Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ivory Coast, Cote d'Ivoire: Bodies in the Street

Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and assorted other places in north Africa and the Middle East aren't the only places with trouble:
"At least 25 people were killed in what the United Nations called Friday a shocking escalation of violence in Ivory Coast, wracked by an electoral crisis that many fear is sliding toward another civil war.

"Doctors Without Borders treated 66 people with gunshot wounds and injuries caused by shell explosions in the wake of the attacks, according to a news release from the medical aid group. Women and children were among those injured, the statement said...."
If "Ivory Coast" doesn't ring a bell in your memory, you may know the country as the Cote d'Ivoire. (CIA)

That "electoral crisis" happened because the territory's boss, Laurent Gbagbo, likes to be called "president." He had an election recently, and the wrong candidate won: Alassane Ouattara, who had the unmitigated gall to get more votes than the boss.

Naturally, Gbagbo had his people say that the election was no good - and that Gbagbo was president. I'm simplifying what's been in the news considerably - but that's what it boils down to, in my opinion.

There wouldn't have been a crisis, if it weren't for the folks in Cote d'Ivoire who voted for the wrong man insisting that the idea of an election was to see who gets the most votes. Interestingly, a considerable number of national leaders around the world agree with the non-Gbagbo folks.

Which is taken as proof of colonial oppression, among other things - and that's almost another topic.

I live in a country where we have elections at regular intervals: followed, in recent years at least, by lawsuits in which some judge decides who won. It's not a perfect system, but it works. I'm hoping that lawsuits - and the circumstances which sometimes make them necessary - will become less common, and that is another topic.

I think that elections can be used to determine which people form the leadership of a country. But it's not the only system that can work. I've discussed that before. (December 29, 2008)

Trouble in Africa: So What?

I've got a few reasons for writing this post.
The World, Beyond 'Today's Top Stories'
First, what's happening in Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire is terribly important to the folks living there. I like to highlight what isn't the top news of the day now and then.

That's partly because I think that the world we live in is complicated. What's going on in Libya and Japan this weekend is important, particularly - again - to the folks living there. But I think it's a good idea to remember that what news editors decide is top-priority isn't necessarily everything that's significant on any given day.

Which is one reason that I depend more on written news resources, than radio and television news. And I'm wandering off-topic.
'Simple' is for Sitcoms
Also, the Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire mess lets me sound off on a few points that I think are important. In my opinion:
  1. Where you've got human beings, you've got trouble
    • Every national government is run by human beings
      • No matter what, you'll have trouble
      • The trick is to keep it below the bodies-in-the-street level
  2. Folks in Africa aren't having a good time
    • Due in part to clueless nation-building almost a century ago
    • And see point #1
  3. Allegedly "democratic" governments and "elections" are no guarantee of good leadership
    • Again, see point #1
I'm not going to do the conventional hand-wringing about racism and oppression and class struggle. First, you've probably heard it all before. Second, I think the cliched slogans tend to encourage seeing events like the killing in Ivory Coast as overly-simplified 'good guy/bad guy' stories.

Sort of like the 'commie plots' and 'red menace' of the mid-20th-century. It made for some funny stories about Frank Burns on M*A*S*H, but what makes a good sitcom doesn't often, I think, make a good way of looking at the world.
Looking Beyond 19th Century Values
I don't think the Treaty of Versailles did a good job of getting folks whose homes had been colonized headed for independence: and I know it wasn't the only botched opportunity in history. (December 27, 2008)

But, just as I don't think the Victorian-era notions about 'civilized people' and 'natives' made much sense, I don't think it makes sense to put a new coat of paint on "the white man's burden," and assume that Western civilization is solely responsible for the world's ills.

Change Happens

Something that Ivory Coast/Cote d'Ivoire, Libya, Bahrain, and Tunisia have in common is that relatively long-established regimes have either ended, or are being threatened by folks who got fed up.

In a way, I'm not surprised. One of the few constants in the human experience is change. And it's been that way for a long time:
"Nothing endures but change."
(Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC)
(from October 29, 2009)
What I'm hoping we'll see in old-school autocracies is not a return to 'the good old days' when some little circle of people - or a single man - decided what everybody in the country should do. Even if it was 'for their own good.'

Does that mean I think every country should be a republic with strong democratic traditions? (Small "d.") With a bicameral legislature and a taste for hamburgers, apple pie, and potato chips?

No. That's worked pretty well for America, in my opinion: but I'm inclined to believe what I've been told: that not all countries are just like America. Which is just as well, I think. It'd be a pretty dull world if everybody was alike.

On the other hand, I think we'd all be better off in a world where leaders didn't try to instill loyalty by killing their subjects. Or regard the folks they're serving as subjects, when it comes to that.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.