According to Wednesday’s Globe, US officials tried to entice Laurent Gbagbo to give up the presidency of Ivory Coast by offering him a position at Boston University. Gbagbo, a history-professor-turned-politician who refused to leave office after losing his re-election bid last fall, apparently rejected the offer. Bad move for him; he was deposed this week. But Gbagbo's case underscores one major reason why strongmen cling to office: They've got nowhere else to go.
There have been some efforts to address the problem. Charles Stith, a former US ambassador to Tanzania, runs a program at BU that offers short fellowships to former African leaders. (According to the Globe story, he declined to say whether the State Department asked him to offer Gbagbo one of these fellowships.) An even stronger statement comes from Mo Ibrahim, who's tried to alleviate the problem by creating an annual award, worth more than $5 million, for an African leader who goes gracefully. A recent New Yorker article nicely captures Ibrahim's thinking:
In Africa, [Ibrahim says,] "You don't have the option to write books or go on corporate boards. European leaders can become rich after office. African leaders don't have that option." Three years ago, after British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped down, he earned a book advance of eight million dollars (which he donated to charity), and he gets up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per lecture. Bill Clinton received fifteen million dollars to write his memoirs. Ibrahim says he wanted to "create an environment" for outstanding African leaders "to have a second life."
Ibrahim, it should be noted, has been struggling lately to find suitable recipients. Maybe, for leaders who've profited handsomely from their political power, neither Stith nor Ibrahim is offering enough?
Something feels wrong, of course, about essentially bribing the likes of Gbagbo to leave. And surely it isn't just the lack of employment opportunities that keeps many strongmen in office. Vanity is a factor; so is the desire to avoid prosecution for the inevitable human-rights violations and acts of corruption. Unfortunately, our instinct to demand accountability, and to avoid rewarding bad behavior, is working at cross purposes with the more immediate goal of getting bad leaders out of the way. There's got to be a polite way to show them the door.
Globe photo: Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo, left, and his wife Simone sit in a room at Hotel Golf in Abidjan, after their arrest. Gbagbo was arrested by opposition forces on Monday after French troops closed in on the compound where the self-proclaimed president had been holed up in a bunker for the past week.