This week’s capture of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo caps a violent, four-month standoff and puts President-elect Allasane Ouattara in charge of restoring stability in the West African nation. Kojo explores the implications of Gbagbo’s arrest for the spread of democracy in Africa and the role of international diplomacy and force on the continent.


  • Emira Woods Co-director, Foreign Policy in Focus, Institute for Policy Studies
  • John Dramani Mahama Vice President of Ghana


  • 12:06:45

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Curbside Cupcakes meet curb-hugging restaurants. It's Food Wednesday. But first, on Monday, another unpopular strongman fell from power, this time in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo was captured by forces loyal to President-elect Allasane Ouattara after a violent four-month standoff over election results. In this season of popular uprisings across North Africa and the Arab world, the transition of power in Ivory Coast highlights the tension between African Union's call for sanctions and the international community's decision to use force.

  • 12:07:49

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt also raises questions about what that tension means for future regime change on the continent of Africa. And joining us in studio to discuss it is Emira Woods, co-director of foreign policy in focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Emira Woods, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:08

    MS. EMIRA WOODSGreat to be with you, Kojo.

  • 12:08:10

    NNAMDIEmira, on Monday, Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo was captured and turned over to Allasane Ouattara, who's recognized by the international community as the winner of last November's presidential election there. Will this mean the end of the violence in a country that's been through a decade of civil war and four months of post-election fighting?

  • 12:08:31

    WOODSWell, it's been a tough page in the Ivory Coast's history. Ivory Coast was a place of stability for decades since independence. It was really this beautiful country on the Atlantic Ocean that was a haven of economic stability for quite some time. And yet over the last decade, it has spiraled essentially to this horrific place where you had both factions essentially fighting for power for the last 10 years. The elections in November were meant to be the culmination of that difficult period, was meant to be the end of that period of conflict.

  • 12:09:03

    WOODSIt was a negotiated resolution of the conflict, and yet, the elections continue to spiral downward until this week, really, when finally the seated president, Laurent Gbagbo, was apprehended and has now been detained, and the president-elect, Allasane Ouattara, has now gained the place that many thought he should have had back in November.

  • 12:09:29

    NNAMDII read in the morning paper that some five generals who previously supported Laurent Gbagbo have now pledged their support to Allasane Ouattara. Does that necessarily mean an end of conflict because it's my understanding that Laurent Gbagbo still has supporters around the country who are willing to fight on.

  • 12:09:49

    WOODSWell, I think it is an important step forward that Allasane Ouattara was able to bring this notion of reconciliation and unity not only within the military but that reconciliation is going to be needed within the political processes and all of the machinery of politics in the Ivory Coast. There needs to be a sense of national healing and reconciliation, and he needs to be projected, really, as the president of the entire country. But we have to remember, there were some incredible violations of human rights that occurred on both sides, both by the Gbagbo forces and by the Ouattara supporters. So there also has to be a measure of accountability where all who were implicated in the violence against civilians, including violence against women, are actually brought to account.

  • 12:10:32

    NNAMDIJoining us now by telephone from Ghana is John Dramani Mahama. He is a vice president of Ghana. Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:10:42

    VICE PRES. JOHN DRAMANI MAHAMAYeah. Thank you, Kojo.

  • 12:10:43

    NNAMDIAfter the election in Ivory Coast, you wrote that the way in which the standoff was resolved would either demonstrate how fragile the democratic process still is in Africa, or would be a testament to how far the continent has come in promoting democracy. What is your assessment now that Laurent Gbagbo has been removed?

  • 12:11:05

    MAHAMAWell, it had been my hope that this whole thing would have brought -- been brought to a conclusion in a more peaceful manner than what happened. Recently, in Africa, you find that based on protocols that we have passed in the A.U. and the ECOWAS on democracy and elections, I mean, most countries, you know, regularly hold elections, and I think the rule of law and constitutional governance has taken hold in Africa. And so, for instance, this year, it was predicted that there was going to be about 26 elections across Africa, you know, and Cote d'Ivoire was supposed to be one of them last year. Unfortunately, we came up with a stalemate, and I had hoped that there would be a peaceful resolution of the issue.

  • 12:11:39

    MAHAMABut unfortunately, it had to come to this, and it's unfortunate. But I think Cote d'Ivoire is more the exception than the rule in Africa now, and we are happy that Africa has made a lot of progress in terms of consolidating democracy and good governance.

  • 12:12:11

    NNAMDIMr. Vice President, in January, your president, the president of Ghana said your nation, a democracy, that shares a border with Ivory Coast would not contribute troops to any decision to forcibly remove Gbagbo from office, a decision that was heavily criticized. Why did Ghana rule out any international or A.U. or ECOWAS force?

  • 12:12:33

    MAHAMAWell, Ghana did not rule it out completely but said that we didn't think that it was a viable option to consider at the time. It had been included in the ECOWAS resolution that was passed that our president attended, and he signed onto it. And it indicated that ECOWAS was going to take all necessary measures including the use of legitimate force, but in all these, our contention was that legitimate force must be an absolutely, absolutely last resort. And so we had hoped that, you know, some negotiations or some understanding, you know, to form a government of national unity that encompasses, you know, all shades of opinion within Cote d'Ivoire would have been made, you know.

  • 12:13:19

    MAHAMAAnd probably that sanctions would bite sufficiently to force Gbagbo out of power, you know, but unfortunately, it didn't come to that. We have said that we didn't think that the use of reasonable or legitimate force at the time was something that we should be considering.

  • 12:13:36

    NNAMDIWe're talking with John Dramani Mahama. He is a vice president of Ghana. He joins us by telephone from Ghana. In our Washington studio is Emira Woods, co-director of foreign policy in focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Do you feel that the forcible removal of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast is an indication of things to come in Africa, or more the exception that proves the rule? 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, Join the conversation there. Emira Woods, Ghana's position was one of preferring the use of diplomacy. It is a position that traditionally was adopted by the now gone Organization of African Unity replaced by the African Union, which was thought to be slightly more aggressive.

  • 12:14:27

    NNAMDIBut the A.U. seemed in both this case and then Libya's to veer towards the side of democracy, but Mr. Gbagbo having maintained for the last several months since November that he was going to simply remain in office. Was there really any other option?

  • 12:14:42

    WOODSWell, I think the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, put many options on the table. It included financial sanctions. It included travel bans. It included an arms embargo. There were a number of non-militaristic interventions that were put forward both by ECOWAS and by the African Union. I think there are a lot of comparisons being made in terms of Libya. Clearly, the African Union is elevating its role in peace and conflict resolution on the continent and seeing its mandate as really standing with pro-democracy forces and also ensuring the rule of law throughout the continent. And I think you have seen some consistent ways in which they have put that forward.

  • 12:15:24

    WOODSBut they're putting it forward because of the clamorings of people, really from the bottom up, pushing their leaders to get involved in these political dialogues, in these negotiations for a peaceful resolution to the crises. I think there's an understanding that you cannot have these tyrants, you know, rulers for life, that assumed that once they're in power, they're going to maintain their grip on power. So clearly, non-militaristic means being put forward by the African Union not only in the Ivory Coast but also in Libya, in addition pushing forward opportunities in which there can be a political resolution to these crises that are inherently political.

  • 12:16:05

    NNAMDIMr. Vice President, let's look at the roles of diplomacy and force in bringing about regime change in Africa. As has been pointed out in the case of Ivory Coast, African diplomats tried to convince Mr. Gbagbo to step aside. Economic sanctions did slow his economy, but he was not forced out until the United Nations and France launched airstrikes that created an opening for Ouattara's fighters to go in and capture him. What does that tell us about the possibility for transitions that do not involve military might? One is thinking of Zimbabwe. Just this morning, I read a report about what's going on in Swaziland there. What do you see as the possibilities and hopes for transitions that don't involve military might?

  • 12:16:47

    MAHAMAWell, I think that transitions are going to get better and better. Like I said, examples like Cote d'Ivoire, exceptions more than the rule, and I do think that, I mean, if you look at elections in Guinea, you look at elections in other parts of -- Niger and other parts of Africa, I mean, things have turned the corner, and things are getting much, much better. Ghana suddenly is a model, you know, for the rest of the continent and, I think, will continue to hold peaceful and successful elections. But let me say that I think that sanctions contributed in a large part to the collapse of the resistance from Gbagbo's side when the...

  • 12:17:32

    NNAMDIIndeed, that has been acknowledged, yes.

  • 12:17:34

    MAHAMA...offensive was launched because increasingly accounts have been blocked. His access to the foreign reserves had been blocked. There was a ban on export of Ivorian cocoa, which is the major revenue. And being neighbors to Cote d'Ivoire, you could tell as the months passed by that his ability to pay his soldiers and other costs was becoming more and more restricted. And so, I mean, the morale of the troops was beginning to lower. We noticed huge traffic across our border to buy simple items like soap, petrol and other day-to-day consumables. And so the sanctions were biting and were taking effect. And I wonder how much more he could have continued to cling to power, but, of course, it's -- all that is history now.

  • 12:18:24

    MAHAMAI mean, force was used, and that I hope that it gives the opportunity for the country to make a new start. There shouldn’t be a victor and a vanquished. I do think that Allasane Ouattara, who was recognized, I mean, unanimously amongst the international community and in ECOWAS as having been the winner, should use this is an opportunity to bring the country together and heal the wounds. You know, that this dispute has an ethnic dimension to it, and I think that this is a time for him to show he's a leader, and he should take, you know, step up to the platform and reunite Ivory Coast into the wonderful nation that it has always been.

  • 12:19:05

    NNAMDIEmira Woods, what is the ethnic aspect to this dispute?

  • 12:19:08

    WOODSWell, there are many who are calling out both the ethnicity between those in the north and the south, the geographic differences between the north and the south and also the religious differences between the north and the south. Those were the splits over the last 10 years, but I think there are many who recognize that people in the Ivory Coast are really tired of war. They're tired of these divisions. They're tired of fighting, and the implications of the war on families throughout the country have been dire. And I think there is a sense that people are ready to move forward, move forward with a stronger economy that meets the needs of workers, particularly now, with this economic recession that's impacting the world with food prices escalating and people really struggling to put food on the table to feed their kids.

  • 12:19:49

    WOODSI think there is a sense that the country has to move forward in the way that brings all the country together to reach their fullest capabilities as we've seen in places like Ghana.

  • 12:20:03

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation of the implications of the removal of strongman Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast for the rest of Africa. If you have called, stay on the line. And we do have quite a few calls, so you might wanna communicate with us now by way of our website, Send an email to or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:22:08

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the implications on the downfall of Ivory Coast's strongman Laurent Gbagbo for the rest of Africa. Having that conversation with us is Emira Woods, co-director of foreign policy in focus at the Institute for Policy Studies here in Washington. And joining us by telephone from Ghana is John Dramani Mahama, vice president of Ghana. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Benjamin in Baltimore, Md. Benjamin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:22:39

    BENJAMINThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. The lady from the Institute of Peace (word?) but did not -- but she did not go far enough. Africans should stop politicizing tribalism and religion. Secondly, Africans should move away from greed. Thirdly, I'm looking at the removal of Laurent Gbagbo as placing Africa (unintelligible) poverty. Africans should know that they are an agricultural society. (unintelligible) The French movement into Ivory Coast is to destroy everything, will go to them for reconstruction, and it's going to take 15 years for Africans to pay back the debt that they are owing to the French for reconstruction.

  • 12:23:25

    BENJAMINAfricans should -- they can move away in a peaceful manner, peaceful resolution. Do elections, do recount like in this country, not just in (unintelligible) on Africans (unintelligible)

  • 12:23:37

    NNAMDIBenjamin, is it your view that Laurent Gbagbo would have been removed by peaceful means, eventually?

  • 12:23:45

    BENJAMINThey should have considered an opportunity for a recount. It's not that I'm supporting that he should not be taken out by force, but the destruction -- the utter destruction of the economy of Africa as a result of the forceful removal would place millions of Africans in poverty for the next 15 years.

  • 12:24:05

    NNAMDIMr. Vice President Mahama, do you think that the removal of Laurent Gbagbo by force implies that the -- there will be a continued impoverishment in Ivory Coast because of the involvement of the French as Benjamin seems to think?

  • 12:24:21

    MAHAMAWell, I couldn't hear him very clearly, but I guess that it -- the opportunity arises from adversity. I think that gives the Ivorian people a new opportunity to build a society that is democratic and respects the rights of all Ivorians, no matter your ethnic or religious inclination. There's an ethnic and religious dimension to that conflict, and I think that Ivorians must learn to live together no matter, you know, where they come from in the country or what their religious orientation is.

  • 12:24:54

    NNAMDIThere -- there's...

  • 12:24:55

    MAHAMACote d'Ivoire has been one of the powerful economies in West Africa. And I think that the recent disturbances, you know, starting from the earlier civil war until now, has not given yet the opportunity to develop its full potential. Now, an opportunity arises again where they can build a new future for their people, and I think that Ivorians should take advantage of it.

  • 12:25:17

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Benjamin. Emira, Scott in Fairfax, Va. also would like to comment on the role of France, and I'd like you to respond. But first, you, Scott.

  • 12:25:27

    SCOTTYes. Thank you for taking my call. I was curious as to the role of France in the two sides of the conflict. I have a Ghanaian co-worker, and he was telling me that it is partially a pro-France, anti-France division in the country. And that is -- and I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

  • 12:25:50

    NNAMDIEmira Woods?

  • 12:25:51

    WOODSWell, the role of France is always complicated because they are the colonial power, and we know the horrific history of colonialism in Africa, not just in the Ivory Coast. But what we have here is a situation where it's really the U.N. The U.N., under this responsibility to protect, sort of, a new covenant of the U.N. that's now being invoked both in Ivory Coast and in Libya, made a decision to actually take forward a very active military intervention. So I think it is under the security -- U.N. Security Council 1975 that there is now the stance that militaries can use any means if -- using the terms put forward by the secretary general of the U.N.

  • 12:26:37

    WOODSUse any means to protect civilians. So I think it is under that umbrella that the French then have acted. And yet I do think that there is a difference when it's the U.N. that's acting under the banner of the U.N. than when it is a colonial power. And I think this is why we had all of these competing reports of was it the French forces or was it Ouattara forces that actually apprehended Gbagbo in the end. I think there is still tremendous resentment, animosity, suspicion when it comes to the colonial powers.

  • 12:27:07

    NNAMDIVice President Mahama, talk about the role of the African Union going forward so to speak. What role do you believe the AU and the U.N., for that matter, can or should play in promoting and encouraging democracy in Africa?

  • 12:27:21

    MAHAMAI think that they have a substantial role to play, and both parties have done quite well going forward. The African Union has passed all the protocols that created the foundation for African countries to continue to consolidate constitutional governments, hold free and fair elections and give their people the opportunity to participate in governances. And so their role will continue to be very relevant. With regards to what Ms. Woods said a short while ago, I think I agree with her, you know, because France has been the colonial power, colonial master of Cote d'Ivoire.

  • 12:28:00

    MAHAMAIts role in things that have happened over the last several weeks has been a very sensitive one. It raises the specter of recolonization or France having some colonial interest, you know, in Cote d'Ivoire. And so it's been a very sensitive issue. And I think that it's good the U.N. resolution existed, and so France has acted under the ambit of the U.N. resolution. But I think going forward, in the future, we have to see how that can be crafted in a way that does not rob people the wrong way in terms of, you know, this colonial relations that exist between the former colonial masters and the independent African countries.

  • 12:28:43

    NNAMDIAnd from Ivory Coast, on to Libya. I’ll start with a call from Ali in Richmond, VA. Ali, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:28:51

    ALIYes. How are you doing, Kojo? And thank you for calling -- I mean, for taking my call. My question is that for the A.U./ why did they not take a strong action against Gadhafi like Ivory Coast? Thank you.

  • 12:29:07

    NNAMDII'm so glad you raised that question because, Emira Woods, I think, it is important never to look at Africa simply as one country. Because even though it is one continent, the political and economic situations in different territories is different. Talk a little bit about the situation in Libya and the role, not of the U.N. in that situation, but now we're talking about NATO being militarily involved in Libya. How do you see the difference in that situation as compared to the position of the A.U. which came to some kind of agreement with Moammar Gadhafi but -- which neither NATO or a whole lot of other people were satisfied with?

  • 12:29:46

    WOODSWell, I think the role of the A.U. has been fascinating. It's been really interesting watching both Ivory Coast and Libya on this point because in terms of Libya, the U.N. did have this Resolution 1973 that was unanimously approved by the Security Council, including some African governments did approve it. And yet, the African Union has had a very staunch position in opposition to the airstrikes, in opposition to the U.N. Security Council resolution and actually calling for, not military intervention, but really calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

  • 12:30:20

    NNAMDIDoesn't that have some...

  • 12:30:20

    WOODSSo they have a roadmap that they put in place.

  • 12:30:22

    NNAMDIDoesn't that have something to do also with Mr. Gadhafi's relationship with the African Union?

  • 12:30:26

    WOODSI think we have to be clear, the African Union started out with the Sirte declaration. The African Union's founding really was in the birthplace of Gadhafi, and Gadhafi has played a very active role in this Pan-African vision that many of us uphold, but really in providing resources to bring it alive in the last 10 years. And yet, we also recognize that Gadhafi has played a detrimental role in fueling crises on the continent including, you know, funneling arms and resources to Charles Taylor in my own country of Liberia, right? So it's a mixed record. But clearly, what the African Union is doing is asserting its role in terms of peace and conflict resolution on the continent.

  • 12:31:07

    WOODSAnd I really think that there is a new movement underway that goes throughout the continent of pro-democracy actors that are demanding that their voice be heard and are actually pushing the African Union to use its capacities to actually reinforce democratic principles on the continent.

  • 12:31:23

    NNAMDIIn other words, Mr. Vice President, Emira Woods stating that the African Union is a product not only of its history but also a product of the people who are trying to push it into the future.

  • 12:31:36

    MAHAMAYeah, that's true. I guess that the African Union will continue to play its part. In the case of Libya, the main call has been for a ceasefire between the parties so that, I mean, some way forward can be found. It is obvious that despite the airstrikes, Gadhafi still packs a lot of firepower. And he has trained soldiers, people who are trained. If you look at the rebel side, you find that a lot of those have no training in, you know, military combat. And so, so it's a bit of a one side. I think it's like a ding-dong battle. And our question is how many more people must die in this back-and-forth thing that is happening. And then, so the African Union proposed a ceasefire. I guess if there was a ceasefire, then some dialogue could take place.

  • 12:32:23

    MAHAMAOf course, the rebels have opposed the ceasefire unless on condition that Gadhafi relinquish power. But I think that that is a fair step, you know, towards some dialoging and finding a way forward for Libya.

  • 12:32:34

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's about all the time we have. Before I let you go, Mr. Vice President. I have to say that it has been refreshing to see an African leader while in office writing to share his thoughts with people in this country. I read you on and in other places and sharing your views about what's going on while it's actually occurring, so please don't stop.

  • 12:32:55

    MAHAMAThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:32:56

    NNAMDIThank you very much for joining us. John Dramani Mahama is vice president of Ghana. Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies here in Washington. Emira Woods, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:33:09

    WOODSIt's a pleasure. Thank you, Kojo.

  • 12:33:10

    NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, hey, it's Food Wednesday. Curbside Cupcakes meet curb-hugging restaurants. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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