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Gbagbo’s trial a stark reminder to those in Africa who engage in ethnic violence


Laurent Gbagbo? Does the name ring a bell? Well, it has been five long years since he dominated the West African airwaves with his political intransigence.

Now, however, in a European jail he cuts a pitiful and fundamentally sad figure, with a forlorn look, drooped shoulders and a contemplation that tells it all,” I am doomed. There is no way, I will ever get out of this dungeon.”

Gbagbo never thought it would come to this; he is the first former head of state to stand trial at the world’s only permanent crimes tribunal. And there is abundant evidence to convict this arrogant man and confine him to the four walls of a prison for the rest of his natural life.

Gbagbo’s current predicament is a far cry from the cozy world he once lived in, a world of power, wealth and unparalleled influence. This was a man who had it all, but allowed his good fortune to slip through his fingers, a trait that is too common among politicians on our continent.

Five years ago, he plunged Ivory Coast into an unprecedened political violence that claimed 3000 lives. Gbagbo adamantly refused to give up power after being bested by the current president, Hassan Quattara.

Despite pleas, financial inducements and a guaranteed comfortable life in exile laid on the table by political heavy weights on the continent, the UN and EU and other international shakers and movers, Gbagbo stood his grounds, stubbornly rejecting electoral defeat. And the rest as they say is history; Ivory Coast descended into violence that ultimately wrecked the nation.

But the world was not going to sit idly by and allow another genocide to occur on its watch; the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur may have been committed years ago, but the killings still remain fresh in the minds of many in the international community.

The world acted quickly as the United Nations immediately invoked the Responsibility To Protect clause to stop the violence. Gbagbo’s fate was sealed. His forces were defeated by Quattara’s forces with assistance from a United Nations and French forces.

Gbagbo was arrested and placed under house arrest. Eventually, he was transferred to the Hague where he now faces at the prospect of spending the rest of his life locked up in a European jail.

It is absolutely important that people familiarize themselves with the Responsibility To Protect clause. It is an international security and human rights norm adopted by the United Nations in 2005 to address the world’s failure to prevent or stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

In short, it says the international community has the responsibility to help countries prevent genocides, war crimes and crimes against humanity using all the resources at its disposal.

African politicians, especially those who revel in stirring up ethnic violence are running scared of the ICC. Unsurprisingly, the tend to underestimate the capabilities of the court and take any opportunity at all to heap criticism on it. But where else in the world are the rights of citizens trampled on with impunity than in Africa?

There are poignant lessons to be drawn from Gbagbo’s predicament and trial. It is a stark reminder to African politicians of all hues that the world is watching them with an eagle eye. If they engage in pre or post election violence, they will be hauled before a court where their fate will be decided by judges who cannot be bought.

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