It’s a joke, right?

GooBagBalls

People say that Gbagbo is a brilliant tactician. I’m not so sure.  If he would have put the same effort and violence into rigging the election that he is now putting into staying in power, he would be much better off.

I’m thinking at the voter registration phase, he could have had his militia and the FPI party organisation to prevent northerners – identifiable by their names – from registering as voters. Then the opposition and the UN would likely complain and Gbagbo could officially deny any wrongdoing (he is good at that). The end result would be either delayed/no elections, or elections Gbagbo would win. In both cases Gbagbo would still be the legitimate president today.

Then we have when Gbagbo said he would remove the blockade of Golf Hotel, and didn’t do it. Twice.   It just made Gbagbo come across as untrustworthy – I can’t see any tactical thought behind it.  I get that he wanted the negotiations to drag on, and make it appear as he was open for finding solutions whereas Ouattara was not.  But calling General Mangou in front of Odinga, to order the blockade to be lifted, while not actually lifting the blockade, makes no sense.

My favourite Gbagbo tactical blunder though, is the handling of the interest payment on Ivory Coast’s bonds.

From Bloomberg:

Ivory Coast Bondholders Must `Recognize’ Gbagbo for Payment

Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion of Eurobonds fell to a record low as a spokesman for Laurent Gbagbosaid the country will make a missed interest payment only if creditors recognize him as victor of the disputed presidential November elections.

[…]

“We did our part of the job and pledged to pay,” Ahoua Don Mello, Gbagbo’s spokesman, said by phone today from Abidjan. “It is now the turn of the lenders to do theirs.” Ivory Coast’s government under Gbagbo will invite creditors to the nation to discuss the terms of the coupon payment, he said.

“It’s a joke, right?” said Phillip Blackwood, head of emerging markets at Sydbank A/S, Denmark’s fourth-largest bank and holder of Ivory Coast debt. Sydbank hasn’t received any of the missed payment, he said in a phone interview.

And here is the take from the straight-shooting financial group blog zerohedge:

Enter The Twilight Zone: World’s Biggest Cocoa Exporter Tells Creditors To Legitimize Corrupt President… Or Face Wipe Out

And so things move from the simply violently revolutionary to the outright surreal, and once again they originate in Africa where today’s TheOnion reality seems to feel most at home in practice. Ivory Coast, the biggest producer of cocoa, today told bondholders of $2.3 billion in debt that unless creditors legitimize the corrupt incumbent regime, and recognize voted out president Laurent Gbagbo, then the country will not make an interest payment on its bonds which already are in a grace period, and will essentially default, unless the political gridlock is resolved in two weeks. “It’s a joke, right?” said Phillip Blackwood, head of emerging markets at Sydbank A/S, Denmark’s fourth-largest bank and holder of Ivory Coast debt. No, unfortunately it isn’t.

And some of the comments on zerohedge are pretty good too:

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Good point.  If GooBagBalls weren’t such a comic book character, I’d probably even tuck this one into my tin foil hat band.

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Unbelievably funny!

“We did our part of the job and pledged to pay”

(so pay )

“Now it’s the turn of the lenders to do theirs”

Maybe he expects the bankers to take compensation for the missed coupon to be paid in chocolate dollars?

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They’ll send him a chest full of chocolate gold coins which he’ll open, and as he is just forming the words ‘what the f….’, a couple of helicopter gunships will get up close and personal.

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UPDATE:  There is a follow-up of the zerohedge story here.

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The Dictatorship Contest

Time for a lighter read

Regarding external military interventions to remove dictators, for the really bad ones like Idi Amin or Pol Pot, it should be a no brainer.  One can probably make a good case for the a-little-less bad ones too, but the question is what type of dictator Gbagbo is.

There is a great site called the dictatorship.com that takes a  humorous angle on relative badness of 20th cetury dictators. They have something called the dictatorship contest where 20th century dictators are pitted against each other in an elimination tournament to crown the “dictator of dictators”.  Dictators are judged subjectively on how “dictatory” they are on criteria such as longevity, brutality, style, flair, eccentricity, audacity, paranoia and kleptocracy. Continue reading “The Dictatorship Contest”

What is the cost and risk of nonaggression?

On his blog Chris Blattman wisely raises the issue that if you are going to argue against aggression/intervention to remove Gbagbo or other dictators by saying  – like Bill Easterly – that an intervention is a risky endeavour with unknown and potentially disastrous consequences, then at least you have to argue for an alternative and ask yourself what the cost and risk of nonaggression is?

So to look a bit closer at the “do nothing” alternative, I’ve put together excerpts from human rights reports about the Ivory Coast from the time since the second round.  Human rights abuses committed by Gbagbo’s regime (and to a lesser extent rebel forces) may increase or decrease in a non-intervention scenario, but what has happened so far can form some sort of baseline.

It’s pretty heavy reading, but well, here we go: Continue reading “What is the cost and risk of nonaggression?”

My advice to the BAD

The African Development Bank or Banque Africaine de Developpement (BAD) was long based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, seen as one of the most stable places in Africa. Then when the crisis got too bad in 2003, the bank evacuated its staff and moved to Tunis, Tunisia.

From a discussion on babilive.com:

Things fell apart in 2002, when rebels attempted to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo, triggering massacres and civil war. With gunfire in the air, managers of the development bank frantically evacuated about 1,000 employees and their families in early 2003. The bank picked Tunisia as a temporary refuge in large part because of the stability offered by the dictatorial government of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

The new home sparked something of a culture clash, both bank and Tunisian officials say. The influx of thousands of bank professionals and their families jarred a country that had little experience with black Africans, except as students or laborers. Bank professional staff earn between $48,000 and $150,000 a year, far more than the average Tunisian, and many drive Mercedes or BMW sedans with easily identifiable African Development Bank license plates. They say they have often returned to their parked cars to find them intentionally scratched.

So dear BAD, if you are looking for stability, how about not choosing a dictatorship as your base next time?   How about a country where the will of the people is reflected in its governance and where civil liberties and political rights are respected?

This map from Freedom House where countries are ranked according to respect for civil liberties and political rights can serve as a starting point:

 

Green = "Free", Yellow = "Partly Free", Violet = "Not Free"

It’s still a breeze compared to back in 1497

How the envoy of Venice did it

I have recently gotten a visa card linked to my bank account in an Ivorian bank. I tried it today for the first time in an ATM in Europe, and despite everything that’s going on, my CFA Francs came out as Euros without any problems. Guess this is one more of these things that everybody take for granted, but when thinking about it, global banking networks are quite amazing.

Here’s a story from the Economist of how Venetian and Spanish ambassadors to England dealt with this same problem (and other stuff) back in the 15th century:

Living in England, as Cambrai had anticipated, was extremely expensive. The income of de Puebla, Soncino and the rest was much more precarious than this, and their letters home (though no doubt exaggerated for effect) tell desperate tales of poverty. They themselves were not on per diems but had been sent with a pot of money that had to be topped up somehow, usually by merchants from their own countries, who were somewhat elusive and set their own exchange rates.

Soncino’s lodging probably cost around a shilling (12d) a night, with meals included. De Puebla rented a suite of rooms at the Austin Friars, but was also renowned for staying “in the house of a mason who keeps dishonest women” where a seat at the slopped-down common table cost 2d a day. To supplement these pie-and-beer meals, he tried to cadge food at court. Henry VII, enquiring once why the Spanish envoy had come round yet again, was told: “to eat”.

In fact, the court was the only place where the envoys could supplement their diets or their salaries. Royal rewards (very rare, unless an actual treaty had been concluded) came in the form of purses of gold, accepted with craven gratitude and then, back in the lodgings, carefully checked, tooth-tested and weighed. (“The king gave him 300 nobles, neither seen nor counted by him”.) Dining at court, as Soncino and Trevisano did fairly often, allowed them to sample the king’s excellent French wines and to eat 60-course feasts, from “pottage-pig” through “larks ingrayled” to “castles of jelly”. But gastronomy had its price. Soncino’s Venetian friend complained that these meals lasted for hours, with much slower service than in Italy, and were sometimes consumed in total silence.

Getting the dispatches home was another matter. On average, letters reached Milan or Venice in about three weeks. De Puebla’s to Spain sometimes took twice as long. Messengers got drunk, mislaid the papers, or fell ill on the road. Ships were blown off course, or sank. Vital letters sent to Henry by Ferdinand and Isabella seem to have drowned with the envoy who carried them—or so they claimed later, though in truth they had never been mustard-keen to send them. Other letters still carry salt-water stains. Fretting in Madrid or Tortosa, the Spanish sovereigns often thought de Puebla was not bothering to write. When he protested that he was, copiously, they barked at him some more. (“None of your last has arrived. Please always send duplicates.”) This problem, of course, cut both ways: rulers waiting weeks for news, while envoys waited weeks for their instructions. It is a wonder, under these conditions, that long-term diplomacy could be carried on at all.

Venice back in the days

Is the Ivorian Franc coming to life?

Anyhow, previously on this blog I wrote about the issue of sending money to the Ivory Coast. Now the main concern is getting money out of the Ivory Coast.  The risks are that sanctions or Gbagbo actions will make it impossible/difficult to transfer funds abroad from accounts in the Ivory Coast.  Also, it wouldn’t be great if all my CFA Francs were converted into the new Ivorian franc backed by nothing and controlled by Gbagbo’s government.

Regarding rumours about the new currency, people in the know say that if the physical bills and coins of the currency have already been created, then the roll out is a matter of days.   However, it is unlikely Gbagbo had a new currency ready and waiting before the elections.

And, as I have been told, the whole work to create a new currency from scratch is a long process that takes at least 8 months.  The capacity to do this work does not exist in the Ivory Coast, so Gbagbo would need outside assistance.  And it’s easier to see countries that would actively try to prevent Gbagbo from issuing a new currency (France springs to mind) than countries ready to help him.

Guess if Gbagbo manages to pay for it, Angola or Zimbabwe could ask whoever prints their currencies, to print the Ivorian Franc, and then ship it to Abidjan.   Dictators can be pretty quick on acting on these type of things – it kind of helps not having any committees or parliamentary processes to discuss and evaluate things.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a western-dominated company behind the creation of the Angolan and Zimbabwean currencies, and a phone call from Paris or Washington might stop any plans of creating an Ivorian franc.

Prototype of the Ivorian Franc

Wake me up when Gbagbo is gone

What to do now?

On the business end of things the situation is that the house and shops in Cocody are up to date with rents, whereas half of the apartments in Yopougon are one month behind.   If things go back to normal I think they will catch up.

The main worry right now isn’t late rents, but plans for future investments.  Before the elections I was looking to buy more real estate, but never closed a deal.  Somebody else bought the plot of land discussed in the scaling up post while I was still negotiating the price.

Now, if Gbagbo stays in power for a long time under sanctions and possibly with a new Ivorian currency,  it is probably not a good business decision to invest.  It’s not only that the economy is likely to be bad, it’s also that the rule of law is weakening and that authorities are likely to discriminate against Europeans and northerners – and a few of the people I work closely with are northerners.

Additionally, it feels unethical to invest in Gbagbo’s Ivory Coast, after all his regime has in all likelihood ordered killings and abductions of a great number of unarmed citizens.

Bailing out of Gbagbo’s Ivory Coast

So, if it looks like Gbagbo will manage to stay in power for well, life, then I think I’ll keep collecting rents from the properties I have, but I won’t make any new investments.

Instead, I’d like to set up the same type of business in another West African country. I think it’s a great time to invest, and there are many countries that have the same things going for them as the Ivory Coast but no Gbagbo.  Guinea would be really interesting, now that they have a democratically elected president.

However, I think I better stick to a place where I have an established network of people I trust to do business with, and that means Senegal for me.

 

Next stop Dakar?

Dawn or dusk for Gbagbo?

On the other hand, if Gbagbo will removed from power within the next weeks or months, now could be a great time to invest.  And I have written off the possibility that Gbagbo will leave voluntarily any time before hostile forces look set to advance into Abidjan or unpaid disgruntled members of the army storm the presidential palace and tell him the game is over. I don’t know if there is any historical precedent of when a dictator who is prepared to kill his own people to stay in power, has just left power due to sanctions and external pressure.

The rub is that it is really hard to tell whether Gbagbo’s reign is at its last days, or early beginning.  Some say that a military intervention is unrealistic due to lack of political will, lack of resources, and risks involved dealing with an entrenched Gbagbo’ controlling of the army and having significant support among the population.

Others say that there is a reason Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade (who is known to be supporting Ouattara)  and Burkina’s president Blaise Compaore have stayed quiet since the crisis started.  That western countries like the UK have pledged logistical support to a military intervention, and that the Ivorian army – that is weak in the first place – would not fight for Gbagbo as the majority of its personnel voted Ouattara.    I would like to add that there is a sense of solidarity and belonging among the people of the northern Ivory Coast and those of Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Senegal which could influence decisions regarding a military intervention.

All in all, I find it really hard to tell what’s going to happen, so I’m going to lie low with any investments until things are clearer.

First- and Second hand accounts

Bad Stuff Happening

I thought of putting together stories of  what can be described as “bad stuff happening in Abidjan” as I have been told by friends and friends of friends.

  • In a mixed ethnicity neighbourhood in central Yopougon where a friend of mine is living, one morning two days before the second round all the doors of houses where northerners live were marked with crosses.   The crosses were quite small and made with chalk and possible to scrub away, but it still – understandably – caused quite a commotion among the dioula and senoufo community. [Dioula and Senoufo are both northern ethnic groups]
  • One woman in this neighbourhood who is a grassroot RDR member (RDR is Ouattara’s party) and got her front door marked thought it was too dangerous to stay, and moved to another part of Abidjan to stay with a friend of hers who is a policeman.   One and a half week ago, the policeman, who is not involved in politics at all, was called to a meeting with his boss who told him “We have heard that you host rebel meetings at your home”.    The policeman has not (yet) lost his job (or his life), but says he is kept under surveillance. The woman has since left the country.
  • A friend of a friend is dioula and lives in Yopougon but a different part of Yopougon than above. He voted for Ouattara and didn’t keep it a secret, but is not involved in the RDR party or politics at all. A week after the second round at night, three armed guys in civilian clothes broke into his home and stole money as well as his and his wife’s id cards. The intruders didnt do any physical harm, but told them “Vous les gars du RDR on va vous tuer un a un” [You RDR guys, we will kill you one by one].

State of fear

Even though the number of incidents like these are small compared to the total population of Abidjan, I think practically all northerners in Abidjan have stories like this to tell ( and more than I have) as everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who has been the victim of Gbagbo’s regime in one way or another.

This creates an ever present state of fear which doesn’t stop people from partying at night – it’s the Ivory Coast we are talking about after all – a place where nightclubs during the curfew back in the civil war days  in 2002 filled up with people for all nighters. Still I’m sure it’d be a great relief for northerners in the southern part of Ivory Coast if Gbagbo left power.

Hotel Rwanda?

I am realising it is giving the title of this blog a different and unintentional meaning, but I have to make one more (and hopefully last) post about genocide. There is an organisation called Genocide Watch that have an interesting text about genocide being a process that develops in eight stages “that are predictable but not inexorable”.

Here’s the description of the last stage, denial:

8. DENIAL is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile.

Here’s an AFP report from 30/12/10 I found on AlJazeera:

UN: Gbagbo ‘hiding mass graves’

UN says Gbagbo’s forces are blocking access to potential mass grave sites, as thousands flee post-election violence.

The UN repeated on Thursday its allegation that security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the internationally isolated Cote d’Ivoire president, are blocking access to sites suspected of being mass graves, as the possibility of genocide is raised in the country.

Gbagbo’s government has repeatedly denied that any mass graves exist, but investigators believe as many as 80 bodies may be in one building that UN personnel are being disallowed to enter.

Human rights groups have accused Gbagbo’s security forces of abducting and torturing political opponents since the disputed presidential run-off poll on Nov 28. The UN says that Gbagbo lost the election and, along with the international community, recognises Alassane Ouattara as the winner.

UN investigators have cited dozens of reported cases of disappearances, and nearly 500 arrests and detentions.

They said that security forces accompanied by masked men with rocket launchers prevented UN personnel from reaching the scene of one mass grave identified by witnesses in a pro-Gbagbo residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital.

A second mass burial site is believed to be located near Gagnoa, in the interior of the country, the UN said.

 

Mural in Belfast with the 8 stages of genocide

Death by Government

I have long had an interest in understanding the causes and courses of genocide. Admittedly there are greater party-conversation starters.   Anyhow, one scholar that has done a terrific job in this area is University of Hawaii Professor Rudolph Rummel.

Rummel has gone through practically all available information on genocides (or more correctly democides*) during the 20th century and before that – it took him some 8 years – and managed among other things to come up with estimated number of deaths.

Rummel writes:

During this [the 20th] century’s wars, there were some 38 million battle deaths, but almost four times more people–at least 170 million–were killed by governments for ethnic, racial, tribal, religious, or political reasons. I call this phenomenon democide, and it means that authoritarian and totalitarian governments are more deadly than war.

Rummel has later revised up the “at least figure” to 262 million. It’s a bit like the UN figure of 173 dead in the Ivory Coast which is a minimum figure of confirmed deaths, whereas the real number is certainly higher.

Source: Power Kills, R.J. Rummel

One of Rummel’s key findings is that liberal democracies have much less democide than authoritarian regimes. From wikipedia:

He argues that there is a relation between political power and democide. Political mass murder grows increasingly common as political power becomes unconstrained. At the other end of the scale, where power is diffuse, checked, and balanced, political violence is a rarity. According to Rummel, “The more power a regime has, the more likely people will be killed. This is a major reason for promoting freedom.” Rummel concludes: “Concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth.”

My take on this looking at the Ivory Coast is that maybe the “peace – good vs war – bad” dichotomy doesn’t tell the whole story. If you are a northerner and Ouattara supporter, peace under unconstrained Gbagbo power can be more deadly than war.

Given that historically, the number of unarmed civilians killed by undemocratic governments in peace and wartime is several times greater than combat deaths in wars, a more relevant scale to look at things might be checks and balances vs authoritarianism.

Some Rummel quotes from his very disorganised website after the jump. In some cases the parallels to the Ivory Coast are quite striking.

Continue reading “Death by Government”