Good Developments

Thoughts on development aid, African politics and other stuff

Archive for the month “July, 2011”

A Winner’s Justice?

Laurent Gbagbo has been removed, the legally elected new president Alassane Ouattara and his government have taken the reigns and peace is slowly returning to Côte d’Ivoire after four months of post-electoral violence. Now would be the chance for the country to draw a line under its violent past, to end impunity and introduce the rule of law.

But the government is losing momentum. Of course, Gbagbo, his family and his closest allies are under arrest and are now waiting for trial, 15 of them have already been charged. In fact, regarding  their opponents, Ouattara and his government are more than busy to dispense justice. But it is a one-sided, non-transparent and political motivated justice.

As Human Rights groups have documented in detail. both sides in the post-election debacle have committed serious human rights violations, including massacres, kidnappings, rapes and unlawful killings. But not one member of the FRCI, the armed forces that fought on Ouattara’s side, has been arrested or detained so far.

Moreover, the members of the newly created Truth and Reconciliation Commission were appointed solely by Ouattara. Transparency and inclusive procedures  – far from it. Of course, there is also a preliminary ICC investigation under way which looks into the crimes of both sides. But Côte d’Ivoire is no signatory of the Rome Statute that gives the ICC jurisdiction over a country. Even though the new Minister of Justice recently signed a cooperation agreement with the ICC, it is far from sure that Ouattara will allow the ICC to act if his most important allies are impeached. If the ICC actually continues the investigations, which is also unsure.

At the moment, it all look’s like a classical winner’s justice. If Ouattara doesn’t change his strategy soon, this will be fatal for the country. The divisions and resentments between Ouattara’s and Gbagbo’s supporters in the country run deep – a one-sided justice will only deepen these divisions and make reconciliation impossible. A resurgence of civil conflict will then be only a matter of time.

International donors should be aware of the risks partial justice has. Instead of cancelling all of the country’s debts immediately and shower the new government with development aid, they should first make sure that the new Ivorian government is really interested in peace and reconciliation and not only takes advantage of its own power to take revenge on its former enemies

Stability, Angolan Style


“Stability” is going to be my number one so-ironic-that-it-hurts word for some time to come. After the German government just cited “stability” as the main reason to greenlight the export of tanks to Saudi Arabia, they now use the same excuse to support the shipping of German patrol boats to Angola. Or to say it in chancellor Merkel’s own words: “Angola is one of the countries in the African Union, that champion stability.”


Of course, Merkel knows what she is talking about. Just last December for example, Angola was deeply worried about stability in Ivory Coast. So much so, that the Angolan government approved of sending mercenaries and elite troops to support incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who at that point used his army to terrorize civilians and hang unto power in the face of an UN-monitored election debacle. The Angolans certainly knew their way around, as they had helped out Gbagbo only a few years earlier, when the country was still embroiled in an ugly civil war. Angolan troops also cared for the stability of their neighbour Congo, supporting various sides during the two Congo Wars that lasted from 1996 to 2003 and have cost the lives of some 5 Million Congolese. There must be also the intend of stability behind the brutal expulsion of Congolese diamond miners from Angola, which often goes along with systematic rape and plunder. But most important of all in Merkel’s consideration is probably Angola’s consideration for stability in the oil rich waters in the Gulf of Guinea. More to the point, Angola is in a long running dispute with the Democratic Republic of Congo about their respective sea borders, with the Congo asking for a greater share of the oil wealth beath the sea floor. With the new patrol boats, Angola will have little problems in guaranteeing the stability of its own claims.

“Stability” has become a chiffre for “they will pay a really good price for these weapons”. And despite all reassurances of various governments around the world, there considerations of real stability, human rights and peace always take the back seat to short time political gain and economic profits.

Tanks and Democracy

When the stunned silence that ensued in the Western capitals, after Tunisia and Egypt experienced massive public uprisings and deposed of their dictators, the leaders of the free world were quick to announce that from now on, all would change. Foreign policy should no longer follow simply the imperative of necessity, but should be aimed at actually improving the political situation in the countries of the region. I think that nobody took these declarations that seriously, as they mirrored more or less the rethoric that we got to know so well over the last 50 years. But then again, many – me included – hoped that the ‘Arab Spring’ would lead to at least some change of attitude on the parts of the political elite.

Well, these hopes have been roundly destroyed over the last few months. I don’t want to talk about NATO’s engagement in Libya – where the West may seem to engage on “the good side”, but is doing so with all the old tools (bombing, weapon deleveries). Instead, there is an interesting scandal brewing in Germany, that sheds some light into the hypocrisy of the powerful. The German government – which has stood on the sidelines in Libya – seems to have agreed to a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal revolves around 200 Leopard II main battle tanks, which are counted among the most advanced pieces of military hardware ever developed.

Saudi Arabia? Yes, that’s the country where women are not allowed to drive, the government has banned all religions exept a deeply conservative (some would say extremist) version of Islam, which has no democratic institutions to speak of and has just dispatched several thousand troops (including tanks) to a neighbouring country to put down a peaceful pro-democracy movement. The House of Saud also tortures, suppresses free speech and its members are generally not the ones you would want to give a pointed stick to, much less a bunch of armored vehicles capable of reducing whole towns to rubble. After all, some neighbouring regimes are demonstrating that tanks can be used to do exactly that just now.

The German government is pretty tight-lipped about the whole deal. “There are good reasons for these deals to be secret”, was one of chancellor Merkel’s few comments to the affair. This is the first issue I personally take with the whole thing. Why on earth has an arms deal to be secret? If there are good reasons to sell things that kill to another nation (especially one whose laws we would not accept), why not have a public discussion about them? You know, jsut like how issues are generally resolved in a democracy …

But I am mainly frustrated by the one reason that the government did give: that those weapons will only serve to “stabalize” the region. This argument was used by Merkel, the minister for defense, the minister for the interior and the leader of the parliamentary group of the ruling party. And it is so ironic that almost don’t know where to begin criticising it.

First, this is cold war thinking all over again. I thought the thinking, that one could make a region more secure by flooding it with arms broke down with the Berlin wall. But the German government (some members of which were pretty closely involved in the whole thing) obviously begs to differ.

Second, I thought the whole point of our “new attitude” towards foreign policy was to destabalize totalitarian regimes. At least that is what NATO claims to do in Libya and practically everybody would like to do in Iran. So why stabalize one of the most repressive regimes of the planets? It does not make any sense from that angle either.

Third, even if the argument assumes that the House of Saud is the leser evil compared to what is around it (Iran, Yemen), well, it is not. The post second World War political history is full of lesser evils that turned out to be the greater ones. The examples of Ben Ali, Ghaddafi and Mubarak only serve to illustrate that point. Yes, there was always that point in history when each of these dictators was the ‘lesser evil’ – be it compared to radical islamists, high oil prices or African immigrants. But in hindsight we can be pretty confident in declaring that the world would be a better place if our Governments would have taken a decisive stand against the authoritarian practices of these regimes earlier. The same is true today for those regimes – including in Saudia Arabia – that are still alive and kicking. The right time to get real about promoting democracy – and that includes not selling weapons to those that misuse it – begins exactly now.

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