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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Analysis: Lessons from Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast demonstrator
Ivory Coast has seen more violence than Yugoslavia
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The ousting of the Ivory Coast's military leader by a popular uprising has prompted comparisons with the dramatic events earlier this month on the streets of Belgrade.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said the message from both was that the people were asserting their rights. But although many Africans are drawing lessons from the removal of Slobodan Milosevic.

The Yugoslav example seems to be catching, reinforced by instant television pictures flashed around the world.

Before the election in Ivory Coast, the opposition leader, Laurent Gbagbo, had threatened Belgrade-style popular protests if he was cheated of victory.

The lesson here is that once people become aware of their power, it cannot easily be contained.

There are some clear parallels: people believed the election had been rigged, and they convinced themselves that by acting together in huge numbers they could prevail.

One difference was that in Abidjan they had to face gunfire; in that respect the situation was more like the violent overthrow eleven years ago of the Romanian President, Nicolae Ceausescu.

There is another way in which the parallel breaks down. In Belgrade, once Mr Milosevic had been forced to step down, there was no dispute about who should be president.

General Robert Guei
Ousted: Ivory Coast's General Guei

But in the Ivory Coast, Mr Gbagbo was not the only one who thought the election had been unfair: other candidates had been barred from standing at all, and the supporters of one of them, Alassane Ouattara, took to the streets in their turn to demand a re-run.

Clashes between the rival factions then took on an ethnic and religious tinge, with churches and mosques being ransacked. The lesson here is that once people become aware of their power, it cannot easily be contained.

Global response

International reaction reflected the confusion on the ground. The former colonial power, France, argued that the priority was to hold parliamentary elections, while British officials said it was up to the Ivorian people whether they wanted a new presidential vote.

But these complexities do not stop Africans seeing the Serbian example as relevant to them. As Mr Annan optimistically put it, the days of coup d'etat and the manipulation of elections are over.

The opposition in Zimbabwe has drawn quite specific lessons.

The head of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, described President Robert Mugabe as the Milosevic of Africa; others have been calling him Bobodan.

A prominent newspaper editor in Harare said that eventually the police in Zimbabwe would change sides as they had done in Serbia, and people power would triumph.

All the same, the moment has to be right, the circumstances have to be clear-cut. Hotly disputed elections have already taken place in Zimbabwe, and a presidential poll is not in principle due for another two years.

Power and responsibility

People power probably sometimes needs, a minimum level of order or democratic process to assert itself.

It is hard to imagine mass demonstrations making a decisive impact in the Congo civil war or the chaos of Sierra Leone.

Sloboban Milosevic
Milosevic: Ousting may inspire Zimbabwe

And in countries where a united army is the ultimate power behind the scenes , as in Algeria, for example, the grip and resolve of the military has to waver if not collapse.

Looking beyond Africa to the intractable conflict of the Middle East, the lessons of Serbia seem hardly relevant at all.

The Palestinians do not seriously believe they could seize East Jerusalem in the teeth of the Israeli army.

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See also:

09 Oct 00 | Europe
Serbia's bulldozer of change
08 Oct 00 | Europe
Yugoslavia embraces new era
06 Oct 00 | Europe
Milosevic power crumbles
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