April 06, 2011

Beware The Void Under Tyranny

With fighting near the end between the armies of two presidential aspirants in Ivory Coast, that country is at the bottom of a descent that began in 1993 with the death of the long-time strongman Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

Mr Houphouët-Boigny’s autocratic rule was indirectly an extension of French colonialism. He was helped by a French bureaucracy and soldiery, as well as by a francophone Lebanese business community. In the mid-1990s the French and Lebanese left, and crime soared in a country whose annual population growth rate was 3.5 per cent. Whereas Ivory Coast’s population in 1994 was 13.5m, it is now 21m, with 41 per cent of the population under the age of 15. Roughly half the population lives in slum cities.

Central government crumbled throughout the 1990s. Civil war followed. The current carnage began with Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara contesting an election in which tribal differences lay in the background. For when there is no complex economic stratification of society, elections are fought over the divides of group identity more than they are over relatively harmless ones of class interests.

Mr Gbagbo’s stubbornness makes him morally culpable. The actions of individuals cannot be obscured by demographic forces. Nevertheless, Ivory Coast is a weak polity. Its borders adhere to no natural geography. It is a place where tribe and religion – more than the state – create communal identities.

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