International Papers

Ebony and Ivory Coast

A failed “electoral coup d’etat” in the Ivory Coast and impeachment moves against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe put European editorial writers in a sunny mood. Britain’s Independent proclaimed, “The eviction from power of Slobodan Milosevic after he tried to steal an election in Yugoslavia has provided a model for the deposing of General Robert Guei, who attempted an even cruder theft in the Ivory Coast, and has given fresh heart to the opponents of Robert Mugabe, who pulled off his own democratic robbery in Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections.” The editorial continued:

Both developments are highly encouraging. They suggest that Africa’s deepest malaise—the habit of so many of its rulers of treating power as a personal treasure chest rather than as an obligation towards all their people—is not incurable.

In the Ivory Coast, Gen. Guei, who came to power in a military coup last December, overruled the results of Sunday’s presidential elections, won by Laurent Gbagbo. Soon after, the country underwent a “boulevard revolution,” when Guei’s opponents took to the streets, eventually winning over the support of the armed forces and paramilitary gendarmes, and leading to Guei’s departure from the country. It isn’t clear how long Gbagbo will remain in power, since he was one of only four candidates out of the original 19 challengers Guei allowed to run; and, according to the Independent, at least one of the excluded candidates held a rally Wednesday demanding new elections. Der Tageszeitung of Berlin said Guei was brought down by his own attempt to fix the elections, “With his manipulation, Guei dug his own grave.” The paper was bearish on Gbagbo, declaring, “His policies have consisted [of] an intolerant nationalism, which rejected the tradition of the Ivory Coast’s openness to the world and multiculturalism.” (Tageszeitung translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

On Wednesday, parliamentarians from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change filed a motion to impeach President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwe Daily News said this represented the first impeachment attempt in post-colonial Africa. The MDC controls 57 of the 150 seats in Parliament—enough to start proceedings, but not enough for the motion to succeed. The South African Independent reported that, nevertheless, the MDC believes “the move will create a platform for public debate about his presidency.” (Click here for more on the violence and intimidation of the June election, and here for an “Assessment” of Mugabe.)

In the last few weeks, Zimbabwe has “slid closer to the brink of serious civil strife,” according to the Financial Gazette. The paper said, “Zimbabweans have become extremely critical of Mugabe’s leadership, blaming him for everything wrong from escalating living costs, high unemployment, mass poverty to the general breakdown of law and order.” Recently, Mugabe hinted to the BBC that he would try to stay in power beyond the end of his term in 2002 so that he could rebuild the ZANU-PF Party and complete his controversial land reforms. He also declared an amnesty for most politically motivated crimes committed during the run-up to the June elections and incorporated the remnants of the pre-independence guerrilla forces—often seen as his private militia—into the Zimbabwean army. The Times of London declared, “Clearly the time has long since come for a willful, power-crazed and widely detested President to stand down.” It encouraged the MDC to pursue its plans for a massive civil disobedience campaign, and concluded:

Mr Mugabe looks ever more isolated. His political structures are collapsing around him. He surely cannot continue to stand much longer amid the ruins of this once prosperous nation and ignore the anger of a people whose respect for him [h]as turned to ash.

Ehud, don’t look to Likud: The liberal Israeli paper Ha’aretz published several pieces counseling Ehud Barak against forming a unity government that includes Ariel Sharon and the Likud Party. An editorial said, “The prime minister is throwing sand in the public’s eyes” when he claims that joining forces with them is in line with his government’s commitment to the peace process. It encouraged parliamentarians from left and center parties to state unequivocally that they would not serve in a Cabinet with Sharon. An op-ed by Akiva Eldar asked, “It is commonly said that, in times of crisis, the nation desperately seeks a ‘closing of the ranks.’ But why, whenever the concept of ‘national unity’ is mentioned, do people always think of an alignment toward rightist positions?”

Death improves for Russians: Although the average life expectancy of Russian citizens has decreased by one year thanks to too much drinking and smoking, bereaved relatives no longer have to clean bodies and dig graves. The Moscow Times reported from a “death industry” trade fair on the superior customer service since the fall of the Soviet system:

[I]mprovements include cemeteries that offer free shuttles to and from the metro on holidays, or rent out cheap spades and drinking cups for relatives wanting to plant flowers or leave a drink for the dearly departed. Competition is intense, with some companies even selling headstones from stalls on the street.