The Simon Cowell of dictators

Can Gbagbo win?

Yesterday the Guardian had a pretty good article about the Ivory Coast, impressing me by managing to compare Gbagbo with Simon Cowell and yet keeping the article entirely serious.

“He is like the Simon Cowell of dictators,” said Antony Goldman, head of the London-based risk analysis firm PM Consulting, who met Gbagbo in 1997. “He spent the first 40 years of life as a fringe figure; he was political wallpaper and seemed destined always to be an irrelevance. Success came late in life and now he and the people around him are clinging on to it with all the strength they can.”

Other interesting quotes – though without any pop-culture references – include:

Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, put it bluntly: “Gbagbo is a big and blustery character, a bit of demagogue, but his wife is really scary. When the civil war started, she was saying things like, ‘We cannot have Côte d’Ivoire ruled by foreigners’, which is just language for northerners. His wife and other allies do seem to be driven by racism towards the north. The idea of the country being handed over to a northern Muslim is terrifying.”

The Gbagbo camp’s intentions at this stage leave Dowden baffled. “These are all smart, Sorbonne-educated, sophisticated international people, so I don’t know how they think they can get away with this. If it was a jumped-up sergeant major or colonel who had never been outside the country, it would be easier to understand. I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which he might win and I can’t. If it gets really nasty, he’s going to end up in the Hague.”

I think that just because Gbagbo’s camp are international people the sanctions are hitting unusually hard. Despite their anti-French/anti-“neocolonialism” rethoric they enjoy their holidays in France and have bank accounts and assets in Europe and the US, and even children being schooled in the US.

Still, unfortunately I can image scenarios where Gbagbo can win:
(And by win I mean staying in power in practice in the southern part of the Ivory Coast for many years)

No military intervention

If the ECOWAS and the African Union just talk about a military intervention but never actually take action, then Gbagbo has a chance of staying as de facto president.   I guess he won’t have access to the presidential aircraft or his assets abroad, and have no diplomatic representation (except maybe in Angola), and limited access to the central bank, but as long as Gbagbo has enough resources to keep security forces, army and milita loyal to him, he can stay in power.

Obtaining those resources over the long term without the central bank won’t be straightforward, but with control of the port, airport, tax authorities and cocoa and oil production it looks doable.  Guess it will be the usual dictator-under-sanction situation where all resources are funneled to the army leaving the people to suffer.

I think ECOWAS and the African Union mean business, but I may be wrong, and then there are doubts over ECOWAS capabilities.

From Christian Science Monitor:

While the threat of a military intervention creates pressure on Gbagbo, Africa security analyst Peter Pham said there are “serious doubts that ECOWAS has the wherewithal to carry it out.”

“None of the ECOWAS countries has the type of special operations forces capable of a ‘decapitation strike’ to remove the regime leadership,” said Pham, who is the senior vice president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York. “That leaves the rather unpalatable option of mounting a full-scale invasion of the sort that would inevitably involve urban fighting and civilian casualties.”

Even if there is no ECOWAS intervention Gbagbo is not out of the woods, as he needs to keep his loyal military forces stronger than the Force Nouvelles in the north who seem quite determined to launch an attack against the south (if they manage to stay reasonably united).  At the moment Gbagbo’s forces seem to be strong enough, but over time with limited resources and Force Nouvelles being supported by neighbouring countries hostile to Gbagbo, things may change.

To stay in power over the longer term Gbagbo would be greatly helped by creating divisions within the ECOWAS or the AU.  That looks difficult at the moment, but he may be betting that it changes if ECOWAS, UN or French forces shoot on unarmed pro-Gbagbo demonstrators.

Doing a Putin

If none of the above works out for Gbagbo, he could make an agreement where Ouattara becomes President and Gbagbo takes the role as Prime Minister. Then he makes sure that the real power lies with the Prime Minister, by having people loyal to him running key state functions and keeping de facto control of the security forces.

Gbagbo seems already at the moment trying to purge anyone who doesn’t support him from state institutions.  With Gbagbo still in the government it might be difficult for Ouattara to reverse the “Gbagboisation” of state institutions in practice, even if the agreement is likely to address this issue.

Nightmare scenario

I had hoped that when the elections were over I could go back to write about my real estate venture again.  Even if Gbagbo had won it would be possible to do great business in the Ivory Coast.  But this is the nightmare scenario taking place right now, with an illegitimate Gbagbo staying in power by force and using systematic violence against civilians who oppose him, while the country runs into the ground economically.

It’s pretty clear that Gbagbo and his inner circle are not going to leave power unless forced to. The United Nations has the means to make him leave, but not the will, whereas the Force Nouvelles have the will but maybe not the means.

And even if Force Nouvelles have the means, the problem is that they don’t have a very good human rights record, and them removing Gbagbo would mean a civil war touching the southern half of the country.

The thing with violence is that it breeds hatred that breeds even more violence. This is a vicious circle that the Ivory Coast unfortunately seems to be embarking on.

Yesterday I saw this quite telling tweet:

fakegbagbo Ivorian soldier tells me in Abobo b/c of killings, stating “this is a soldier” is enough to get a mob to kill someone.#ivorycoast #civ2010

Maybe the most frustrating thing is that the United Nations are not protecting civilians (except those in Golf Hotel). One would think they could send a detachment to Abobo or somewhere to create a safe zone, but I guess that would mean a full on confrontation with Gbagbo’s forces and maybe also with large numbers of unarmed Gbgabo supporters which would be difficult for the UN to deal with.

I wouldn’t be surprised if large numbers of Gbagbo supporters will turn up outside Golf Hotel soon, and then the UN will have to deal with it anyway.

A second look at the second round

Clearing out the numbers

I have taken a look at the second round numbers on, and thought I’d try to clear out remaining question marks.

The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) reported:

Ouattara (Ado):  2,483,164 votes (54.10%)

Gbagbo: 2,107,055 (45.90%)

Participation: 81.12%



What exactly did the Consitutional Council do?

Then the Constitutional Council (CC)  took the CEI numbers and invalidated seven departments in the Savanes, Vallee du Bandama and Worodougou regions. For all other regions the CC and CEI numbers are exactly the same.

CEI Savanes: Ado: 307,530  Gbagbo: 21,203
CC  Savanes: Ado: 17,347  Gbagbo: 1,414

CEI Val. Bandama: Ado: 244,471  Gbagbo: 41,789
CC  Val. Bandama: Ado: 34,714  Gbagbo: 11,062

CEI Worodougou: Ado: 93,990  Gbagbo: 5,263
CC  Worodougou: Ado: 49,438  Gabgbo: 3,261

In total the CC invalidated 52,518 Gbagbo votes and 544,492 Ado votes, thus obtaining the following result:

Ado:  1,938,672 votes (48.55%)

Gbagbo: 2,054,467 (51.45%)

Participation: 71.29%


The participation is lower in the CC numbers essentially due to the invalidated departments being included in the  registered voters number, but – maybe surprisingly – not in the invalid votes number.

Comparing to the first round

As a comparison, in the first round the results in the three regions in question was:

Savanes: Ado: 255,228  Gbagbo: 19,312 Others: 22,588 Invalid votes: 21,059

Val Bandama: Ado: 144,637  Gbagbo: 27,305 Others: 118,177 Invalid votes: 15,216

Worodougou: Ado: 76,110  Gbagbo: 6,060 Others: 5,182 Invalid votes: 4,641

Second round results map:


Mr. Peace

I think I see what Gbagbo is trying to do. Now he ordered the curfew to be lifted and the borders to open, but kept blocking foreign media. And he got Ble Goude (his most hard line supporter) on tv to talk about Ivorians not using violence against each other and to calm down things.

Now that he is in power and an election result that shows him as a winner has been broadcast uncontested, Gbagbo wants things to go back to normal.   Because then it will look as if it is the other side that threatens the peace.

He will play the role of the man of peace and offer Ouattara and Bedie Prime Minister and Vice President positions. If they refuse it will look like they are against peace, and if they accept, well, then he stays president and can outmanouver them later.

Also any sanctions or economic blockade can be used as propaganda saying that Ouattara uses his foreign friends to destroy the Ivory Coast and make the country poor.

The upside of this is that it is suddenly not in Gbagbo’s interest any longer to initiate violence.  So northeners and opposition supporters in the south should have less to fear.

The downside is that it is not so easy to counter for Ouattara’s camp. And if they manage to counter it in some way that threatens Gbagbo’s power, then he will turn to violence again.

You know the country Drogba is from

Latest news is that Drogba wants to mediate if Mbeki fails.  And watching today’s events with each side appoiting a government it isn’t really looking like Mbeki is having any success.

From an international media perspective  it’s kind of interesting that there are two presidents – it made the story show up at all.  Before that happened I remember BBC World reporting about elections in Haiti, Moldova and Egypt but nothing about the Ivory Coast elections taking place the same day.

Still, two presidents in the Ivory Coast didn’t get any coverage on Sky News – the story was beaten out by, among other things, one German tourist being eaten by a shark while on holidays at the Red Sea.

But now with Didier Drogba – holy cow.  The man is much more known than the country he is from. Media in the UK and other footballing nations are going to have to do some quick read-ups on the Ivory Coast!

On twitter, I saw one journalist (I presume) write:  “HEC-TIC!!! Will this story stop developing already so I can write my column?”   as a response to:  “RT: @azadessa: Didier Drogba say he will help mediate #CIV2010”

Ivorycoast: A city in central Didier Drogba

Three first ladies – what now?

Ok, we have a stalemate situation with two presidents and three first ladies (Gbagbo has two wives).

Gbagbo’s position rests on:

  • Control of the south of the country which harbours the majority of the population. Control of the institutions of the state in the south including the national tv RTI which serves as a propaganda tool for Gbagbo.
  • Support of the regular army. Yesterday the heads of the army showed the allegiance to Gbagbo on national tv.
  • An expectation that the UN will not intervene militarily against Gbagbo’s regime.  China or Russia could block such an intervention, and also offensive action against a de facto ruling president isn’t quite UN’s modus operandi.
  • An expectation that France will not intervene militarily. France knows that Gbagbo can play on anti-French sentiments and get lot of people out in the streets which made make an intervention difficult and problematic from a pr perspective.

Ouattara’s position rests on:

  • Control of the north of the country.
  • Unusually firm support from the international community including the US, the EU,  ECOWAS and the African Union. The only countries expressing direct support to Gbagbo are I believe Angola and Libya.
  • Hope that Gbagbo will be progressively more isolated, including losing support from the army.  On Bedie’s facebook page I read that according to a UN official more than half of the army and security forces voted for Ouattara.  I also read that they’ll try to get Gbagbo to leave peacefully using negotiations, and only call the people to rise up as a last resort.

Thabo Mbeki-Man

Now African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki should have landed in Abidjan. Last time he tried to mediate the rebel side refused to talk to him after a while saying he was pro-Gbagbo. With the AU supporting Ouattara, maybe Mbeki will be a different kind of mediator this time.

Either way, I have a hard time seeing Gbagbo just give up. It depends a bit on how he and his inner circle evaluates their own position, but in the elections they showed that they can over-estimate their strength.  I think Gbagbo’s short term situation is strong, I don’t think the international community will remove Gbagbo by force (would love to know what Sarkozy and Ouattara are saying to each other though), and I don’t see a pro-Ouattara mutiny happening in the army. Gbagbo probably doesn’t either.

On the longer term though, I don’t think Gbagbo is at all happy with becoming an international pariah, doing state visits to Harare instead of Paris, and possibly having sanctions targeting his inner circle. Sooner or later he might lose power and risk prosecution from the International Criminal Court.

So to avoid all that he might accept some sort of Mbeki brokered solution with a unity government with him as president and Ouattara as prime minister, just like in Kenya or Zimbabwe.

My hunch is that Ouattara wouldnt accept letting Gbagbo stay as president though. Ouattara is I think in a stronger position than Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe or Raila Odinga in Kenya under similar circumstances.

So my guess is that the stalemate might last for a while.

Twitter addressing the first lady situation

Comments on the first lady situation from twitter #civ2010:


#CIV2010 trois 1ere Dames : la journée c’est Simone, la nuit c’est Nady et pour Kener c’est Dominique

Ouattara's wife Dominique in Gbagbo's second wife Nadiana's village
All three plus Bedie's wife Henriette

UPDATE: The blog subsaharska has an insightful and funny article about current affairs in the Ivory Coast.

Quotes from subsaharska::

It’s pretty obvious that Gbagbo won’t back down short of someone putting a bullet in him.

Also don’t forget that there is already a very large UN peacekeeping force in the country that for once is having to earn its pay and not just be a “beachkeeping” mission, although those days in Bassamwere indeed nice.

Naturally, the rest of the world recognizes Ouattara as the winner (partially due to Gbagbo pissing off every potential international ally over the years)

Junta – Ivory Coast edition

I wrote this before the latest events, it’s possibly ill timed , but here it goes:

Republica de los Bananas

Hey, sometimes you got to take a humorous view on serious stuff.  After all, there is going to be a dance called le Pickasseur anytime soon in the nightclubs of Abidjan.

There is this board game from the 70s called Junta.  In it, players control important families in a fictional Banana Republic, aptly called Republica de los Bananas. The goal of the game is to put away as much money as possible into one’s Swiss bank account.

Each turn the president – El Presidente – chooses how much  money to hand out to the other players, but there is never enough to make all players happy.  Discontent players can try to vote out the president from power or start a coup and become rebels. All players can use  all kind of dirty tricks including assassinations (the player that controls the secret police gets a free assassination – obviously).

Ivory Coast edition

I’ve been thinking, the world really needs an Ivory Coast version of this game.  The game would start in 1995, and one would choose to play as Bedie, Ado, Gbagbo, Guei,  or Soro. The goal would have to be modified to also include number of years as president (Gbagbo is leading that measure at the moment, followed by Bedie and Guei).

A politically correct version could have “good” players with the goal of installing democracy, and having the international community to play an important role.  Political correctness kind of defies the purpose of Junta though.

Here are excerpts of the rules from the original boardgame:

Assassination phase

A round of assassinations takes place. First each player chooses their location using the location tiles in a secret yet binding fashion. Locations are as follows:

  • Home (causes the player to be killed if a “burglars” assassination card is played against him)
  • Mistress (leaves a player vulnerable to a “character assassination” card)
  • Nightclub
  • Headquarters (allows the player to start a coup without an excuse)
  • Bank (allows the player to access their Swiss bank account, should they survive to the banking phase)

The Mistress location wouldn’t really work in the Ivory Coast. I believe almost all senior male politicians have mistresses (including each others daughters rumors have it) ,  so it wouldn’t be a big deal to be found out.  So the Mistress location will have to be replaced by Cathedral (where I believe Guei was assassinated), but home and headquarters are sadly spot on.

The Rebel Phase

If allowed, any player may start a coup, thus becoming First Rebel, by playing a card to place units on the board, moving any unit or bombarding the presidential palace.  The risk a player takes on in declaring himself the First Rebel is that he will also end up being the only rebel, and suffer reprisals in the wake of an unsuccessful coup.

If the President prevails, they may have any one rebel sent to the firing squad. In the case of a Junta victory, the rebels elect a new President.

Guei and Soro are clearly First rebels. Guei was a  successful one in 1999, and arguably Gbagbo in 2000. Soro is only a partially successful rebel, but he’s got to get some points for becoming Prime Minister and kind of President for half the country.


A player may go into exile during the Location phase by placing a location marker on one of the embassies on the map, to indicate the country fled to. It is also possible to flee the republic during a coup, provided that the player controls an embassy with their forces.

A player in exile is safe from executions and assassinations, but is very limited in all but the social aspects of the game. A player may return from exile at any time, but normally the Minister of Internal Security may have the returning player executed by the secret police at will.

Guess this was much of Ado’s strategy early in the game, but Gbagbo and Bedie have also played the exile card.

Coup phase
The majority of the Junta board is used only during a coup.

Coups are a tactical game within the game that may result in the replacement of the President and unfortunate players being sent to the firing squad. Which side a player supports is often unclear during a coup. A scheming player can benefit by concealing their true objectives to gain a favourable position to negotiate from. Others may find it easier simply being a turncoat.

Maybe Patrick Zasso has to be included in the game.

Machiavelli mode off

The latest news from the Ivory Coast, for those of you who haven’t heard them, are that:

  • The head of the Constitutional Court Paul Yao N’dre has rejected a declaration by the electoral commission that  Ouattara had won.
  • Foreign media have been banned and airport, port and borders closed.
  • The Consitutional Court is expected to announce the final results and since Paul Yao N’dre is close to Gbagbo it is not hard to guess how that will end.
  • There are rumors of death squads being active.

It’s looking pretty grim in other words.

I share the sentiment of someone that tweeted the following:

RT : Tout ceci est prévisible. C’est contraire qui m’aurait choqué. C’est Gbagbo après tout! #CIV2010

Freely translated to: [All of this was foreseeable. Anything else would have surprised me. It’s Gbagbo we are talking about after all!]

Now normally I’d be thinking about what Gbagbo will do next and what the international community can do, but, well, one has to go into total Machiavelli mode to predict Gbagbo’s actions, and I’m just not in the mood.

There is just this empty feeling of worry.  Well, Ivory Coast, hopefully this dark hour shall pass.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.

Mahatma Gandhi


Narrowly avoiding Godwin’s law

I’m often surprised that people think autocrat rulers are going to play by the rules. They pretend to, and do when it suits their purposes, but whenever it comes to protecting or strengthening their position of power, or anything else they deem important (say invading Czechoslovakia), the rulebook is out.

In non-democratic regimes important and often not-so-important decisions are taken at the very top. Significant man-made events are almost always a result of decisions from the top, even if denied.

Historical records have shown that Stalin personally ordered the Katyn massacre and Wikileaks showed the other day that China’s politburo ordered the hack into google to get information about dissidents.

Following this logic my bets are on Gbagbo personally ordering:

  • The Ivorian state tv RTI to pull out and not to report from the Independent Electoral Commission (the CEI)
  • Fake or exaggerated reports of irregularities and violence during the elections in the Ouattara strongholds in the north
  • His men in the CEI to do what they can to stop results from being proclaimed (which is likely to prove a bad move from Gbagbo’s perspective)

And quite possibly also:

  • Intimidations against supposed RHDP voters on election day
  • Fesci’s violence at the PDCI/RHDP headquarter a few days ago (Fesci is a pro-Gbagbo student militia group)

So it looks like we are in the Ouattara wins and Gbagbo tries to stay in power scenario from the Prediction time again post. I never went into speculating exactly how Gbagbo would go on about to stay in power, but now it looks like control of state tv and use of fake and/or bribed African electoral observers testifying of irregularities in the north is a part of the plan.

Maybe Gbagbo is hoping to stop the electoral commission from proclaiming results during the entire three day window given by the constitution, and then use article 48 to disband the electoral commission and the government.   And after that to set himself up to be a man of peace and offer Ouattara the prime minister post, while staying president and stopping the violence that is likely to erupt in such scenario.

However, if Gbagbo knew he would lose the elections (and it’s pretty clear he has at this point – the results have leaked out) he would have acted much earlier.   I think he and the LMP/FPI are a bit victims of their own propaganda – they really thought they would win.

Now the FPI and Gbagbo are in a tough seat:

  • It will be difficult to prevent the results from being proclaimed today
  • The results are already out in the open, known by journalists and even  published by Senegalese newspapers
  • The incident with Gbagbo’s men in the CEI physically stopping the proclamation of results in front of the world’s media is going viral and is very damning for Gbagbo
  • Gbagbo’s control of the army seems shaky. There is an unconfirmed rumor that General Mangou has refused Gbagbo’s orders.
  • Without the army Gbagbo only has his militia and loyal security forces. With the UN in place these forces seem to be kept in check limiting Gbagbo’s options.
  • RHDP and Ouattara are unlikely to accept anything other than the respect of the election results.
  • The UN and the international NGOs are all pushing for the results to be proclaimed and respected

UPDATE:  One course of action Gbagbo could be following is to first try to get the CEI to not report the north. Without the north Gbagbo wins. If that fails, get the constitutional court where he has some influence to invalidate the results from the north.  That would inevitably lead to protests from RHDP and the international community, but gives Gbagbo a fair chance to stay as president.

PICKASSER, v. To tear apart documents to avoid publication