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Ivory Coast Election Crisis

Authors: Jendayi E. Frazer, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Studies, and Nicolas Berggruen, Nicolas Berggruen Institute
December 30, 2010
Christian Science Monitor


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is living up to the stereotype of an African leader clinging to power, disconnected from the country's citizens and ignoring their expressed will.

The drama is cast as a personal power struggle between Mr. Gbagbo, who was never properly elected, yet ruled Ivory Coast for 10 years after the flawed 2000 election, and Alassane Ouattara, the candidate in the Nov. 28 runoff who is preferred as the country's next president by 54 percent of voting Ivorians.

The world has rightly rallied to back the people's choice. The United Nations, the African Union, the US, and France have all called for Gbagbo to turn over power to Mr. Ouattara.

A fundamental problem in African governance

However, this fixation on the personal failings of leaders obscures the deeper problem: a fundamental disjuncture between Africa's modern political institutions and its ethnic communities and traditional institutions. This disjuncture, so well reflected in Ivory Coast, is at the heart of the continent's crisis of governance. Contemporary African states are poorly functioning hybrids of indigenous cultures and customs mixed with Arab and European models of governance that arrived with invasions, colonialism, and migration.

Rather than merely search yet again for short-term solutions in the violent aftermath of an election, it would seem more sensible to look for ways to prevent future crises rooted in Africa's dysfunctional political systems.

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