OPINION: US offer of asylum for Ivory Coast's Gbabgo reveals outdated foreign policy
The Obama administration's efforts to get incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to step down after a disputed Nov. 28 poll reflects an ossified view of African politics, writes guest blogger G. Pascal Zachary.
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I recall distinctly how former President Jerry Rawlings in neighboring Ghana was able to live peacefully amid his former subjects after he was “termed out” ten years ago. One night in 2002, while dancing with my Nigerian wife, Chizo, to a hi-life band in Ghana's capital, Accra, I found myself admiring Mr. Rawlings up close. He was dancing with his wife’s sister barely inches from me. I wrote an article at the time called “Dancing with Dictators” in which I marveled at the capacity of Ghanaians to permit their former dictator-turned-elected-president to live peacefully among them.Skip to next paragraph
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So, the answer to the question of whither Gbagbo post presidency is simple: let him choose the terms of his persistence.
The zany notion presented by the Obama administration, expressed to The New York Times by one anonymous official, that “the longer the stalemate ensues, and the more violence there is, the more that window closes,” reflects an ossified view of African politics, a bygone understanding of the internal dynamics within Ivory Coast and West Africa.
The reality that Obama’s people refuse to face is that two years into office, their president has been unable to forge an effective policy for US engagement with Nigeria, the sub-regional economic powerhouse, or Ivory Coast, the most important Francophone country.
Only in Liberia, where the US has a legacy of outsized influence, has Obama’s presence been felt. Everywhere else in West Africa, even in docile Ghana, the new president has left no mark, which is why, as I noted last month in the Christian Science Monitor, his political fortunes appear to run counter the fortunes of American relations with the sub-Saharan.
To be sure, in the days and weeks ahead, the US will influence the events in Ivory Coast. But Obama’s amateur Africanists should not flatter themselves: their influence, at best, is limited.
Only by playing well with others – the French, the United Nations, and the sub-regional ECOWAS grouping dominated by Nigeria – will the US have any role in the outcome in Abidjan. For Americans in power, the era of hubris and over-reach – towards Africa and the international community – has yet to end.