This Week in African Conflict… November 23-29th, 2011

  • The London based International Institute for Environment and Development released a policy paper on Thursday that warned of an alarming number of African governments that seem to be signing away water rights in their countries for decades, with major implications for local communities.
  • A new study in the British Medical Journal details the true cost of the medical brain drain, the money benefited from wealthy Western countries poaching African trained doctors. Canada, Britain, Australia and the US are said to have saved more than $4.5 billion (USD) in education costs by recruiting doctors from nine African countries, while the nine source countries have lost nearly $2.2 billion as a result of the medical migration.
  • Two French citizens were reportedly abducted from a hotel in northern Mali by gunmen early Thursday. Few details have yet emerged, as this is the first kidnapping of westerners in Mali that has occurred south of the Niger River, far from the al-Qaida region in the north. On Saturday, gunmen killed a German man in Timbuktu and captured another three men from the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden.
  • At least 22 anti-junta demonstrators were reportedly killed by security force’s live bullets from Saturday to Wednesday in Egypt as pro-democracy protesters clashed with police. On Thursday, the ruling junta announced that elections would start as scheduled on Monday, despite widespread protests and calls for postponement; while three American students, who were arrested, accused of throwing petrol bombs were released from police custody. Journalist Mona Eltahawy reported she had been arrested, beaten and sexually assaulted by security forces in Cairo, and several other journalists are said to have been targeted for arrest or abuse. On Friday, Egypt’s military apologized for the deaths of demonstrators and vowed to bring justice to those responsible, while tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Tahrir Square demanding the military rulers step down and calling on the new PM to leave office. Saboteurs also blew up a gas pipeline in the northern Sinai province on Friday and another pipeline again on Monday. On Saturday, the killing of an unarmed demonstrator by the police resulted in an outpouring of anger. On Sunday, activists prepared for another massive protest in Tahrir Square to demand an immediate end to military rule a day ahead of parliamentary polls while the army chief said he will not let “troublemakers” meddle in the elections and warned of “extremely grave” consequences if the crisis was not overcome.  On Monday, Egyptians came out to vote in record numbers, with polls kept open two hours past their scheduled closing to allow the long queues of people a chance to vote. Some irregularities were reported.
  • President Mugabe of Zimbabwe announced on Wednesday that homosexuals and lesbians will be punished severely for their behaviour which is “inconsistent with African and Christian values”. PM Tsvangirai’s office expressed their discontent on Friday over the awarding of the country’s first independent radio licences to two companies aligned with President Mugabe, calling the situation a “farce”.
  • The Air Force and Navy in Kenya have reportedly blockaded the port of Kismayu, effectively cutting off al-Shabaab’s main source of revenue in an effort to stop the incursions of the militants into Kenya from southern Somalia.  On Thursday, Kenyan warplanes reportedly destroyed two insurgent bases in Somalia, while two grenade attacks in the east killed some three people and injured 27, and a bomb attack killed a soldier and wounded four others near the Somali border. Ethiopia has said it will contribute troops to the AU force in Somalia fighting al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents, joining the Kenyan troops who crossed the border last month, though by Saturday hundreds of Ethiopian troops with tanks and artillery were reported to have reached central Somalia. The al-Shabaab insurgent group warned Ethiopia that it would suffer heavy losses if it embarks on any new military intervention in Somalia. On Friday night, Kenyan security forces reportedly foiled an attack by suspected militants in Mandera, and arrested five men suspected of being members of al Shabaab. On Saturday, the Kenyan navy arrested four more suspected al-Shabaab members in Lamu. On Monday, Human Rights Watch called on the Kenyan police and military to stop using illegal mass round-ups and beatings as a substitute for proper police investigative work.
  • On Sunday, al-Shabaab beheaded two youths in Southern Somalia for allegedly spying for the Transitional Federal Government and Kenya Defence Forces; while three people were wounded in a suspected bomb blast inside the main hospital in the Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab ordered 16 more aid agencies to shut down operations within the country on Monday, accusing the aid workers of being spies.
  • Rebel groups in the eastern regions of the DR Congo are reportedly reforming, recruiting new members and possibly rearming just ahead of the upcoming elections . On Wednesday, police announced that gunmen shot dead an opposition lawmaker in Kinshasa. On Thursday, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, a national assembly candidate wanted for crimes against humanity and charged with organizing the mass rape of some 387 people, held a large campaign rally in North Kivu province in full view of police, the army and just 3 km from the UN peacekeeping base.  Former rebel leader Bemba urged the opposition to unite behind a single candidate against incumbent President Kabila in upcoming elections from his jail cell. Victory is expected for Kabila, with many analysts predicting a violent backlash should he win. On Saturday, police banned campaign rallies to stop rising levels of violence that killed at least one man near the airport in Kinshasa. On Sunday, police blocked the main opposition candidate at an airport in Kinshasa to stop him from staging an election rally and escorted him to his residence.  On Monday, Congolese took to the polls amid numerous problems with delivery of materials, intimidation, violence, fraud and corruption; though UN officials reported that they were satisfied with the relatively orderly and peaceful way the voting had been conducted in Kinshasa. (Other stories of violence, and attacks during the vote, the implications the vote could have, and some really good bloggers who write about the Congo). On Tuesday, four opposition candidates said that fraud and violence was so widespread that the vote should be cancelled, while some voting was still ongoing in some areas. At least 8 people were killed in violence linked to the elections on Monday.
  • A new Protection of State Information Bill in South Africa tabled by the ruling ANC and passed through Parliament on Tuesday is concerning to many who suggest it is a move back towards the harsh censorship that existed under apartheid. The bill bans the publication of classified documents and allows the government to class almost any category of information as secret.
  • On Thursday, Libya’s new transitional government was sworn in before the country’s interim leader. The Prime Minister said the government’s first task is to formulate plans to build state institutions. A report by the UN alleges that thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias and many are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment. Dozens of Amazighs or Berbers protested in Tripoli on Friday for being shut out of the new government, demanding that their language and rights be recognized; while the ICC’s chief prosecutor announced that Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam could be tried under the ICC within Libya. The head of Libya’s interim ruling council thanked Sudan for weapons and ammunition sent through Egypt that helped the rebels oust Gaddafi during a visit to Khartoum. On Saturday, around 100 Libyans surrounded a Tunisian passenger aircraft at an airport, delaying its takeoff in a protest at the government; about 100 Libyan women took to the streets in Tripoli in a silent march to demand more support from the new government for victims of rape during the war; and several tribal leaders met in the hope of easing tensions between clans. On Sunday, hundreds of minority Amazigh Berbers warned of a campaign against the new government and demanded an apology from the premier for excluding their community from his cabinet.
  • The UNHCR voiced concern on Friday that an estimated 76,000 people from Sudan have fled to Ethiopia and South Sudan since August. A Kenyan court issued an official arrest warrant for Sudanese President al-Bashir on Monday, after allowing him into the country in August of 2010 without arrest despite being a party to the ICC, who have indicted Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Sudan responded by ordering the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador from their country. On Monday, Khartoum announced it would be halting oil exports from South Sudan due to ongoing negotiations over transit fees, estimating that the South owed them around $727 million in arrears for the last 6 months. A Sudanese court sentenced seven people to death on Monday, accused of being members of the most powerful rebel group in the Darfur region, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The UN/AU joint special representative for Darfur expressed concern on Monday about the formation of a new rebel alliance, calling itself the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) that is threatening prospects for peace in Sudan.
  • ECOWAS pulled plans to send an observer mission on Wednesday to the Gambia after its fact-finding mission deemed preparations to “not be conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls”.  On Thursday, incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power for 17 years, was elected to a new five-year term with a landslide 72% victory amid reports of intimidation and corruption.
  • A new rebel movement calling itself the Force for the Restoration of Democracy (FRD) announced its creation in Burundi on a local private radio station on Friday. The group says its mission is to take up arms and topple the government. On Monday, gunmen killed a Croatian nun and an Italian doctor working in a psychiatric clinic in the north in the first attack on foreign aid workers since 2007.
  • Religious violence in central Nigeria reportedly killed several people on Thursday, and resulted in the military imposing a 24-hour curfew in one region. The violence was said to have stemmed from Christian and Muslim gangs fighting over ownership of cattle and fertile farmland. Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Friday for a series of bomb attacks in the northern part of the country and declared that it would next target offices of political parties nationwide.  On Saturday, gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram bombed a police station, a bank and a beer parlour. Leader of the Biafra secession, Odumegwu Ojukwu died in hospital at 78 reportedly of natural causes. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill prohibiting same-sex marriage, proscribing 10 years in jail for offenders.
  • Morocco had its first parliamentary election since the king introduced constitutional reforms approved in a July 1st referendum. Voter turnout was first reported at around 34%, but later at 45.4% and resulted in the country’s moderate Islamists winning the most seats.
  • Tunisia was under an overnight curfew on Thursday following riots over jobs in the Gafsa region on Wednesday night. On Monday, some 40 Islamists demanding segregated lessons and full-face veils for women students besieged a university building near the capital and held students and professors hostage.
  • Three journalists in Cote d’Ivoire from the daily newspaper Notre Voie, known to be favorable to former President Gbagbo, were taken into police custody on suspicion of insulting the head of state and harming the national economy. Press freedom remains a serious concern seven months since President Ouattara came into power. On Tuesday, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for ex-President Laurent Gbagbo who is being held in the north of the country, a year after the problematic elections that led to a short civil war.

Is peace a possibility for Cote D’Ivoire in 2011? Part 1.

This past month or so has been a particularly stressful one for me. I have been living in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire for most of the past year and have watched as the country has been sinking deeper and deeper into violence and intense propaganda. Sadly, I’ve found I no longer believe a word I read in both local and international news, as I have read “news” that is in direct contrast to what I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. The stories seem to be escalating the situation further and further, and I’m finding myself extremely frustrated that everything seems to be so one-sided (either pro-Ouattara or pro-Gbagbo). It hurts me to think I have posted articles and comments that are seen as even slightly defensive of Gbagbo in the international sphere in an effort to elicit some form of balance in the reporting, as I have been (and still am) heavily critical of him. It hurts to try and have discussions with locals within Abidjan in defense of Ouattara, to try and bring reason to fervent Gbagbo supporters. I hate playing the “other-side” game in response to one-sided arguments, but I think it’s important to try to play devil’s advocate with those die-hard supporters who only paint one side of the story. Frankly, I wish both presidents would move on and allow a fresh batch of politicians that aren’t tainted with past violence to step forward to take the country to a more peaceful future, but this is not reality.

I was last here in 2004, during the previous civil war and saw the violence as it spread and resulted in the intense hatred of all things foreign. It was sometimes scary and devastating to watch. I heard many horrific personal stories from friends of the violence they experienced at the time. Despite this, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to come back here. I love this country. I love the mostly kind and friendly people I have encountered here. I love the rich culture and delicious food. I love the countryside, the beaches and the thick, lush forest. I love the way of life here, barring the corruption that sometimes makes things difficult. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of really amazing treasures.

The November 28th presidential elections resulted in a political crisis, with two different entities announcing two different results. Both Presidents were sworn in, in separate ceremonies and the country has been awash with reports of violence and violent-rhetoric ever since. The crisis didn’t really begin here; it has been festering for many years but it is now looking likely to outbreak into civil war, political assassinations or exiles and further inter-group hatreds.

Though I have been writing detailed personal notes throughout this situation, I must admit that I have been fearful to publish anything on the situation in the past few weeks. After writing a critique of the nearly unanimous support for Ouattara (the opposition) demonstrated by the international community on this site and several posts on the subject in a few other forums, I received some rather scary death threats from one person and many comments that broke my non-violence, non-discrimination, non-racism policy. I decided to take a bit of a break from posting on the subject.

The results of the elections sadly, is no longer even really relevant to the discussion. Whoever “really” won did so in a circumstance of intimidation and irregularity that can be attributed to both parties, depending on where one is situated in the country (with Gbagbo-supporters being intimidated mostly in the north, and Ouattara supporters being intimidated mostly in the south). The events that have happened since have only worsened the possibility of the “truth” being told. Propaganda has run wild, with increasingly violent-rhetoric being spread among both state and opposition media. Any probing of results or investigation at this point will be lost behind propaganda I’m afraid.

There has been acts of violence and the country is at real threat of returning to civil war, which it never fully recovered from in the first place. At least 150 are confirmed dead, and probably somewhere closer to several hundred. Dozens (and perhaps many more) have disappeared, and hundreds are said to have been arrested. Many thousands have fled to neighbouring Liberia, escaping violence in the south perpetrated mostly by Gbagbo-supporters, alleged mercenaries and the security forces; and violence in the north perpetrated mostly by Ouattara supporters and the Forces Nouvelles. Further investigation is needed to assess the refugees and their experiences of violence.

Some 120,000 Liberian refugees reside within Cote D’Ivoire, thousands of Burkinabes, and other West Africa refugees; and there have been hints from some sources within the UNHCR that suggest that many of those flooding out of Cote D’Ivoire are these long-term refugees who have long worked the system. They are appearing heavily at the UNHCR border office rather than being evenly distributed throughout Liberia or other neighbouring countries (this is taken from both personal communications with officials and comments made to Chris Blattman from a UNHCR official). I do however believe, that even if these refugees “know how to work the system”, they are still experiencing violence, as foreigners are often scapegoated during domestic troubles.

Regardless of who these refugees are and where they came from, they must be assisted and resettled with caution. The increase of people into Liberia, itself prone to instability, leaves an already burdened population with more mouths to feed and endangers peace in that country as well. Armed groups have been cited crossing borders to intimidate refugee populations and take the conflict to new populations as they do. Instability in the region could easily pass borders if things in Cote D’Ivoire worsen.

Besides the refugees, there are many foreigners with money who have decided to return to their home countries by more planned means (via plane with actual luggage) as their embassies sent messages urging them to quit the country before more violence came. This has had some effect on the local economy, although it appears many major business owners will be staying and instead sending their wives and families back home.

Nearly half the population was already unemployed before the conflict began and the vast majority lives on little more than $1 a day. Those that work often support large numbers of people on their meager salaries. Many workers have been laid off since the crisis, and the prices of food staples has doubled. As the population becomes more food and job insecure, so the risk for conflict increases. Strikes called by Ouattara’s camp affected some of the services of the buses, gbakas (minbuses) and taxis for a few days, but as most of the population is living day to day, long-term or full out striking is extremely unlikely. Most can simply not afford to take the time off without severe repercussions to themselves and their families.

Rallies have been held and marches planned. Ouattara’s march on the RTI television station ended without real success and resulted in much-expected clashes between security forces and protesters. Despite the violence, Ouattara was calling on his supporters to continue the attempt the following day, again without success. He has since repeatedly warned Gbagbo of imminent consequences should he not back down immediately, though it is difficult to administer consequences when one is backed into hiding and the consequences have yet to be seen. The notorious Ble Goude (Gbagbo’s Youth Minister) has been busy rallying up Gbagbo supporters and spinning them into an angry frenzy, readying them for the moment he can unleash them to try to take the Golf Hotel (where the Ouattara camp is currently residing under UN and Force Nouvelles protection) by force. Two major marches planned by Ble Goude have been canceled the night before they were even begun, allegedly to prevent further violence (though they were called using the extreme violent-rhetoric Goude is famous for).

The local political humour paper Gbich has taken the opportunity openly mock both candidates and their behaviours, much to my enjoyment. However, in the serious papers (both state and opposition); violent, inciting rhetoric makes me skeptical of the veracity of anything printed inside and angered that more peaceful dialogue is not the popular option. Rumours of local media intimidation by Gbagbo forces haven’t stopped most opposition papers from writing, as they can still be found daily in many places around the city. I’ve personally been threatened by a pro-Ouattara supporter, so I know that the intimidation definitely goes both ways, but I can also say that I fear writing anything hyper-critical of either candidate should the situation deteriorate further.

On the streets, during the day time, things are pretty normal. The streets and markets are crowded with people again going about their daily business, though people are still cautiously stocking up on supplies and keeping an eye out for any signs of coming danger. The police in many parts of the city have even returned to using radar to ticket speeders. I’ve found no trouble or signs of blatant violence while traveling throughout the city in the past two weeks, except for roadblocks and neighbourhood patrols in a few districts at night. In fact, on New Years eve, I traveled throughout several districts (including both known pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo districts) and saw drunken partying, fireworks and dancing as if nothing was wrong.  I couldn’t sleep that night as the music, cheering and fireworks of those partying around my apartment blared in through my windows.

I have detailed some of the local situation and the underlying tensions that exist in this post. I will discuss in further detail some of the proposed “solutions” to the crisis and the effects I see coming from those in the next post.

Something’s rotten in the state of Cote D’Ivoire…

Something didn’t sit right with me while watching this second round of the Presidential vote here in Cote D’Ivoire. The international community jumped on the bandwagon of unconditional, almost unanimous support for Ouattara, without real scrutiny into the results being released by the CEI (electoral commission). The UN, France, the US, the EU, the AU and ECOWAS all congratulated Alassane Ouattara for his “win” early on without question. I think the reasoning behind this move can be attributed to the on-air physical blocking of the reading of the provisional results on Tuesday (two days after the vote) that would have allowed the CEI to read its judgment within its mandated time before the vote was handed off to the Constitutional Council. I believe that they suspected this as a move to block the reading in order to prevent the results from being determined before the Wednesday night deadline and thus was essentially a coup on Gbagbo’s part. This may or may not be true. The Council figures have Gbagbo ahead with a convenient 51% of the vote, only after invalidating 500,000 ballots from Ouattara-supporting regions in seven districts.

The international media has taken occasion to one-sidedly point out flaws with the situation. They have cited that the President of the Constitutional Council is pro Gbagbo and that allowing the Constitutional Council to decide the results would sway the reality. What they aren’t saying is that the President of the CEI as well as the Permanent Secretary and Spokesman are all pro Ouattara and so their reading is also suspect. However, the statement given prior to the election by the Carter Centre would suggest that the “formal adjudication of elections petitions is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council”. There is clearly some imbalance in reporting.

There were several teams of international observers, most notably led by the EU, the Carter Centre and secured by the UN military observers. The EU sent in approximately 120 observers who assisted in observing approximately 4.7% of the polling stations, who may or may not have spoken French, the official language in Cote D’Ivoire. Speaking the local language is incredibly important in order to make impartial and accurate observations. The Carter Centre sent in 10 long term observers to help cover the 322,460 square kilometers and the UN had approximately 192 observers from 42 different countries, who again, may or may not have spoken French.

Three days prior to the vote, the EU electoral observers noted that they had seen a “lack of respect by the CEI (independent electoral commission) of its agreements with observers,” and that “(d)espite a number of requests addressed to the CEI, the EU mission continues to face significant obstacles accessing electoral operations”. The head of the EU electoral monitoring mission, Cristian Preda, then noted shortly after the vote that “(o)ur observers saw irregularities, some obstacles on the day of the vote and serious tension”.

The day after the vote, both sides were complaining of serious intimidation, such as the following statement from opposition Alassane Ouattara’s RDR party, “We have had lots of calls telling us of cases of serious human rights violations, intimidation and prevention of voting,” and statements of several voters such as, “People have not come out today because of the election…We are very afraid about the violence.” It was also reported that the EU had left the administrative capital of Yamoussoukro days before the polls after receiving death threats, making them unable to monitor this largely populated area and the EU themselves announced that barriers were observed blocking people from voting in several places on Sunday, including in Gbagbo’s hometown of Gagnoa and that some ballots were stolen.

The Carter Centre released a report on November 30th citing many problems with the conduct of the vote, which included:

  • documented incidents of violence and intimidation across the country;
  • important procedural irregularities such as the management of the voter lists, failure to check consistently for indelible ink on voter’s fingers (in over half the polling stations visited), and inking the voter’s fingers after they voted;
  • serious election crimes committed such as the destruction of election materials, and ballot box theft;
  • the slow manner which the CEI communicated the important procedural revisions adopted on November 13th, including refusing to admit the existence of the revisions;
  • significant delays in the Sassandra Valley region amid political tension and violence the night of the election;
  • confusion over last minute changes in polling station staff with replacements who did not appear to have received training;
  • following improper steps for voter signature of the voters’ list or use of indelible ink to mark fingers in at least one of ten stations visited;
  • the lack of the “ordre de mission” certificates establishing the rights of voters that was to be retained by polling staff after the voter cast his or her ballot to prevent multiple voting was absent in at least one quarter of the stations visited;
  • the potential for voter intimidation in at least five percent of the stations visited;
  • and serious election day irregularities after the closing of polling stations

The Carter Centre also stated in that report that it “believes it is essential for there to be an investigation of these incidents,” and noted that the “formal adjudication of election petitions is the responsibility of the Constitutional Council”. So why then, is the Constitutional Council no longer responsible for the formal adjudication? Why has the international community taken it on themselves to declare a winner without their consultation or without investigation into the serious irregularities noted by all parties?

There were also several local civil society organizations charged with elections observations that spoke the language fluently and had intimate knowledge of the local terrain and customs. The COFEMCI-NCEP, COSOPCI, WACSOF-CI RAIDH WANEP-CI coalition had 938 observers in both the Cote D’ivoire and France. They found significant violence, intimidation and voting impediments, particularly in the North, South and forest zone; that the presence of intrusive law enforcement was likely to intimidate voters; the confusion caused by the release of the Ministry of the Interior and that of the Prime Minister’s office showed a lack of coordination and monitoring of the process at the government level; the barring of observers from certain polling stations in Vallee du Bandama; the intrusive presence of law enforcement and disappearance of six ballot boxes in Dix-Huit Montanges; the violence against LMP activists in the Savannah region; the assault in the town of Daloa in Bas Sassandra and the snatching of ballot boxes; massive disorder in Kumasi; that counting was conducted in haste; that sometimes ballot boxes were completely abandoned after the process; and that overall it was difficult to conduct peaceful elections that would be considered free, fair and transparent. These findings were largely ignored by the international media.

Another group of civil society monitors from the CSCI (funded through the EU) had 1100 observers throughout the country who visited on average seven polling stations each or around 38% of the stations. They noted an absence of some election officials in polling stations; the late arrival and lack of election material in the polling stations; the notable absence or delay of Security Forces officials for protection in several locations; several incidents of violence at polling stations; the destruction and removal of ballot boxes; multiple voting in several locations; the impediment of voting in several locations; the absence, late arrival or departure of certain candidate representatives in several regions; the barring of monitors from observing the counting process in some locations; the insecurity of some convoys transferring results, including attacks on some of the convoys; poor quality elections ballots spotted; polling booths that breached confidentiality; insufficient ballots in some locations; and ballot boxes unsealed or only partially sealed. They also noted that the voter turnout was around 70%. Again, these findings were largely ignored in the international media, even though the local monitors had nearly ten times more observers in the country and were accessing far more stations than the international monitors were capable of. These observers are there to represent the voice of the Ivorian people (whose election this is) through their own civil society and they are being almost totally ignored.

Considering that all in all, probably less than half the stations were actually monitored at all, most for only short periods of time throughout the day, and that there were significant reports of irregularities and violence in those stations actually monitored, this election can hardly be counted as “fair and free”.

Looking through the official tally sheets provided by the CEI (electoral commission) and comparing the results for the first and second rounds, some things strike me as very odd…

  • There are 64,290 extra registered voters in the second round (5,783,349 in the first and 5,847,639 in the second) though the official total tally printed on the top of the results from the second round is still listed as the same as the first. When one actually adds up the “inscrits” in each region though, it is easily shown that the numbers don’t add up to the reported total. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General set out the criteria for the official certified final voter list as 5,725,720, yet there are clearly more than that present in the CEI’s reported second round.
  • The entire foreign French vote was removed from the second round. France had 13,881 registered voters in the first round, and Gbagbo received 53.2% of the French vote in the first round, with Ouattara receiving only 25.4% and Bedie with 16.5%.
  • They must have gotten significantly better at filling out the ballots in the second round, despite the lack of education or public awareness to this end in the country, as there were 124,957 less “null” votes counted in the second round from the first round. In fact, there was more than double the amount of “null” votes in the first round compared to the second (225,624 and 101,476 respectively). There are some reasons that *might* account for less nulls in the second round, such as the change from 14 candidates to 2 candidates on the ballot, but when one considers that in some regional cases they had nearly 15 times less null votes in the second round than in the first, it does become rather suspect. In 2000, 12.40% of votes were invalidated, in the first round of these elections there were 4.59% invalidated and only 2.16% in the second round.
  • Voter turnout was originally cited in foreign press and by observers as between 65-70%. Local reports set the turnout at 71.28%, and local observers noted an approximate 70% turnout. Despite this, the final tally of voter turnout as documented by the CEI was cited as 80.19%, only slightly (3.4%) less than the first round (83.63%). When one tallies up the actual number of counted votes, there are actually 63,327 more votes in the second round than in the first (counting “suffrages exprimes”). If there was voter intimidation in many districts, as was reported by all elections monitors, then one would expect that the voter turnout and number of votes would be significantly less than the first. By comparison voter turnout in 2000 was only 28.06%.

While I am certainly not making the case for Gbagbo’s victory, I do believe that the international community’s announcement of a winner in this case is severely flawed and is only exacerbating tensions and violence in the region. The Special Representative to the Secretary-General himself set the criteria for benchmarks to assess the fair and free nature of the vote as whether there was a secure environment that allows for the full participation of the population, that the electoral process is inclusive, that the voters lists are credible and that the results are determined through a transparent counting process and are accepted by all or are challenged peacefully through the appropriate channels. These criteria were CLEARLY not met, and instead of calling for the challenging through appropriate channels, the international community has taken sides without questioning the results one side is offering in the slightest. The international community’s response has only ensured that dialogue between the parties will now be next to impossible (when a unity government could have been proposed if a winner had not been announced), and that mediation will now be extremely suspect for any solution.

The Ivorian people should be in charge of their own destiny and international bodies should remember their place—to act as mediators, diplomats and not adjudicators.






International community’s response to the Ivorian situation.

I have no access to foreign tv news and radio at the moment, as it has been cut off through the government in an attempt to stop what is being termed “illegal” announcements of a Presidential winner. I have been trawling the internet searching for the international response to the current situation trying to gauge international opinion and what information is being released where.

The election happened last Sunday, and since then things have gone severely downhill. What most frustrates me about what I have so far read in the international news is that several states and bodies (the UN, the EU, the US, the French, etc.) have taken it upon themselves to declare who the winner should be. I see major problems with this bold assertion.

The elections have been marred with political intimidation and violence– and conflicting evidence has been found that makes the election at least suspect. Declaring a winner smacks of colonial imperialism. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote D’Ivoire earlier expressed that the tally sheets were being transported normally, while EU electoral commission was suggesting that there were many irregularities and serious tension at the vote. Then they seemingly unanimously stand with Ouattara and announce him as rightful President without finding the full facts first. Instead of automatically declaring a winner, I feel that a more democratic approach would have been an appeal for peace, an investigation, release of the actual results from each district and recounts or investigation into contested areas so that the true voice of the Ivorian people can be represented. By asserting a winner, the international community is overstepping its role and only increasing tensions.

I have also been inundated with email messages since posting my last entry only a few hours ago, which was quite surprising to me as I don’t usually receive so many comments immediately following a post. There are clearly very strong feelings about both candidates. Frankly, it is not for me to say which candidate should have won here and I would never make that suggestion, I am merely trying to paint the situation as I have observed from local media so far. I am saddened to see the strong cultural violence that has been reiterated in many of these messages and comments, and have to say, that unfortunately– if your comment is one-sided without a proof to back it up or contains insults or disrespect directed towards one group– I will not be re-printing your message. I am willing to engage in conversation about the subject, and if you feel I have wrongly withheld your comments, please try messaging me again and provide some backings for your claims. Sorry to anyone that this offends.

All I can hope for is peace and calm and for the voice of the Ivorian people to be respected, and that no more deaths come from this election.



Return to the coup d’etat status quo: Elections in Cote D’Ivoire

Here’s a piece I just wrote for STAND Canada. I was going to write a second piece exclusively for this blog, but am still tired and weakened from my recent bout with malaria that I didn’t feel quite up to it yet. I’ll have some new pieces for you soon and should have the weekly conflict roundup posted sometime tomorrow!

Since this piece was written last night, we have had some more news: the Constitutional Council has overturned the CEI’s election results and announced that Gbagbo has won the elections with 51% of the vote, after eliminating seven regions in the Ouattara-supported North.


Rebecca Sargent

It looked promising. A face to face debate between the two candidates days before the second round of elections featured set two minute response times to each question to curtail any cutting off or interruptions and ended in a handshake and gentle embrace between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. They laughed and joked with each other, even telling of friendly phone conversations between them over the past years, and calling for an end to some escalating violent tones within street campaigning. Onlookers might think they were old friends and not longstanding political rivals who had previously battled each other in civil war. I watched while the days progressed as people who had repeatedly talked of peace and patience quickly turned to spread hype-filled rumours, enhancing cultural violence and tensions. Today, we know a new coup was born and democracy was again denied for the people of Cote D’Ivoire.

The night before the election, tensions boiled over and clashes broke out in the streets, resulting in at least six reported deaths and many injuries. Current President Gbagbo announced a five-day curfew, later extended indefinitely, that would run from night until mornings in an attempt to reduce the violence happening in the streets. Ouattara subsequently stated that the curfew was illegal, unconstitutional and that it would open the door to electoral fraud, preventing election results from being properly delivered and counted. Angered, he and many of his supporters refused to respect the curfew and that night many youth supporters took to the streets in Abidjan against it, clashing with police as demonstrations turned violent. At least three people were reported killed.

The day of the vote was tense. Polls opened late in many areas, and eager voters were restricted from lining up at first light as they had in the previous round because the curfew prevented it. Voter intimidation was cited several regions, and many people chose to simply stay home to avoid the violence or threats. Despite the intimidation and several early complaints of irregularity, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote D’Ivoire, Y.J. Choi, expressed that he had “no doubt that no (sic) candidate will resort to undemocratic means to express his position on the results of the poll”; citing that the tally sheets were being transported normally despite the rumours and false alarms. The EU electoral commission head suggested otherwise, announcing early on that their “observers saw irregularities, some obstacles on the day of the vote and serious tension”. The streets became ghost towns and the majority of shops were closed.

Originally, we were told results would be released within 48 hours of the vote, though the CEI (electoral commission) constitutionally had until Wednesday at midnight to make their announcements before it would be turned over to the Supreme Court’s decision. On Tuesday, glued to the tv, we watched as a Gbagbo supporter within the CEI physically seized the papers of the provisional results out of the commission spokesman’s hands and tore them up in front of a crowd of journalists, claiming the results were not valid. Ouattara alleged Gbagbo was attempting to confiscate power by preventing the results from being read, while Nigerian President and head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) asked both candidates to “tone down their rhetoric and maintain peace”.  Results were to be read the following day, but as the day came and went, no new news was released. Rumours of more clashes in the street were abundant, but unconfirmed as we called our friends around the country asking for information on the happenings in their neighbourhoods. At this point the CEI constitutional right to announce the results had expired, leaving the tallying in the hands of the Ggbagbo-appointed Supreme Court. It seemed that the CEI was forbidden from making any further announcements on state television after the confiscation earlier in the day.

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This piece is an afterthought of a series I wrote for STAND on the elections process in Cote D’Ivoire which can viewed here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Outdated democracy.

The concept of democracy has been around since at least the 4th or 5th century BC. It has flourished in the past couple decades and has become the main hope for all fledgling nations by the international community.

Yet, is our concept of democracy in the West outdated? Does it need to be changed and altered to be more inclusive, and more representative of the People it supposedly represents? Rule of the people hardly seems to be reality in Canada, the US or Europe. We elect representatives, who rarely actually represent the average person, let alone even listen to us or address our needs in government. Many politicians come from privileged backgrounds or enormous wealth, which aids in their campaigning ability– especially at higher levels of office. How often do our letters or calls go unheard by our MPs or other representatives? How often does the average representative even spend time in their constituency, and how much of that time is spent at fancy galas or openings or campaigning with public pat-on-the-back photo-ops for themselves instead of actually talking to those in their region about what THEY would like to see happen in government? How much of their policy is based upon their own personal belief system and not the wishes of their constituency? How much research and polling do they do of their constituency prior to voting on a subject in governmental forums? Considering I lived in Canada the vast majority of my life and have yet to actually be polled or asked about my opinion on an issue by my MP, let alone received an adequate response back to my written or verbal inquiries or concerns, I’d say, not much.

The average US House member represents more than 640,000 citizens, and this number is rising with the population. When the first census was taken, this ratio of citizens per district was closer to only 30,000 for each representative, a much more manageable number for them to actually “represent”. An older research study found that most representatives spent an average of only 101 working days actually in their districts in a year, or just under 28% of their time and I’d argue that lobbyists are much more likely to get the ear of a Representative than their constituents are.

Considering we now live in the electronic age of computers, cellphones, blackberries and the internet, I am always amazed at how little our “representatives” use these technologies to actually consult with those they profess to represent. In 2004, it is said there were more than 762,000 computers for every million people in the US (and similar statistics for most of the western world), and that nearly 75% of Americans spend more than 3 hours a day online (Stone, 2005:62). For those between the ages of 12 and 18, computer and internet usage actually approaches 100% (Levy, 2004; 14). When one includes those with wireless capability on blackberries, cellphones, iphones and other such devices, the vast majority of the population is wired and using Internet capabilities on a daily (if not hourly) basis. For those who don’t have personal access at home, nearly 95% of public schools have computers with internet access; and nearly 99% of public libraries have public access to the Internet with most offering formal or informal technology training to those looking to enhance their tech skills. Not only do I think that our so-called representatives should be using this access to technology to actually engage with their constituencies on the issues, I think that the time has come for a complete overhaul of democracy itself so that it can truly be “representative” of the population.

A survey of US Representatives and Senators showed that 38% of House Members and 39% of Senators were registered with Twitter, and although these Members sent an average of  one “tweet” every other day– those “tweets” were mostly spent on securing their own “brand” and image. What were these Representatives using this communications for? Well, certainly not polling their constituencies, as this was not even mentioned as a possible category of types of “tweets” sent by Representatives. No, instead, the Reps were talking about their position on a policy (18% of the time); reciting information about a public policy; talking about their own media or public relations campaign (34% of the time); talking about their own trips, visits or events in a home district; talking about what official congressional actions they did (14% of the time); or talking about their own personal life or campaign (5% of the time). Only 3.7% of the tweets were direct replies to others. These “representatives” are so concerned with securing the next election or sticking to the party-line– that actual consultation of those who are to be represented is barely even considered. Why are we not being polled on what we, the People, want? Why are we not being consulted and truly “represented”?

Electronic surveys are not without their flaws; however I believe even despite the flaws, regular public polling via technology would give a more accurate opinion of the People than what is currently being done. Some would argue that access to technology is more prevalent among the rich and educated, with the poorer, less educated folks less likely to be online and therefore less likely to participate in surveys or polls. I don’t argue that fact, however, I’d be remiss to say that traditional polling most likely excludes many of these folks as well. How often do the representatives send their lackeys to take polls on public issues in the slums right now? How many of the current written surveys on policy issues exclude those who are functionally illiterate? None of the current polling methods are without their flaws and exclusions, but online polling and consultation could demonstrate a more accurate picture of what the People want.

Some would also argue that the over 65 years of age population is less likely to be online or have computer access or skills. Again, true. However, are these also not currently the most politically active participants in our democracies and most likely to be letter writers or callers to their representatives? Also, considering that the baby boomer population IS highly versed in technology, this statistic is likely to dramatically change over the coming years, as the boomers move into this age bracket.

How can we also ensure that a non-voter (ie. too young) isn’t voting; or that a person isn’t voting at multiple computers. Simple. Have everyone vote using their public IDs such as Social Insurance or give them a public voting ID on their voter registration card and cut them off after one vote for each topic. There is also the possibly of hacking, which is a legitimate problem if polling is online. Not being a computer expert, and seeing how many national systems have been broken into, I have no solution for this. But is it not better to have a general idea of what the People want, as opposed to just ignoring them?

I think our democracy has become outdated, flawed and unrepresentative, which is incredibly problematic if we are to spread this type of “freedom” across the globe. There’s got to be a better way.

Some sources mentioned in the above article:

Brad Stone, “Hi-Tech’s New Day”, Newsweek, April 11, 2005, p. 62.

Steven Levy, “No Net? We’d Rather Go Without Food.”, Newsweek, October 11, 2004, p. 14.

Human sacrifice and its connection to democracy

Child abduction in west Africa is a huge problem. Elections processes here can actually increase this problem. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? What does one have to do with the other?

Human sacrifice is still practiced in several parts of the world. Political hopefuls often use traditional myths of human sacrifice to improve their electoral chances. Organs of children are particularly in demand at this time, as children are sliced open for their hearts, kidneys, lungs, genitals and other body parts. Police in Cote D’Ivoire say that child sacrifice always steadily increases around elections, as political hopeful’s demand for body parts and potions increases.

In Cote D’Ivoire (commonly known here as the Ivory Coast), as many as 90 cases of child abduction are reported per month. Most are never found again. The government does very little to stop this problem, as they themselves are often part of the problem.

Human sacrifice is not unique to west Africa. In eastern parts of Africa, humans with albinism (a rare disorder that affects pigmentation) are hunted down to be sacrificed for magic and potions used by shamans or “witch doctors”. Their body parts are sold and fetch a hefty price in certain markets. Investigators say body parts from a single murdered albino can sell for well over $1,000. The skin and flesh are dried out and set into amulets and the bones are ground into powders. Miners in the gold and diamond fields often use these powders to help ensure riches as it is supposed to have wealth-giving properties.

This problem has become so severe as of late, that officials have given hundreds of albinos free cellphones and a number to call if they feel they are being hunted. It hasn’t stopped or significantly slowed the practice.

This practice has existed and continues to exist to this day in many other parts of the world, with cases of human sacrifice in the UK and other parts of Europe. It is also happening in parts of the Middle East, Asia, South America and even in North America.

While shamans or “witch doctors” often use herbal remedies and hands on treatments that are tried and tested for generations, the practice of human sacrifice is one that must change. Not all shamans use these practices, but some do.

Shamanism is an incredibly important practice that should be studied for its medicinal and social contributions and should absolutely continue. It can often have profound effects on patients because it uses techniques that address pychological issues as well as herbal medicines that are often quite effective and not heavily processed or laden with toxic chemicals.

Often those shamans accused of murder for human sacrifice use their magic and mystique to avoid persecution. This must change.

Those intent on rushing democracy into certain areas of the world should be aware of what effect this might have on the population. This should especially be considered when the election process called is neither fair or free to begin with. In this case,  democracy only brings suffering.

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The failings of democracy.

Democracy is an interesting concept. To a lot of the world, it is the “best” system we have, the end all and be all; their pride and joy. Almost the “civilizing” factor of the world, making a difference between “advanced” and “backwards”. It gives us all a voice and makes certain that our country is running the way WE want it to. But what is democracy really? Is the Canadian system even really a democracy– the voice of the people? Or is it more of an oligarchy– the voice of only some? Are our voices really heard, and is the current system fair and free?

Democracy has been and continues to be promoted and propagandized, and delivered on the edge of a gun in many places as the ONLY way to “freedom”.  Elections processes are seen as the proof that a country has really arrived on the international stage and become somehow more mature or ready for development, ready for capitalism… ready to be sold material goods. We strive to bring democracy to every corner of the earth– and spend incredible amounts of money to do so.

In some corners of the world, democracy is marketed at all costs. Multi-millions of dollars are funneled through humanitarian channels to ensure the image that the people have a voice. In some countries elections processes are held while violent civil conflict or war rages on in the background. Threatening intimidation pressures the population to vote for an authoritarian ruler, while any opposition is locked up, threatened, assaulted or killed. Demonstrations are forbidden. Corruption runs rampant. The army is in charge. The police may not help you. In some places police officers (along with other civil employees) do not receive a paycheck and so must take bribes to be able to feed their families. Effective courts do not run. So civil law ceases to exist. In certain parts of the world the face of democracy is tarnished with the propaganda and silence over issues of dissent. In certain places, the arrival of democracy has actually brought more oppression and inequity.

In Canada and the United States, we tell ourselves the voice of the people is the way of the land. But is it really? How much money does a political campaign take? How many lies are told, how much propaganda is smeared, how much do they spend to placate the population? It is not about who is best to run the country, it is about who has the best image to project. About who’s team did the best marketing job. It has very little to do with the constituents that voted for them, and even less to do about the voter’s needs or wants. It is about placation. Giving just enough to stay in power, and spending the majority of the concentration worrying about opinion polls and upcoming elections.  

Only about three-quarters of the voting population historically expresses their vote in Canada. The numbers have been low in the past several years. Many of these voters have no idea what they are really voting for, don’t really know anything about the candidates or the issues at all. They vote the way they do because that’s the way they have always voted, or that’s the way their parents voted.

There are many kinds of democracy. Some call for majority win. In some elections the voters must choose only one representative for each category. In other elections, they get to choose their first, second and third choice of representation. Ours is not the only democracy. And some of these systems seem to be more fair than others. The current Canadian system has been called unfair, so much so that many have called for change in the past elections.

Once the representatives get into office, how much do they really follow through with their campaign promises? Do they still listen to the people, or do they make their own choices? What is their prime motivation?

How often do we remove someone from office for not following through on campaign promises? How often do we remove someone for not listening to their constituents? How thoroughly do we even track these things?

How much of the population actually communicates with their government and tells them what they want? What happens to our letters and emails we send? Are they put on an assistant’s desk and filed under “G” for garbage unless they come in large enough numbers to make a difference in the next election or poll? Or do they actually use them in their governing decisions?

Democracy does have many benefits, but we shouldn’t assume it’s the “best” system. We shouldn’t assume that the voice of the people is really being heard. We should adapt it, and change it when flaws are found to make it more fair and more representative. We should mould it together with some of the other systems and take the pieces that work from others to try and make even better systems. We should not be limited in this tiny box. 

If you do not learn from history– you will be condemned to repeat it. We so often see the problems as they exist, yet make little effort to change. It is time we took action to create better systems. If we lessen the inequity on a structural level in society, we can lessen structural violence. If we lessen structural violence, the cultural violence will also lessen. With the lessening of these two underlying violences– the direct, physical violence will also lessen. Cultural and structural violence lead to physical direct violence. The longer our system is unjust, the longer we will remain a violent society.

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