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High stakes for Africa in Ivory Coast

Andrew Harding | 09:23 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A thick cloud of Saharan dust has blown in over Abidjan - an appropriate metaphor for the murky, sullen confusion on the ground here. A big change from my last visit.

"What we really need is a military coup," one local journalist told me. "They're all rogues," said another friend. "We simply live in fear."

As the foreign delegates come and go, the politicians and generals weigh up their loyalties, and rival armed groups fortify their positions, there is a sense that almost anything could happen here in Ivory Coast - at almost any moment.

So what will it be? A quiet coup, escalating street protests, a foreign invasion, some unforeseen and violent provocation, civil war, genocide, or perhaps simply months of backroom negotiations as the money starts to run out and Laurent Gbagbo - the man clinging stubbornly to a presidency that the world insists is no longer his - dies the death of a thousand unpaid bills and salaries?

Laurent Gbagbo (left) welcomes Raila Odinga at the airport

Will Laurent Gbagbo (l) learn any lessons from Kenya's Raila Odinga (r)?

Whatever the outcome - an enormous amount is at stake for Africa. I flew here via Kenya, a country facing many of the same challenges as Ivory Coast. You don't even need to leave the airport - shabby and virtually unchanged in the 19 years I've been visiting - to see how another predatory, parasitic elite has squandered so many chances.

Kenyan newspapers are full of the parallels between their own political stalemate and that in Ivory Coast. "The government of national unity model is one of Kenya's most insidious exports to the rest of Africa," writes the country's whistle-blower-in-chief, John Githongo in The East African, lamenting the "peace at any price" logic that has seen "a once much heralded, stable and prosperous African country brought to grief by political incompetence, cynicism and corruption."

"First there was us. Then there was Zimbabwe. Then Madagascar. And now Ivory Coast," writes L Muthoni Wanyeki, of Kenya's Human Rights Commission, in the same paper, predicting nonetheless that the era of "negotiated democracy" is coming to an end.

Fitting perhaps, then, that it was Kenya's Raila Odinga who took the latest offer of asylum and amnesty across the continent to Laurent Gbagbo - not that such an exit seems likely to appeal to the man.

But if the year is getting off to a gloomy start here, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful elsewhere. South Sudan seems to be confounding the apocalypse-predictors as it moves towards independence, and last night a friend in Abidjan sent me this link, suggesting nearby Ghana could be a world-beater this year and that "Africa's decade still holds sway."


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