Stability In Yamoussoukro

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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(To the people of Côte d’Ivoire)

“Fiers Ivoiriens, le pays nous appelle.
Si nous avons dans la paix ramené la liberté,
Notre devoir sera d’être un modèle
De l’espérance promise à l’humanité,
En forgeant, unie dans la foi nouvelle,
La patrie de la vraie fraternité.”
The last set of verses of the national anthem of Côte d’Ivoire
L’Abidjanaise (Song of Abidjan),

Yamoussoukro is the national capital of Côte d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast), the tiny country on the Atlantic Coast of West Africa. The 0-degree longitude, the very same vertical line that passes through Greenwich, England, another tiny country in the Atlantic directly to the north of Côte d’Ivoire, also passes by Yamoussoukro. The two countries keep the same time and values but live very different lives, one black and African, the other white and European.

English ships many centuries ago, on their way to the New World on the other side of the Atlantic, 5 hours west of Greenwich, busy trying to establish colonies which had later become another land of liberty, the United States of America, may have picked up some slaves from the land that had later become Côte d’Ivoire after independence from the French in 1960. The liberty of one became possible only after the dominance of the other was firmly established. Such has been the realpolitik of enlightenment since history first recorded enlightenment about 3 millennia ago.

Today’s Côte d’Ivoire is poised to be truly free. For a country that can influence the prices of the world’s cocoa without being able to make the same claim about the world’s cocoa products such as chocolate, stability is necessary if the world is to consume Ivorian chocolate instead of Belgian. This yawning gap between its economic self-determination and its economic reality paradoxically belongs at once in the ivory towers of the world’s academic institutions, the halls of power in the capitals of the powerful and on the streets of Ivory Coast. Yamoussoukro, however, is unable to do much about it, suspended between its colonial memory and the free contemporary by the ghosts of the empires of enlightenment and its own post-colonial ghosts of internal divisions.

As Ivorian elites, themselves educated in Sorbonne, yearn for the former colonial masters, the French, to make a trip from Paris to make peace abdicating all local responsibility, the capital is under United Nations siege to secure the warring local politicians from their jobs and themselves, as republic has been struggling to take hold once again after the fading of Côte d’Ivoire’s founding elites in 1993.

The United Kingdom, a non-republic but a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy, having seen civil wars at home (where it kept both the monarchy and the parliament of the commoners), in the United States (which had kept its republic by the skin of its teeth), in Côte d’Ivoire, in France under Napoleon Bonaparte and having known the same in the Roman Republic from which it had inherited its empire, has a reason to smile.

The second round of violence that is playing out in Yamoussoukro since 1993, in the fourth republic of Côte d’Ivoire waiting for the fifth republic of France to save it, has a recent example to follow for the Ivorians: Britain’s own elections, far too close for the comfort of partisan politicians but far too far for incivility to be insurrected on the streets of London. The British parliament had transferred power peacefully to a coalition government of an odd couple of a conservative and a liberal to keep political stability in difficult economic times.

The United States had done something similar in 2000 in an even more excruciating election where election fraud was a viable accusation in an election where the not-yet-of-voting-age pimply teenagers wielding cell phones and portable computers may have forgotten about their pimples consumed by the dimples on the paper voting cards in Florida when preparing next day for a quiz on electoral politics in the classroom.

The Supreme Court of the United States had settled that case, also in the interest of political stability, but quite unlike the Supreme Court of Côte d’Ivoire which had thrown out both the candidates from the two major Ivorian political parties ― the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire or PDCI and the reformist offshoot of PDCI, Rassemblement des Republicaines (RDR) to which Alassane Dramane Ouattara, the present co-claimant of Ivorian presidency, belongs. The difference between the two elections in the two countries is the constitutional balance of power between the three branches of government.

Côte d’Ivoire and its UN mediators can adapt the recent Anglo-American electoral experiences to their present predicament, for there is no ‘holier than thou’ in democratic politics, because people are people whether they be the peoples of Yamoussoukro, Greenwich, Washington or Paris. Either the Supreme Court of Côte d’Ivoire decides the election by the Ivorian Constitution of the Second Republic of 2000 and later reforms the constitution to remove the divisive language retained by the Ivorian military of General Guei, the divisions having grown since the end of the post-independence regime of the 33 year presidency of the first president of Côte d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët-Boigny or conducts the election again under international observers such as former U.S President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center.

It is in the interest of Côte d’Ivoire to return to the leadership role in West Africa that it had played under Félix Houphouët-Boigny.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
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