Monday, 14 March 2011

If A Dictator Falls But The Media Don't Pay Attention, Does It Make A Sound?

This is a little side note, irrelevant to the main thrust of this blog post, but bear with me, i'll get to the important stuff soon. I've got to say i'm loving the weather we've had the past few days. I'm definitely a summer person, it makes me an almost bizarre amount happier to be able to leave the house without needing a jumper. It's a fairly arbitrary thing, i don't have any great logical reason why it is so much better, but for me it really is. Winter has it's plus points (Fresh snow, cups of hot tea held in frozen hands, the Christmas holidays, Christmas dinner and big winter coats) but it begins to drag around the middle of February and i begin to crave sunlight and green leaves instead of bare, skeletal trees.

What with the Easter holidays getting closer, this improved weather and plans for the summer seeming all the more relevant i definitely feel like i won't have to wait too much longer until the summer. It's daft how much of a difference to my initial mood waking up to blue skies in the morning makes. If i manage to combine a good nights sleep, a blue sky morning and the right song on my iPod (today's song of choice was Angus & Julia Stone's song, 'Just a Boy') it really can set me up for the day. Sounds daft and a little cheesy i know, but doesn't mean it isn't true.

In other news while my thoughts are definitely with the people of Japan and Libya as they attempt to deal with utterly terrible situations, i do feel a bit of frustration at the comparative lack of interest the world is showing in what is taking place in the Ivory Coast.

In late November 2010, the Ivory Coast held a long delayed presidential election, contested by President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara. The long standing ethnic and geographical divides that saw the country experience a civil war for the majority of the first decade of the 21st century had finally been calmed to a point where it was feasible to try and hold democratic elections.

The country has a long history of unrest, with their history either side of the turn of the millennium littered with attempted coups, massacres of protesters and a drawn out civil war between the north and south. Various leaders have attempted to rule and/or unite the country, utilising different degrees of violence, oppression and exploitation since it gained it's independence from France in 1960.

The elections themselves were judged to be, despite some instances of violence, essentially free and fair and for a brief time it seemed like there could be some reasons to be optimistic to be optimistic about the future of this war torn country. That hope was short lived however; when, on the 2nd of December 2010, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) released provisional results showing Ouattara winning with 54% of the vote, Gbagbo and his supporters declared the result invalid and refused to relinquish power.

Within a few weeks the UN, African Union, EU, United States and the former colonial power France had all acknowledged Ouattara as the rightful president of the country. Despite this Gbagbo was sworn in for another 5 year term and once again the country descended into violence.

Since the disputed election there has been violence in most major towns and cities, with supporters and security forces loyal to the two potential leaders clashing angrily. There are numerous reports of armed militia's loyal to Gbagbo roaming the cities committing atrocities and brutally suppressing any opposition supporters. Rumours of mass graves, 'death squads' and mass attacks, including rape, upon women in the region, are all seen to have a high degree of truth to them.

Ouattara is based in a hotel in Abidjan, the capital of the country, protected by a force of 800 UN peacekeepers who report that they are entirely surrounded by Gbagbo's militia, who are blockading the area, making it impossible for food, water and medical supplies to reach the hotel or surrounding areas.

A brutal leader, clinging onto power long after it has become indisputable that he is no longer the rightful ruler of the nation, brutally suppressing opposition and using militia to wage a campaign of terror and violence against political opponents and civilians alike. It sounds pretty similar to what is taking place further north on the continent, yet has received such a small amount of coverage comparatively.

Maybe it's the relative distance, maybe the lack of British financial interests in the area, perhaps just an example of what i've heard being called 'compassion fatigue' where after a certain point, people just struggle to keep caring about every issue they hear about, and in a situation like the one facing the people of the Ivory Coast, where violence and unrest is nothing new, is it simply that it won't sell newspapers any more. Personally i suspect it's a frustrating combination of all those factors, but right now my thoughts are going out to he people in the Ivory Coast, struggling for democracy just like the people we supported in northern Africa. They deserve our thoughts and the attention of our politicians just as much.

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