Thinking about corruption, I came to think about a speech Vaclav Havel made in 1991 when accepting the Copenhagen University Sonning Prize for his contribution to European civilization.
Havel talks about “the diabolical temptations of power” affecting especially those who haven’t held positions of political power previously. How people getting into politics for mainly idealistic reasons lose focus and stay in it for altogether different reasons.
The Ivory Coast appears to be a textbook case for this process over the last decade. In the beginning I believe Robert Guei, Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro all got into politics due to, in big part, values and ideas.
You just don’t start a coup and an armed revolt that is far from certain to succeed without being a tad idealistic at least. And to be opposition leader for a long time with seemingly small chances of success against an autocratic African ruler, it’s just not possible without some idealism. I’m not sure about Guei, but I have read Gbagbo’s and Soro’s speeches and declarations they made before they came into power, and it was easy to agree with much of it, and it looks clear that they were to a significant part driven by a desire to make the Ivory Coast a better place.
Guess the jury is still out on how Soro is dealing with becoming prime minister, but latest signs do not look to encouraging.
Anyhow, here’s Vaclav Havel’s acceptance speech in its entirety:
The prize I’ve been honored with today is usually given to intellectuals, not to politicians. I am obviously what can be called an intellectual, but at the same time, fate has determined that I find myself — literally overnight — in what is called the world of high politics.
With your permission, I would like to take advantage of my unusual experience and try to cast a critical eye of an intellectual on the phenomenon of power as I have been able to observe it so far from the inside, and especially on the nature of the temptation that power represents.
Why is it that people long for political power, and why, when they have achieved it, are they so reluctant to give it up?