A shorter post this time – New Year present to my friend Ahmed who travels regularly from Alexandria, Virginia to Alexandria, Egypt; if only to confirm the obvious realities of globalization and to prove Thomas Friedman’s assertion that the world is indeed flat and crowded, even if not so hot this particular December.
It has been almost a month since the elections in Ivory Coast produced not one – but two presidents – one sworn in ceremoniously, wrapped in a regal sash, gushing in front of cameras at the presidential palace – the other hunkered down at the Golf Hotel where he took the wise precaution to retreat days before the election, just in case his adversary was to get any bright ideas. The French press is calling the latter, President of the Republic of the Golf Hotel on account of not been able to emerge since the results were declared that first week of December. The only thing standing between him and the army are 800 U.N. peacekeepers; each force behind their respective barricades allowing no one in or out, leaving no choice but to airlift food and provisions, not to mention a healthy supply of chocolate for the crepe stand in the lobby of the hotel where the grounds have been transformed into makeshift ministries and cabinet offices.
As incumbent President Gbagbo clings to power in Abidjan with the help of the army and state media, President elect Ouattara continues to consolidate his gains in the international community. The U.S and the French were among the first to recognize him followed by the European Union, the United Nations and the West African economic block – ECOWAS. The IMF and World Bank have withdrawn support and the EU has placed travel restrictions as well as targeted sanctions on Mr. Gbagbo and close circle hoping to make a dent perhaps by denying his two wives and entourage their regular shopping sprees in the left bank boutiques of Paris. Just last week as a final show of no confidence the General Assembly voted 192-0 recognizing Mr. Ouattara as the rightful head of the Ivorian state and sent the resident ambassadorial mission of Mr. Gbagbo packing. They left in a huff, taking all the computer and office equipment as consolation prize. Things can be so simple when states have fields of cocoa instead of oil.
Looking for other means of practical resistance, the West African Central Bank has ceded control of the state funds to Mr. Ouattara in an effort to choke the life line of President Gbagbo who will soon be running on fumes if he does not play ball – preferably in someone else’s country. It will be interesting to see how loyal his ethnically stacked army will be once he runs out of money. History is full of lessons on the urgent merits of keeping armed young men well paid and well fed.
In further attempts to isolate Mr. Gbagbo, the African Union has suspended his membership and regional allies are now considering use of “legitimate force” to remove him. That sounds a lot like military intervention to me.
Some of my African friends shake their heads in disgust and say “pitoyable!” — lamenting the crisis as yet another example of Big Man politics, typical of the sad state of democracy on a continent that has given us the likes of Taylor, Bashir, Bongo and Mobutu. Others – echoing the nationalist refrains of Mr. Gbagbo are denouncing the impasse as yet another proof of foreign meddling in what they see as a sovereign matter. The U.N., the French and all the rest of them should get out, they say — Ivorian solutions for Ivorian problems. How convenient in this case, to be the ones picking and choosing who is a true Ivorian? Moreover; what exactly is it to be “sovereign” if not upheld by peer member states, or mandated by your citizens, half of whom were disqualified in this case.
All this talk of intervention raises the question: in an increasingly global and interdependent world where actions have far reaching consequences often implicating those who had no part in the decisions with enormous financial and social burden, and where world bodies are tasked to pick up the pieces, is the sovereign nation destined to become a relic of the past, to be relegated to text books along with medieval walled cities and moat floating feudal states?
For the world’s largest cocoa producer, accounting for 40% of global supply, if you think that the price of chocolate is the only thing to consider, think again.
In the past month UNHCR has logged almost 20,000 refugees, mostly women and children fleeing the crisis to neighboring Liberia – itself a fragile state newly emerging from conflict and struggling to consolidate its peace dividends. Youth militia loyal to Gbagbo are mobilizing and if the nightly raids, abductions and torture in the opposition neighborhoods of Abidjan are any indication, the country could relapse into large scale violence with considerable human and economic costs spilling into the whole region which relies on this country’s commercial port. Fear of a $30 million interest default has already made the international bond markets jittery.
The last century witnessed the creation of global institutions — the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, the World Trade Organization and the many UN agencies; all supra-national institutions with global mandates, yet subject to sovereign whims of national or personal interests. Consequently — Omar Bashir remains free in spite of the ICC indictments; the West Bank is fast becoming an Israeli colony in spite of the ICJ rulings; the West continues to push for agricultural subsidies that favor their own to the detriment of the poorer nations; and the U.N. in spite of the billions it spends in peacekeeping remains handcuffed by the narrow mandate it is given after the big five settle on the lowest common denominator on the security council.
And yet the stakes are higher than ever as the world is shrinking tighter. Forget the price of chocolate and consider the global financial Tsunami unleashed by the Sub Prime defaults and financial deregulation in the U.S – events that may not have come to pass had international institutions had a vote in the matter.
Better yet — Bush Junior may not have been given a carte blanche, averting two disastrous terms and two costly wars that effectively defeated the empire better than Bin Laden could have ever in his wildest dreams imagined. Palestinians might have had their state long ago; Bashir, Blair and Cheney would be behind bars and eastern Congo would have been taken into receivership by international trustees long ago under the principles of Responsibility to Protect.
So, as the world connects tighter in a knot, sovereignty may be the last sacred cow offered at the altar of the juggernaut of globalization once it is clear that we can’t have our cake and eat it too. In the meantime – as we witness our first test case in challenging sovereign identity in Ivory Coast — for now we may have to settle for cheese instead of chocolate.