Posted by: Martin | October 23, 2010

Autocrat rule 101

Storm clouds ahead

It looks like the first round of the presidential election in the Ivory Coast are really going to happen this time, if not on the scheduled date on the 31st October, so at least in November. So far there’s been relatively low levels of violence surrounding the various election campaigns, which is somewhat promising.

Not many years ago an opposition rally in the south would have been attacked by militias and/or security forces, but now such rallies take place peacefully in Abidjan.

The real test will however be what happens during and after the elections.  Six months ago I tried to analyse likely outcomes and today it looks just as uncertain as it did then. The present relative calm today may quickly be turned over head.

Abidjan.net's election special

Gbagbo struggling with the introductory course

A month ago Gbagbo promoted a number of high-level army and police officers, and made a speech saying (and here I quote Pauline at West Africa Wins Always’ translation of Gbagbo’s speech):

“We ask the police, to subdue all those who are against the republic. You have enemies — I say enemies, not opponents — and the enemies are all those who want to disrupt the elections. You are not a judge. You are a combatant. Your role is to obey, not to think. If there is damage, it is up to the judges to evaluate. If there are mistakes, we will solve them. But you must realize that you are here to suppress all those who oppose peace.”

I guess Gbagbo is just following the basics of “Autocrat rule 101” here, ie:

(1) Keep the guys with guns loyal to you.

(2) Get the guys with guns to be ready to do what it takes to keep you in power if your position is threatened (by a coup, protests in the streets or pesky elections etc)

I have heard two different interpretation of Gbagbo’s speech, one is that his main concern is to ensure that the army and police strikes down any protests against his rule after the election. The other, that he is worried about a coup d’etat and wants to shore up support among the police and army.

If it’s the latter he’s actually missing an important lesson from the Autocratic rule curriculum; that it is nearly always lower ranked officers that stage coups.  The high level ones already have cushy salaries and perks and stuff, and have more to lose.

Autocrat rule 101: Don’t lose half your country!

Now, I don’t think a coup d’etat is very likely in the Ivory Coast, but I do think that Gbagbo isn’t very good at being an autocratic ruler.  Compared to for instance Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Gbagbo is way behind. Mr Yew has for a starter never lost half his country to an armed rebellion, he doesn’t have half of the printed press against him, and he has regular elections with no risk of losing them and absolutely no violence.

One of Mr Yew’s “tricks” is to- and this is pretty advanced autocratic rule – not kill opposition leaders, and not even to put them in prison, but to sue them and ruin them financially and have a law that bankrupted persons may not run for public office.  I once met J.B. Jeyaretnam who long held one a the few opposition seats in Singapore’s parliament, and was in the Guinness book of records as most sued man on earth.

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