Gbagbo's lust for power
WHAT is currently happening in Ivory Coast is a typical example of how political office can turn leaders into power mongers prepared to run down their countries for self-serving interests.
The incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo came into power after the death of Ivory Coast's first post-independence president Felix Houphouet-Boigny.
Houphouet-Boigny ruled the country under an essentially one-party system. Gbagbo as a young activist became the leading voice of resistance against Houphouet-Boigny's undemocratic regime.
Houphouet-Boigny's death in 1993 eventually saw Gbagbo taking power and being inaugurated Ivory Coast's president in 2000.
This was after he controversially won the 1999 presidential election after beating military ruler General Robert Guei.
The outcome was challenged by supporters of the Rally of the Republicans, a Muslim party that questioned the fact that their presidential candidate Alassane Quattara was disqualified from the election.
Guei disqualified Quattara in terms of legislation that required all presidential candidates to be of "pure" Ivory Coast descent.
Quattara, whose father was from neighbouring Burkino Faso, failed to qualify. This was despite the fact that he had served as prime minister under Houphouet-Boigny.
The RDR supporters called for another election in which Quattara would be included as a candidate. The international community, including the United Nations and South Africa, supported the call.
Instead of heeding the call, Gbagbo claimed that he was properly elected under the constitution approved by the people of Ivory Coast.
Unfortunately, his decision led to more than 300 people being killed when the Muslims took to the streets, clashing with Gbagbo's armed forces.
This turned out to be a sign of worse things to come.
In 2002, Ivory Coast was engulfed in a civil war, with the Muslim rebels eventually capturing most of the country's northern region.
In April 2003, Gbagbo signed the Marcoussis Accord that conceded nine cabinet positions to rebel leaders and the restructuring of citizenship laws to include more Muslim northerners. In exchange the rebels would disarm.
But failure on Gbagbo's part to provide the budgets for the rebel-held cabinet positions saw the agreement falling through.
In 2007, a new deal was signed by all parties, which paved the way for the recently held election.
What this history tells us is how Gbagbo, one of the key players who fought for multiparty democracy in Ivory Coast, has turned into a power monger.
His failure to heed the call by the RDR to include Quattara in the 1999 election is a reflection of this lust for power.
Gbagbo wanted so much to become president of the country that he was willing to use the self-serving and ridiculous legislation that disqualified Quattara.
We now have a similar situation where Gbagbo is willing to use his control over the military and state apparatus to undermine the results of a democratic process in which the people have said it is time for him to go.
To achieve his nebulous intent, Gbagbo also uses the old tired argument that he is standing up against Western bullies bent on beating Africa into submission.
Fortunately, the move by the Economic Community of West African States to suspend Ivory Coast makes a mockery of Gbagbo's assertion.
By suspending Ivory Coast, Ecowas is saying the days of undermining democratic processes in the name of African solidarity are over.
This is the position that the African Union must take in dealing with the Ivory Coast situation.
It must be guided by the basic principles of democracy, which include the holding of free and fair elections.
The Independent Electoral Commission of Ivory Coast has declared Quattara the winner of last month's election, and Gbagbo must be made to understand and accept the results.
The AU must use all its instruments of sanction to get him to do so. Failure to do this will undermine the AU's agenda of building democracy in the continent.
It will also expose the AU as a toothless body that cannot defend its commitment to democratic change in the continent.