Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Humiliating Gbagbo

GbagboIt looked like an episode that was going to drag on to its bloody and tragic denouement, another African calamity for those eager voyeurs of violence. But the fall of the Ivory Coast's Laurent Koudou Gbagbo was less mighty than perplexing (mostly for him).

Pictures released to papers and television stations show the defeated leader and his wife Simone sitting on a bed at the Hotel du Golf in Abidjan, surrounded by soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara. To the victor go the spoils, and the spoils were on full view for local and international consumption.

Journalists taking account of the scene vary in their accounts, though there seems to be a running theme of gloating, an unhealthy note of satisfaction at power tarnished and defeated. 'His cheek swollen from the slap he received from a soldier,' writes Martin Argyles of The Guardian, 'he wears the shocked expression of a loved child who has just had his favourite toy wrenched from his grasp.'

Then, the hyperbole — the attempt to find some grand historical villain to compare: 'Mussolini and his mistress hung upside down in Milan by Italian partisans. Ceausescu and Elena, joint rulers of a cowed Romania, hastily shot by his own soldiers at the end of a kangaroo military court, she screaming "My children, my children!"'

The Ghana Business News shows a more modest creature who posted his impressions on Twitter even as the crisis was unfolding. It takes note of Gbagbo's credentials — the template for African and Asian despotism: a French education minted in part at the Sorbonne. He 'had a long, momentous, and remarkable history behind him. He is a teacher by profession, he holds a PhD in history from a French University.' Nor can we ignore his time spent at the university of hard knocks, the ever accommodating prison cell.

While at the University of Lyon in the 1960s, he earned the nickname of 'Cicero' for his love of Latin. Sessions were duly spent at the Sorbonne and then at the Paris Diderot University. In fact, this humiliated figure might well have been something greater. He may well have become 'a Colossus, a political enigma in Ivory Coast but for his intransigence and strong headedness'.

Instead, he was a traditional figure of power who spent time in the groves of academe and the dust of conflict, finding it difficult to work with opponents and seeing enemies everywhere.

His term of office was characterised by fractious rule over a divided state. A peace deal with the rebels made in Burkina Faso on 4 March 2007 bought some time for Gbagbo, till his run-in with Ouattara in the November elections last year. While Ouattara was endorsed by outside powers as the clear victor, Gbagbo claimed fraudulence in the votes from nine regions. He also refused to be bought over by sweetened deals of a teaching appointment in the US. Not the academy, at least not now.

There is always room to embellish the significance of such events. Will this be a precedent for democracy on the continent? Hard to tell. Parallels are sought in order to make sense of local and untidy conflicts. In this case, the situation remains more difficult than ever.

The ex-colonial inferences, with the presence of France in the operation that led to Gbagbo's capture, are unmistakable, even if it may well have averted the repeat of such slaughters as took place at Duékoué. This, despite the insistence by Commander Frederic Daguillon that not a single French soldier had entered the residence.

There is little reason to gloat, and it is easy to throw in one's lot with the victor, who is far from being a saint of any quality. Scratch the surface, urges George Orwell, and we shall find a very active sinner.

When one abandons the pedestals and looks at the brutal realities of the situation, the need to restore order is first and foremost in the minds of those on the ground. The sooner the international forces withdraw the better. Then, it will be for those of the Ivory Coast to deliberate over a rather uncertain future.

Binoy KampmarkBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Ivory Coast, Laurent Koudou Gbagbo, africa



submit a comment

Similar Articles

Thinking positively about getting a job

  • Lin Hatfield Dodds
  • 18 April 2011

Prime Minister Gillard's speech to the Sydney Institute last week, and Tony Abbot’s policy announcements two weeks ago, drew unanimous response from the community sector — that getting people into work is a sound objective, but it's harder than it looks.


Sex and humility in the church and the military

  • Michael Mullins
  • 18 April 2011

In the wake of the defence force Skype sex scandal, former diplomat Bruce Haigh pointed out that things start to go wrong when commanding officers forget that they are there to serve, and instead act to protect their reputations. His point holds true for unions and churches.