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The End Game of African Dictators

Alemayehu G. Mariam

End Game

Laurent Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire arrested! Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in intensive care! Moamar Gadhafi of Libya under siege! Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan, a fugitive from justice. Ben Ali of Tunisia out of Africa! Meles Zenawi, sleepless in Ethiopia.

These are heady days on the African continent. These are days of joy. Africa’s thugdoms are crumbling like clumps of dirt underfoot. These are days of grief and tribulation. After one-half century of independence, Africa continues to sink deeper into a quagmire of dictatorship, corruption and extreme violence.

It was a crying shame to see the video footages of Laurent Gbagbo, the leader of one of Africa’s economic powerhouses, being collared, manhandled and dragged away with his wife like a common criminal thug. The last such shocking video came out of Africa in 1990  showing the gruesome torture and execution of Samuel Doe, the president of Liberia. (Doe had himself staged a televised torture and execution of his predecessor William Tolbert.)

Gbagbo’s arrest footage played straight into the stereotypical cartoonish image of the defiantly erratic African dictator often crudely portrayed in the media. Gbagbo looked pathetic as his captors surrounded him and barked out orders. He looked so helpless, defenseless, friendless and hopeless.  His forlorn eyes told the whole story. The man who had thumbed his nose at the world for the past 5 months while his country burned was visibly hyperventilating and drenched in sweat. He could hardly put on his shirt. It was a totally humiliating experience for Gbagbo. It was devastating, depressing and dispiriting to any African who values self-dignity.

Gbagbo was not a run-of-the-mill African dictator. He did not bulldoze or shoot his way to power. For decades, he used the democratic process to struggle for change in his country. Unlike other African dictators who graduated with high honors from the university of intrigue, corruption, human rights violation, double-dealing, deception and skullduggery, Gbagbo graduated with a doctorate from the University of Paris at the Sorbonne, one of the greatest higher learning institutions in Europe. He was a learned and energetic professor and researcher at the University of Abidjan who used his knowledge to become the leading voice of resistance and dissent against dictatorship in his country. He was a union activist who organized teachers’ strikes and ardently worked to establish multiparty democracy. He was a lawmaker in the Ivorian National Assembly. He founded the Ivorian Popular Front, a center-left socialist party. He was a bold dissident who suffered imprisonment on various occasions for his political views and activities. He spent the 1980s in exile in France.

By all measures, Gbagbo was among the best and brightest of Africa’s democratically-leaning leaders.  But as he completed his first term of office, he was afflicted by “cling-to-power-at-any-cost syndrome”, a political disease more commonly known as “I want to be president-for-life (PFL)” syndrome. Every African civilian or military leader since Kwame Nkrumah in the early 1960s has suffered from PFL. Gbagbo sacrificed the lives of thousands of his compatriots so that he could become president-for-life.

In the end, none of it mattered. Gbagbo proved to be no different or better than any of the other  benighted and villainous African dictators who cling to power by killing, jailing, torturing and stealing from their citizens. He may now end up serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

The Ivorian president-turned-power-fiend could have had a dignified exit from power. He could have left office with the respect and appreciation of his people, and honored by the international community as an elder African statesman. He could have found different ways of remaining active in Ivorian politics. Many wanted to facilitate a dignified exit for him. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said, “I gave him [Gbagbo] an offer which had been given by the United States that he had an option to come into exile in the United States and that he would be allowed to be a lecturer at the University of Boston.” He could have cut a deal for a”golden exile” right after the November elections and lived out his life without fear of prosecution. He had been offered asylum in Angola, South Africa, Malawi, Nigeria and the U.S., but he turned down all of them. Like many of his predecessors, Gbagbo chose the path of self-humiliation and ignominy.

Gbagbo’s End Game

Gbagbo’s end game is to face justice for his crimes in an Ivorian court, a special court for Cote d’Ivoire or before the International Criminal Court (ICC). There is substantial evidence to show that as a direct result of Gbagbo’s refusal to concede the presidential election in November 2010, thousands of people lost their lives in officially sanctioned extra-judicial killings. In excess of one million Ivorians have been forced to leave the country to avoid the violence. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, took the extraordinary step of notifying Gbagbo and his henchmen that they will be held personally responsible and accountable for human rights violations in connection with the discovery of two mass graves. But there is also substantial evidence of extra-judicial or arbitrary executions, sexual violence, enforced or involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture against Gbagbo and his regime dating back several years.

Allasane Ouattara, the new president, says Gbagbo will be brought to justice and a truth and reconciliation-style process instituted to address the causes and effects of the decade-long political crises in the country. ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he would like ECOWAS to request an ICC investigation into the massive human rights violations in Cote d’Ivoire, a preliminary step to Gbagbo’s prosecution. It is unlikely that any African organization will cooperate in such an investigation.  In July 2009, the African Union refused to cooperate in the prosecution of al-Bashir of the Sudan: “The AU member states shall not co-operate… relating to immunities for the arrest and surrender of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to the ICC.”

There is no question Gbagbo must be put on trial.  If there are concerns about his prosecution in Cote d’Ivoire, his trial could be moved to The Hague as was done for former Liberian president Charles Taylor. Gbagbo’s trial will likely involve a protracted legal process. (Taylor’s trial concluded a few weeks ago after three and one-half years of litigation in the ICC, and a verdict is expected in the foreseeable future.)

Gbagbo is entitled to full due process and given ample opportunity to vigorously contest every allegation brought against him. His right to a fair trial must be observed meticulously. Prosecution must not be limited to Gbagbo and members of his regime. All suspects, including Ouattra’s supporters allegedly involved in human rights violations, must be investigated and brought to justice. There is compelling evidence that forces loyal to Ouattara have been involved in gross human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, rapes and burning of villages.

Lessons of a Gbagbo Prosecution

Most African dictators will pretend a Gbagbo prosecution will have no effect on them. They will convince themselves and try to convince others that what happened to Gbagbo could not happen to them because they are smarter, shrewder, cleverer and more iron-fisted than anybody else. They will laugh until their belly aches at anyone who suggests that they too will one day stand dazed and with forlorn eyes before the bars of justice and held accountable for their crimes against humanity. Once upon a time, Mubarak, Bashir, Gbagbo, Ben Ali and Gadhafi also laughed at the very suggestion of being held accountable in a court of law. Are they laughing now?

We must all say no to dictatorship and human rights violations anywhere in Africa, in the world.    On the question of human rights, we must take sides. When thousands are massacred and dumped in mass graves in Cote d’Ivoire, we cannot turn a blind eye.  When we have proof that thousands of innocent demonstrators have been killed, wounded and imprisoned in Ethiopia, we must never cease to demand justice.

Human rights abusers learn from each other. When one dictator gets away with crimes against humanity, the others get emboldened to commit atrocities on humanity. If the international community had taken vigorous action in Ethiopia and brought to justice those who massacred   hundreds of innocent demonstrators following the 2005 elections, the bloodbath and carnage in Cote d’Ivoire might have been avoided altogether.

Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” It could be equally said that Africa has been made a dangerous place to live not because of the evil dictators alone, but more importantly because not enough good African people (and friends of Africa) are willing to stand up, speak out and do something about gross human rights violations on the continent. It has been said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Laurent Gbagbo is now wholly within the radius of that arc.  The other African dictators need only contemplate a paraphrased question from a popular song: “Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do when the ICC comes for you?” GAME OVER!

14 thoughts on “The End Game of African Dictators

  1. I like the educational way of explaination. With facts and examples
    professor AL Writes. I hope atleast Ethiopian dictator will get some advice from this article, leave Ethiopia in PEACE.


  2. Thanks prof. AL.

    I co uld able to finish the article today. Short, precise, and full of substance.

    “jero yalew yisma” is applied here. Hey it is for you meles the askaris!!!!

    wey gud

  3. Dr Al, thank you for all you do. Your contribution in liberating Ethiopia is invaluable. With children like you, Ethiopia should not be enslaved. Thanks again.

  4. To mesh Ethiopia’s as a mere dictatorial/thug, tribal and corruption basket case similar to that of the rest of Africa’s would be to mis-diagnose the situation all together. In fact, when it comes to fundemental and core problems that are peculiar to that country, Ethiopians are better off to switch channels from politics to religion/biblical and figure out, once and for all, where their average-twice-a-century diseases in the form of Mekera, Feda, Chenefer, Sedet etc. eminate from.

    Gbagbo, as we came to know, is different from Quaddafi or Al-Bashir. Sudan’s Al-Bashir is responsible for as many as ten million genocidal deaths. Quaddafi is an international terrorist and religious zelout responsible, directly and indirectly, for many of the world’s woes. Meles, not only killed, robbed and rolled back the time on historical country, but, having sat on David’s Throne as diabolical figure, changed not only Ethiopia’s but the world’s order where nobodies, little figures and women are on top, and kicking. Meles: most dangerous to sheeps, to concecrated tribes; darkness, injustice & world-wide major disorder.

    This American Life: Malcolm X

  5. These winds of change need to blow southwards to East, Central, and Southern Africa. We have three leaders in these region that need to be tried in the ICC (at the Hague).

    Everyday, I worry that I will wake up to find they have escaped justice by either dying quietly in their sleep or better still having undergone a sudden and violent end; by an assassination. Either way, the people “loose”. These thugocrats must be made to account.

  6. Binyam raised a critical question and Eriterawi answered him to think of Ethiopia only while he is swiming in “ethiopian” website as he wishes.
    I’ll raise this question again…
    How about Esayas Afeworki??
    Not only Ethiopia, some African countries are mentioned aswell in this essay and it seems like eriteria’s dictator is left out intentionally.
    This is where the credibility of the professor becomes in question irrespective of how eloquently it is written.

  7. Men may hide their dirt and secret sins from the views of other people, but not from the sights of the Almighty God. For his word declared,
    “Neither is there any creature that is not manifesting his sight: but all things are opened and necked in to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”He.4:13.
    Gababo’s disgraceful exit is no accident, but a direct result of his sin. Check this link and judge for yourself what happened in Ivory Coast. Those who believe and continue to think that they won’t give an account for their crime is the greatest SELF DECEPTION all time.

  8. I have a dream –in my life time to see a fair Election in one of African state and the deafeted party or individual fellow people I lost the election and I wish all the best for the next man and I’ll do everything to make transition easier for my friend Obuku, Ali,Gebremedehin, Gemechu, Zberga,Tadesse ETC.I have adream the super Power see the real leader of the country not their bastard who put the interest of USA,or UK first at the expense of my people of Afria, Asia or Ltin America. I have a dream one day we Africans move freely from one country to other. I have a dream to have my breakfast in Asmara and Lunch in Addis or Gonder or Dredawa. Let my dream come true ..let we getrid of our dictators. Peace for all peace loving people

  9. The Ethiopian dictator remain upset,restless no sleep. tarrny dreams.. for whom he may transfer the power. not all power some for oromo then more for tigray and some more for triabs again more … specially wollo, gonder,ambo no power would given to them.

    Another dream….his doughter is too young to transfer the power to her.imposible .Azeb has a boy 30 years old she gave berth for kenfe ( kinfe was killed by meles Zenawi)not for meles. he can not claim the authorty. Azeb previously sent for resettlement to unkown country. today their relation is not known, did she killed the boy? did meles addmit him why he killed his father and marry kinfes wife ?Azeb , where is the boy ?

    Let as back to the topics . the dictators games are over as they are day dreaming

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