jailed and tortured. The press was shut down and the economy tanked. Taking full advantage of U.S. fears of nearby communist Cuba, Papa Doc convinced Washington to look the other way. With his personal militia, the Tontons Macoutes -- named for a traditional Haitian boogeyman -- haunting the streets, Duvalier père had little fear that his crimes would come back to haunt him, as well.
Baby Doc, as Jean-Claude was called, promised to do better. The young leader was considered "an overweight playboy of little intelligence" when he assumed power. And he did, sort of, relax a few laws. Press freedom, for example, moderately improved. But he turned out to be a cut off the old block.
Baby Doc stretched his hands over the entire country by instituting a system of prefects, or regional governors, who were answerable only to him. They carried out his political whims, everything from assassination to arrests to intimidation. Overall, between 40,000 and 60,000 people are thought to have died under the two Duvaliers, father and son.
Life under the Duvaliers revolved around the state's security apparatus -- the army and the police. "Nobody was safe and nobody had any recourse if he or she was arrested," recalls Zuñiga, who worked in the country during the Baby Doc years. He describes the victims of torture and arrest that he saw firsthand-near-paralyzed from abuse, or sick and dying from gangrene after their wounds went untreated. "It really was hell." One particularly nasty locale during the Baby Doc years was Fort Dimanche, an infamous prison outside the capital, "where people were regularly tortured and conditions were very bad," Human Rights Watch lawyer Reed Brody explained by phone from Brussels.
And if you escaped the fate of intimidation, you were also likely to be poor. Very little economic development took place during that time, says Zuñiga; social services were "almost nonexistent." Thousands more fled Haiti-the first wave of "boat people" to the United States.
Then there was the money that Jean-Claude Duvalier stashed away. Several million dollars of the Duvalier fortune were frozen in Switzerland, meant to be returned home, though the verdict was later overturned. A case in the U.S. court system also found Baby Doc liable for $500 million of misspent funds. (In a bit of twist, the former president's widow took much of his fortune when she divorced him in 1992, and Duvalier has bounced around semi-destitute in recent years.)
Human rights advocates hope that Duvalier will now be prosecuted for his numerous crimes. "The strongest case in legal terms is the embezzlement," says Brian Concannon, Jr. of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. "For financial crimes, if you've got documentation, they're easy to prove. [And in this case, we] literally have boxes and boxes of evidence."
The human rights abuses will certainly prove more challenging. There has never been a systematic investigation into what happened during the Baby Doc years, and what few attempts have reached courts in the past two decades have met obstacles like statute limits. A case in Paris, for example, was dismissed because the crimes took place before the country's relevant laws were in place. "Duvalier himself was not doing the shooting and torturing," adding another complication, says Concannon. "But it shouldn't be that difficult to piece together."
So Haiti waits, as do many of the exiles and victims who remember life under Baby Doc like it was yesterday."Our country, I will say again, was done wrong by his trickery and repression, still today, unpardonable actions," wrote the 82-year-old Haitian poet Gerald Bloncourt, chairman of an exile group that has advocated to put Duvalier on trial for over a decade, on his blog on Jan. 17.
Speaking of Duvalier's return, he beseeched, "I call upon all those who share [our concerns] to rise and denounce this latest attack on our ‘Human Rights,' [i.e. Duvalier's return] -- this new and colossal contempt for the Haitian people."
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In the wee hours of the morning on Friday, Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party decided on their candidate for the spring presidential election -- the accidental incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, who took over when his former boss died in office last spring. The markets were pleased, and almost no one was particularly surprised. Jonathan is now a shoo-in favorite to win the presidency for another term. If only it were so simple.
Many a pundit has rehashed the point of contention going into yesterday's primary: The party's gentleman's agreement to rotate the office between north and south every eight years should have shoehorned a northerner into the candidacy this year -- but Jonathan is from the south. So not surprisingly, Jonathan was up against a popular northern politician for the nomination, a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. That Jonathan won is no small testament to the political lobbying he has done in recent weeks (but also likely to the fact that the man in power controls the party machinery). The numbers look pretty convincing -- 2,736 delegates voted for Jonathan while just 807 voted for Abubakar.
Dig down at the state level, however, and you'll see the rift -- particularly in the country's middle belt, where north and south meet (and where intercommunal violence has erupted in recent months). A good example is Bauchi state, where Jonathan won by a margin of 2 votes -- 46 to 44. In northern Zamfara state, Jonathan won just one-tenth of Abubakar's share.
Abubakar will likely still run -- just under the umbrella of another party organization. The question is, will the north support him? And will they protest should he lose? Religion and location (which largely correspond, thanks to colonial rulers' partitions) have long been used to stoke violence in Nigeria.
Of late, the stakes have risen, however; violent groups in both regions, north and south, have taken to bomb attacks to make their point. On New Year's Eve, a bomb rocked army barracks in Abuja -- an attack that the government initially blamed on northern Islamist extremists. Rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta region (where Jonathan is from) also exploded a car bomb in Abuja last fall.
No doubt, it's the beginning of a very interesting election season.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
As I spoke by phone with Taoufik Ben Brik, a Tunisian opposition journalist, just moments ago, the country's president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, got onto a plane and left the country. "There will be a military coup -- we will see. You will see," Ben Brik told me. "The army has just closed down the airspace in Tunisia, and they are arresting members of the family."
If Twitter is to be believed, Ben Ali really is gone.
Ben Brik, one of the (now former?) president's most pronounced critics, described the regime as "the worst kind of tyranny -- [running] a police state, a military state, and a surveillance state." Ben Brik himself has been subject to that as a journalist, having been harassed and imprisoned on numerous occasions. "It wasn't just that I was arrested -- I was harassed, me and my family. Google me and you will see how they arrested my child, just 14 years old." Ben Brik was most recently released last April and remains in Tunis, where he is watching the situation unfold on the streets.
What brought the protesters to the streets in the first place was the drive for democracy, a place where freedom was possible -- and normal. And yes, WikiLeaks helped. "WikiLeaks revealed a truth previously unspeakable about the mafia-like state," Ben Brik said.
With the president gone, maybe this really is the first WikiLeaks revolution.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Over the course of the last month, the international community has thrown everything it's got at the Ivory Coast's refusing-to-leave-office president, Laurent Gbagbo. They've tried sanctions. They've sent envoys. They've vowed to increase the number of U.N. peacekeepers. And they've cut off all funds to the Gbagbo camp. Barack Obama offered Gbagbo a dignified exit with amnesty in the United States. Even the idea of a unity government was floated, in which the widely recognized winner of the presidential election, Alassane Ouattara, would join Gbagbo in a cabinet. Nothing has worked; and despite weeks of standoff, little has changed.
But the worse news is that the world is fast running out of plays to run.
The central conundrum isn't, in fact, tactical. It's strategic. Everyone from the African Union to Foggy Bottom to Beijing wants Gbagbo out and Ouattara in. That would be good news, except that the situation is dramatically different within the Ivory Coast. The population is actually quite divided. If Gbagbo were removed forcefully, it really could respark civil war.
So although the foreign powers have decided to get tough with Gbagbo, they really can't afford to get too tough. Not that military intervention is popular either; Ghana has said it won't be involved in such an action, and Nigeria is preparing for its own contentious elections at home -- hardly the time to engage in military adventures abroad. No Western power will intervene -- and the only one that cares enough about tiny Ivory Coast to do so is France, the country's much-distrusted colonial power. Paris couldn't touch the current situation without lighting it on fire.
Oxford economist Paul Collier had an idea this morning, as he wrote in the Guardian: to convince the military in the Ivory Coast to stop supporting Gbagbo. In theory that could work; Gbagbo is only able to remain in the presidential palace because of the military's support. But as I mentioned before, this isn't just about a few fringe supporters. Gbagbo's got 50 percent of Ivorians behind him.
I have to say, I'm fresh out of ideas too. My favored tactic had been to recruit former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to knock a few heads together. He's a Big Man even among big men -- someone who doesn't even give you the option of disagreeing. But apparently the West African regional group ECOWAS had the same idea, to little avail. Obasanjo went to the Ivory Coast over the weekend and, well, Gbagbo is still in power.
What I do know is that the country's people probably have the best sense of where this is going. And they are betting on the future with their feet. Yesterday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that some 600 Ivorians are entering Liberia as refugees every day; there are some 25,000 in the neighboring country so far. And 16,000 more have fled their homes within the Ivory Coast. The U.N. is concerned enough about the influx to start building permanent camps.
If there's a larger lesson here, it's that ousting a strongman is never as easy as we'd like to think. It may be an obvious point, but in the particulars it's actually profound. Even if the entire world musters its political might, the Laurent Gbagbo's of the world -- Robert Mugabe, Than Shwe, Kim Jong Il -- would still be around.
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