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Ivory Coast, Libya highlight growing rift between Africa and the West

Many African leaders share China's viewpoint that national sovereignty is more important than human rights and democracy.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / April 14, 2011

In this photo taken on Monday, April 11, UN peacekeepers collect weapons from the army headquarters of former Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Jane Hahn/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

If ever there was doubt of a growing rift between African and Western leaders, it was made clear with the recent conflicts of Libya and Ivory Coast.

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In both countries – where strongmen rulers unleashed their armies and police against opponents – Western leaders quickly called for international intervention to protect civilians, while many African leaders preferred mediation and complained of African sovereignty being trampled.

In Ivory Coast, African Union-led mediation failed miserably as renegade President Laurent Gbagbo plunged his country back into civil war before the United Nations asked French forces to intervene, leading to Mr. Gbagbo's capture on Monday. And while Western allies continued to bomb forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi this week, the AU sent a five-nation team to Tripoli to hash out "road map" for peace that rebels have rejected.

The tensions resulting from the two approaches, though, are not merely between bossy rich Western nations on one side and African nationalists on the other. They exist within every African country, in a debate that poses the question: Can modern African societies be open enough to allow democracy, but strong enough to resist external political or economic domination?

“It is a very interesting conflict going on. The Ivory Coast issue has divided African public opinion quite sharply,” says Achille Mbembe, professor of history and politics at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

African anger at the West reached its sharpest point at the beginning of a French-led air attack on heavy weapons belonging to Gbagbo’s forces in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan on April 4.

African Union chief Teodoro Obiang Nguema – who is also president of Equatorial Guinea – told a gathering of reporters in Geneva, “Africa does not need any external influence. Africa must manage its own affairs.”

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