Sunday, 26 December 2010

There comes a time for intervention

Ivory CoastIf there was ever a clear-cut case for military intervention it is the crisis unfolding in the Ivory Coast right now.

Since loosing the presidential election on 28th incumbent Laurent Gbago has held onto control of the West African nation through force; despatching death squads to murder opponents and troops to surround the hotel where Alassane Ouattara - the rightful winner –is residing. As of today 11 000 refugees have fled across the Liberian border to escape the violence. Thousands more expected to follow them over the coming days. What is presently a political and humanitarian crisis looks set to imminently develop into civil war.

The United Nations Peacekeeping force overseeing the state’s peace process (which was set to cumulate with this election) has been ordered by Ggbago to leave, but has rightly refused. As recognised by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and most member states – Mr. Ouattara is now the only one who can legitimately call for its withdrawal. Fearing for his peoples’ lives as well as his own- he understandably wants the force to remain. Given the circumstances, upon his request it could legally be bolstered by African Union or extra UN troops, including national forces under the formal command of either organisation.

This would be a morally justifiable act as well. The inevitable comparisons with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that will be drawn by some the minute that the word ‘intervention’ is mentioned, immediately fall flat. This would be a mandated mission under the auspices of a regional or international grouping to enforce the result of a democratic election at the request of its victor; not the ill thought out, quasi-unilateral removal of entrenched regimes with no viable alternatives. The age-old mantra of ‘pushing our will on other nations’ is also terminally fallacious when the majority of that nation’s public have formally exercised their democratic rights –under national laws, no less- to elect a leader who requests military assistance from the international community.

This leaves only the ancient and somewhat racist objection so often trotted out by those on the right that ‘we shouldn’t waste our resources and troops’ lives in the business of other states.’ However, such sentiment falters (even when laying aside the its bigoted rejection of international society and universal human rights) given the magnitude of what the situation in the Ivory Coast means for Africa – and consequently the entire world.

In 2007 the will of the Kenyan people was rejected by incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, who lost yet held onto the reigns of power by sending armed troops and thugs with machetes onto the streets. The following year Robert Mugabe, heading for electoral defeat, orchestrated a campaign of murder and intimidation against the Movement for Democratic Change, entrenching his rule once more. In 2011 Africa will see more elections than in any single year since decolonisation. Unless the succession of defeated leaders writing-off election results at the barrel of a gun is brought to an end, the message will go out that the international community will sit idly by should this happen again and consequently -in all likelihood -very little will change. Then, without democracy or good governance, millions of people across the continent will continue to face political violence, poverty, food shortages, water shortages and uncontrollable pandemics.

So to those who’d argue against military intervention sanctioned by Ouattara, on the basis that it is somehow ‘imperialist’ I say this: there is nothing wrong with militarily supporting a democratically elected leader when he asks for assistance in upholding peace and human rights. And for those whose objections would rest upon the misplaced conception that the Ivory Coast’s crisis is the Ivory Coast’s problem I offer this consideration: the political ramifications of Ggbago holding power could condemn a continent to poverty for decades to come…poverty that will require aid from the international community, that will close off trade options for the international community, that will spread diseases which have no respect for borders and that will provide fertile breeding grounds for terrorists seeking to spread their destruction across the globe. And that is everyone’s problem.

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