Sunday, April 10, 2011

Open letter to President Barack H. Obama

Mr. President,
On November 28, 2010, the people of Cote d’Ivoire casted their ballots in the second round of a presidential election to democratically elect their leader and put an end to eight years of tears and sufferings that are the outcome of a 2002 failed coup. This failed coup, transmuted into a rebellion, has since split Cote d’Ivoire into a legalist South and rebellious North. The verdict of last November’s election validated and proclaimed by the Constitutional Council of Cote d’Ivoire is now being challenged by Mr. Ouattara and his rebel group who boast of having your official unction. The present situation in Cote d’Ivoire is one more consequence of an ineffective, partial, business-driven, and contradictory United Nations Organization that, especially in Africa, has always promised one thing, achieved the opposite, thrown its hands in the air, and left after having wreaked havoc. In Cote d’Ivoire, after its blatant failure to disarm a rebel group, the UNOCI is now maneuvering to impose that rebel group to the people of Cote d’Ivoire as legitimate substitution to the legal authority.
Mr. President, I am afraid that your support for Mr. Alassane Ouattara, who claims victory from a hotel room in Abidjan, surrounded by the main actors of the Northern rebellion that by most observers’ accounts have perpetrated the most atrocious human abuses in Cote d’Ivoire, not only adds to the incongruity of the circumstances that have progressively lent legitimacy to the lawless insurgents that have attacked the legal institutions Cote d’Ivoire in 2002, but also discourages democracy in Africa by shunning President Laurent Gbagbo, one of the rare leaders on the continent willing to govern on constitutional bases, that is, on the foundation of democracy. Mr. President, I am certainly far too ill-positioned to dare to instruct you in the principles of democracy. I believe, however, that the anchor for any democratic society should remain that society’s constitution. One can debate on the quality of such and such constitutions—and, on this matter, no constitution can pass the test of flawlessness—but it is unquestionably with a minimum of respect for the laws erected by its nation that a people starts its successful march toward a democratic system.
Mr. President, when on December 4, 2010, after reviewing the detailed reports of massive electoral frauds, the Constitutional Council, which is the highest authority on electoral matters, invalidated the contentious votes, and reached a final decision that declared incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo the winner of the presidential elections in Cote d’Ivoire, the Council was upholding its constitutional duty. That duty is to resolve electoral inconsistencies, validate the final results and proclaim the winner. Mr. President, one can argue that a law is unjust, but one cannot take upon oneself to violate it on the basis of that argument and still pretend to be in synch with the state that erected that law. By rejecting the decision of the Constitutional Council, by circumventing all due process, by transporting the President of the Election Committee to his election headquarter to anoint him winner of the elections in the absence of the other members of the committee, and by organizing for himself a parallel presidential investiture ceremony in a hotel room in order to throw uncertainty in the free process, Mr. Ouattara, as has been his standard practice, has shown profound disdain for the laws of a country that he aspires to lead as much as he is undermining democracy in Cote d’Ivoire. With all due respect Mr. President, Mr. Ouattara’s reckless disregard for due process and legality, as displayed in his multiple rogue postures that undercut Africa’s efforts toward democracy, does not merit that one lend it legitimacy. For memory, when the Supreme Court in the U.S. gave its verdict in favor of President Bush in settling an electoral crisis, Mr. Gore submitted to this highest authority. He did not withdraw at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., to defy the American Supreme Court’s verdict with a self-proclamation and a parallel oath-taking. One cannot continue to appreciate African realities with a set of standards that are antithetic to democracy, that encourage lawlessness, and, at the same time, urge that Africans live by the principles of democracy. Is it not paradoxical that most of the heads of state of the African Union who, in a circumfession to the European Union, are clamoring for Mr. Ouattara and isolating President Gbagbo have come to and maintained themselves in power through unorthodox methods? Are these autocrats the purveyors of the ethical measure we should want for the “Africa of the new Millennium”?
Mr. President, for being born in Cote d’Ivoire, for having lived there as long as I have lived in the United States, for having examined and written extensively on Cote d’Ivoire in particular and Africa in its relationships with the rest of the world in general, I believe that I can dare to call myself a scholar of African questions. As such, Mr. President, and with all due respect, allow me to say that on the Ivorian question, Most Ivorians have the perception that you have sided with the victimizer against the victim, with the unlawful against the lawful, with the undemocratic against the democratic. Observers of African politics will recognize that Mr. Gbagbo is a champion of democracy. His struggle for a multiparty system traces back thirty years. He fought President Felix Houphouet Boigny (the father of Ivorian independence) at a time when the expression “multiparty system” was still an incongruity in Ivorian politics. With his spouse and supporters he endured years of beating, prison, privation, torture, even under the leadership of Prime Minister Ouattara who, today, seeks to pass for a martyr of democracy. Mr. Gbagbo led his struggle with the force of arguments and protest marches, without once ordering a coup against his country. When he got elected in 2000, President Gbagbo invited all political leaders in exile to return to Cote d’Ivoire; he ushered in a government of national reconciliation that saw the participation of members of all political parties; he organized a forum of reconciliation to heal the country’s wounds–for indeed the country had gone trough profound divisions because of Ouattara’s, Bedie’s, and General Guei’s bloody struggles for succession. To reward President Gbagbo for his democratic wisdom, Mr. Ouattara sent him a rebellion that, since 2002, has interrupted President Gbagbo’s program of poverty reduction. Mr. President, time and space will not allow me to give full attention to Mr. Ouattara’s cyclical adherence to violence and undemocratic methods and to Mr. Gbagbo’s indefatigable struggle for democracy. I have amply discussed these matters elsewhere. Allow me, however, to register my deep puzzlement about your position in the Ivorian crisis. I do not understand your stance, though I fully understand President Sarkozy’s and France’s in general.
Being the official guarantor of the maintenance and prolongation of Françafrique, France’s exploitative relationship with Africa, as well as being a personal friend of the Ouattaras, President Sarkozy could hardly have acted otherwise. President Sarkozy, who, as the Mayor of Neuilly, officiated Mr. and Mrs. Ouattara’s wedding, and who was their guest of honor at that same wedding, is a good friend of the Ouattaras’. Mrs. Dominique Ouattara’s international businesses have some big clients of whom Martin Bouygues, the French king of concrete, Vincent Bolloré (business partner of Bouygues) king of cigarette paper and media—it was Bolloré who paid the new French president a vacation trip to Malta on his luxurious boat as a congratulation present after the 2006 French presidential election; it was he again who lent his private Falcon 900 to Sarkozy and his then new girlfriend Carla Bruni for their December 25, 2007 vacation trip to Egypt—and Dominique Strauss-Khan, former minister of finance of President Mitterrand and IMF president since 2007. Most of these businessmen have made immense fortunes in Cote d’Ivoire by acquiring, sometimes for a symbolic franc, former Ivorian state companies (water, electricity, railroads, etc.) which were privatized by Mr. Ouattara when the latter was Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire.
Indeed, Mr. Ouattara is not a newcomer in the Ivorian political arena. He had a chance to govern when, under pressure from the IMF, an indebted and crippled President Houphouet Boigny appointed him Prime Minister. Under Mr. Ouattara’s stewardship, most of the panel lights of the Ivorian economy turned hazardously red. Mr. Ouattara cut subsidies to farmers, as recommended by the WTO, while the European Union and the United States were, at the same time, heavily backing their own farmers financially; he dismissed more than 10,000 employees from the state payroll. Those who were lucky to keep their jobs saw their salaries reduced by 40 percent or were forced to accept an early retirement package. He reduced access to early education by freezing the recruitment of new teachers and by slashing teachers’ salaries in half. He closed students’ subsidized restaurants. He eliminated transportation and basic healthcare services for students. He imposed fees on the masses for basic healthcare services. He initiated the devaluation of the CFA at the rate of 100 CFA francs for 1 French franc. He instituted the highly controversial resident cards for foreigners, which was the source of much harassment toward foreign nationals coming from neighboring African countries. These measures, as it was to be expected, frustrated the masses even further, and workers and students’ demonstrations intensified; which, under his orders, were repressed in blood. Many students were killed and student, union, and opposition leaders, among whom, President Laurent Gbagbo, were jailed and tortured amidst international outcries and unsuccessful calls for an independent investigation.
Mr. President, I believe that Democracy entails good governance, which for Africa implies that the leaders of Africa should undertake a thorough inventory of the continent’s resources and rethink the exploitation of these resources within a design that takes as fundamental the welfare of the people on whose land these resources are located. It implies that Africa’s intellectuals take the core states at their words and bring some missing wisdom into the core states’ and their surrogate financial institutions’ conjectures about good governance by reminding them, constantly, that good governance has much to do with legitimate individual states identifying their people’s needs and fulfilling these needs without any duress exercised on them by the core states, without any financial blackmailing, without the martial installation of marionette regimes, but above all, without the cooptation of abandonment-neurotic national elites lured by the promise of Firstworldist enjoyment. This has been President Gbagbo’s struggle; a struggle for his people, which in my sense, is far from constituting a reason to shun him.
As an African leader concerned with France’s economic monopoly in his country and committed to his country’s betterment through economic independence that comes with the diversification of partnerships, President. Gbagbo is clearly a killjoy for Françafrique, this most unhealthy master/slave relationship that France insists on having with its former colonies. Under the pretense of reciprocity, Françafrique is actually a criminal machine designed to ensure France’s position as a major world player by guaranteeing it privileged access to Africa’s agricultural and geological resources, by financing France’s expensive political life, and by positioning France as America’s preferred sub-contractor. Françafrique’s actions in Congo and Rwanda have shown us that Francafrique is not just a factory of economic genocide in Africa. It is also a factory of human genocide. To ask that France-African relationships rest on reciprocity is only fair. It should not constitute cause for manipulation and crucifixion. We should be guarded not to erect shrines to African fighters for social equality only after the fact, only after we have pushed them off the cliff of reciprocity.
With my highest regards,
Dr. Martial Frindéthié

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