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Arabs and Africans pawns in a chess game

Staff Writer
It is not too often that the world is so plagued by misery all at the same time.

The times though have been difficult these past couple of years. The year 2011 is proving a year of turmoil as the world - from Tokyo through Abidjan to Tripoli, Cairo, Tunis and Manama; and from Harare to Port AU Prince. Foreign policy practitioners and relief workers are having the busiest of times; people in some of these places meanwhile have their fate in the hands of a few others in places notably absent from the list above - in Paris, London, Washington and, it appears, in Brussels.

The international community though has been a hugely divisive force, led unashamedly by French president Nicholas Sarkozy.

Take a look at the Ivory Coast. An overtly simplistic view of events has been created: that Laurent Gbagbo lost and must leave. Because he reminds the world of typical old African dictators, the world thinks he must just leave and considers not the other dynamics. The issue in the Ivory Coast is deeper than that.

In Libya, too, the international community has adopted the same overtly simplistic and not fully informed view that the 'dictator's' time is over and he must go. In both scenarios, the support base of these leaders is not considered.

The true extent of their support or lack of it in the country is downplayed as it all gets replaced by whimsical and wishful reporting on the crisis. Opposition movements, who get the bulk of the airtime and interviews in the international media, are able to easily get the sympathy of the world, regardless of the other side. The wishes of the liberal camp now dominating the world threaten to override the reality on the ground.

In the Ivory Coast, we are all made to believe that Gbagbo is the devil incarnate - and I am not saying he is not. But wait a minute - and in case you are wondering, I don't like the guy and the sound of his name but there is more to the issue back there. One of the most balanced reports on the crisis has been from the National Public Radio (NPR), which is an international broadcaster. NPR's Ofeibia Quist-Arcton has been fielding questions on the crisis in the Ivory Coast and one of the responses is particularly enlightening.

Somebody asked this: "Mr Gbagbo stayed in office five years after his term had expired, then agreed to this presidential election. Does anybody but him think that he actually won?"  the response was detailed. "Oh, yes. Gbagbo has a lot of supporters, especially here in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast, also in the west of the country" and of course, "the argument from Gbagbo's camp is that although the independent electoral commission declared for Alassane Ouattara and said that Ouattara won the election, but the Constitutional Council, which is like the Supreme Court, the most supreme legal body here, overturned that ruling and said that he had won. So they're all going with that side of the argument". Now it appears there are two sides to the story. 

Quist-Arcton further added, "But that is really here in Ivory Coast, and pockets of Ivory Coast. You have the West African community saying that Ouattara won the election. You have the wider African Union saying that Ouattara won the election.

And, of course, you have most of the world saying that Ouattara won the election. But Gbagbo is sticking to his guns." Again, an overzealous international community, that conveniently ignores certain details you realise. The many failures of diplomatic solutions to issues is, as such, rooted on this. They see what they want to see and not what they want not to see; and they hear what they want to hear and not what they do not want to hear.

First though, Saudi Arabia, after some initial stuttering and indifference to events this kingdom has gotten the reality of things. They have realised that the events in the region are not in their interest but in the interest of certain others. Let's face it; if the kingship in Bahrain is overthrown, what then stops this from giving the Saudis ideas about their own kingships? As a result, Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) doing the same. The fate of Bahrain, thus lies no longer quite in the hands of far flung foreign capitals intent on their own strategic and geopolitical interests.

A Persian Gulf expert with Chatham House, Jane Kinnimont, recently argued that "the Saudis were displeased with Obama's stance on [former Egyptian president Hosni] Mubarak" and that "they wanted the US to continue the status quo. And they are concerned for what it means for them". The USA, after many years of having Mubarak, as the reasonable guy, dumped him at the drop of a hat. This displeased Riyadh.

In actual fact, As Laura Rozen reported for The Envoy, the provocative moves by three close US allies came just two days after Defence Secretary Robert Gates held meetings in Bahrain on Saturday, in which he reportedly urged Bahrain's leaders to open a dialogue with opposition groups. According to reports, Gates also gently admonished his audience for taking too modest "baby steps" toward political reform in the country, which is home to the US Navy's fifth fleet.

As worrying for Washington, Riyadh's insertion of troops into Bahrain came after Saudi leaders, citing Saudi King Abdullah's poor health, declined a request for a meeting with him from Gates, who had been expected to travel to Saudi Arabia after Bahrain. Riyadh also reportedly declined a visit from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently in Egypt. These are diplomatic snubs of Washington from the Saudis out of the realisation of what really is at stake and for who.

In a way then, the tacit Arab rejection of Washington's calls for political reforms also further complicates the already heated debate in Washington over a possible international military intervention to

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oust Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.  The Arab League, buoyed by divisive and oft too eager France President Nicholas Sarkozy has called for a no-fly zone over Libya in efforts to tilt the scales of combat in Libya. But the outcome of a UN Security Council debate of a possible no-fly zone resolution introduced on Tuesday is still uncertain.

Though France and the United Kingdom (UK) have urged international military action, warning against the dangers of leaving Gaddafi in power, Washington remains wary of embarking on another US military intervention in the Middle East, even one carried out in cooperation with international allies that has the endorsement of the Arab League. That is so much action on the Arab front, is it? Note the double standards that make the Arabs and the Africans akin to pawns on a chessboard.

Let's shuttle to Abidjan. Gbagbo was certified to have lost an election to Ouattara by the electoral commission. The Constitutional Council on the other hand declared him the winner. Thus a tale of one country two presidents was born.

Women and children - unarmed, compared to the civilians in Libya who are now armed to the teeth, are getting killed. France, the colonial power, is spearheading efforts in Libya meanwhile making the Ivory Coast less of a priority. The hogwash like treatment of the Ivory Coast crisis represents the level of information these actors have about what really happened and is happening in that country.

In the Ivorian crisis unarmed women have been devoured with gun power and the death toll on unarmed civilians is rising. Yet this has been relegated into an issue for an occasional caution on Gbagbo. No such concerted and thorough plans have been put in place by the international community. No one has a comprehensive plan of a resolution and unlike in Libya no actor is threatening Gbagbo with a military solution.

The now three-month-old farce continues in Ivory Coast and appears to be getting worse. A few weeks ago, several women died after security forces loyal to Gbagbo shot civilians who were marching for peace. A few days ago, protesters gathered at that site for a demonstration, and the army opened fire again, killing at least four. The UN reports that hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country. The world watches from the comfort of living rooms.

Absurdly, in Libya, where the leader has not lost an election but is responding to 'popular' protests, Sarkozy and his circles are calling for all sorts of actions. In Libya, the civilians are even faring better: they are not unarmed civilians. They are armed and they are combatants who have been taking over cities. So then how about the unarmed civilians in the Ivory Coast? Well, they are black and they do not have oil, it appears. Cocoa can be gotten from elsewhere after all. And most of them have not proven potential terrorists and other extremists. The attention given to the Arab world is in any case not about the people of Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt or the Ivory Coast. It is about the geopolitics obtaining.

The White House, for its part, stressed that while it finds the violence in Libya troubling, in particular from a humanitarian perspective, it sees Egypt as the centrepiece of the changes underway in the Middle East and one that for now remains a mostly positive portent. To decode the language, the White House is pleased with events in Egypt because Egypt is the one country that is mostly and quickly getting shaped in the image of Washington.

Consider this: Gaddafi represents the power of Arabism and perhaps a stumbling block in 'westernizing' the world. With men like Gaddafi in power, the spread of Western influences cannot be as rapid as those who peddle them wish to see. Efforts to topple him will as such have the full backing of an overzealous West. In Paris and London we have seen massive protests which many times got violent as students and other social groups opposed government policies. If those had demanded that the respective governments resign would they have? Would they give the United Kingdom (UK) and France to a group of protesters just like that? They never will, a best case scenario would be to call a snap election to see if the government is indeed so unpopular. Why then can we not apply the same litmus test of the people to ascertain a leader's credibility and legitimacy in the Arab world?

This all sounds supportive of 'dictatorships' as these kingdoms and near Islamic states have been termed. But let us face reality, in many of those North African and Gulf states, a good number of people are content with the way things are. Some protested but some did not. The world chose to side with the protesters without daring to ascertain if they are even in the majority. It is yet to be proven that the majority wanted change.

This is a farce to the very democracy, which the West seeks to promote. What if the majority of people in Libya prefer the four decade long rule of Gaddafi?

What if most in Bahrain are content with their Sunni king? Should he be deposed because some Shiites do not like him and demonstrated? This wave of protests is not necessarily a true reflection of the majority's wish. Unless you tell me that if 100,000 Batswana were to march on Gaborone that would be a clear sign that most Batswana do not want the BDP government.

The international community meanwhile cannot be trusted to bring about durable solutions. Most are acting in their own interest as you can see the shift to the Arab world as if nothing is happening in the Ivory Coast. Zimbabweans must shape up as I foresee a situation where the people of Africa will have to deal with their own problems.



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