An explosion in a busy cafe in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh has killed at least 18 people and wounded several others, according to local officials.
Moroccan officials said on Thursday that they suspect the attack in the heart of the country’s main tourist destination was the work of a suicide bomber.
“According to the information I have, it could have been perpetrated by a suicide bomber,” an official in the regional governor’s office told the AFP news agency.
Tornadoes and storms in the south-eastern United States have killed at least 246 people, officials say.
In Alabama, the worst-hit state, more than 162 have died in recent days – including 36 killed by a tornado that devastated the city of Tuscaloosa.
Deaths and widespread devastation are also reported in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.
A state of emergency has been declared in seven states, and federal aid money is being sent to Alabama.
The US National Weather Service has reports of nearly 300 tornadoes since the storm began on Friday, more than 150 of them on Wednesday alone.
The United Nations had a plan for Ivory Coast: to oversee elections and install a ‘winner-takes-all’ state president. Having failed to secure a political solution, the UN joined with French forces and one side in the civil war in Ivory Coast to forcibly overthrow the government that had lost the election but refused to quit. The discovery of mass graves of civilian victims of gruesome violence suggests that the UN may have reignited the North-South civil war instead of healing it.
The alternative to a ‘winner-takes-all’ strategy would have been a transitional power-sharing arrangement that would have embraced both sides in the civil war as a way of finding a way beyond the civil war. But the UN wanted a national election, which it enforced in October 2010.
I first read about the debate in an article by an independent Ghanaian analyst who had earlier helped broker peace settlements between fighting groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia. He wrote before about the UN decision to break the post-election political deadlock with a military intervention:
The three protagonists, Henri Konan Bedie, Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo could have been prevented from contesting for state power through a transitional arrangement that embraced all three egos but with a caveat preventing each one of them from participating in future elections as they laid down the foundations to reorder the Ivorian society. […] The combined experience of the three is a national asset that must not be left polarized to the disadvantage of the country. This is what the UN has denied the people of Cote d’Ivoire.
Determined that the military intervention be both surgical and successful, the UN joined hands with France. The resulting French invasion of Ivory Coast has compounded the UN failure.
The north-south difference
The oversized egos of protagonists is at the heart of the power struggle in the Ivory Coast - former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, the Speaker of the Assembly Henry Konan Bedie and President Laurent Gbagbo - cannot fully explain the origins of the north-south civil war. That civil war was fuelled by a debate on citizenship.
The citizenship debate has plagued the Ivory Coast since the rise of a successful movement against the dictator, Houphet-Boigny, who had ruled the country for a good four decades since independence in 1960. The citizenship question, known as Ivorite [Ivorianness], is about political rights: who is an Ivorian with a right to participate in the political sphere?
The origins of Ivorite speaks to the shortcomings of the democratic movement against Houphet-Boigny. What would today be called a ‘pro-democracy’, movement began in the south of the country. The democratic movement faced one big challenge as it sought to become a national movement. In essence, it was the joining of two different regions, each with a different history and a different social makeup, into a single political movement.
The historical origins of the north-south split lie in the political economy of colonial Ivory Coast. France treated its West African possessions as a single administrative entity. In French Occidental Africa, a single economic policy was implemented: as a rule, plantations were situated near communication lines at the coast and labour to work the plantations was extracted from inland territories.
Hundreds of thousands of plantations workers were brought in from inland Sahelian countries like Burkina Faso and Mali to work cocoa, coffee and banana plantations in the north of Ivory Coast. In the heyday of colonial rule, two trains a day made the run to fetch migrant labour from Burkina Faso to the Ivory Coast.
The north-south division reflected deeper social differences by the end of the colonial period: in contrast to the increasingly Muslim and immigrant north, the predominantly Christian south increasingly came to define itself as the indigenous group.
Politicising the north-south division
The north-south issue turned political when the pro-democracy movement wrested a concession from President Houphet-Boigny, the holding of national elections in 1990. The candidate of the pro-democracy movement in that election was Laurent Gbagbo.
The big question in the 1990 election was: who is qualified to vote? Taking a short-term view of the question, the pro-democracy movement pressed for an answer that would turn voting into an effective monopoly of its organised base in the south.
The movement said only ‘indigenous’ Ivorians should be able to vote. Ironically, Houphet-Boigny, a former trade unionist who had successfully organised plantation workers in the north during the colonial period, championed the political right of migrants and their descendents to vote.
The political blind spot of Ivorian pro-democracy recalls a similar decision by the Congolese Sovereign National Conference, when it met in Kisangani in 1991-92 to demand democratic reforms from the Mobutu regime. It too, decided to limit political rights only to ‘indigenous’ Congolese, thereby disenfranchising long-term migrants from Rwanda. Like Mobutu in Congo, Houphet-Boigny in the Ivory Coast also championed citizenship rights for migrants.
The historical responsibility of pro-democracy movements in Ivory Coast and in Congo is that each politicised a regional difference for short term gain, and in the process laid the ground for a future civil war.
Ivorite turned out to be a poisoned chalice. Northerners were blocked from voting in 1995, and were increasingly subject to attacks, particularly in the south. Part of this story is the repeated blocking of former prime minister Alassane Ouattara from running for president because his parents were said to have been born in Burkina Faso.
Disenfranchised, the North resorted to armed rebellion, initiated in 2002 by a group called the New Forces. The short civil war led to a peace plan negotiated under the chairmanship of former President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa in 2005. Part of the peace plan was that Ouattara could run for the highest office in the state.
That election, demanded by the UN, was held on October 31, 2010. Gbagbo (roughly 35 per cent) won the first round, against Outarra (32 per cent) and Bedie (25 per cent), but failed to muster a majority of the vote. The runoff in November pitted Gbagbo against Ouattara. Gbagbo told voters that there was only one “real” Ivorian in the race, warning that they should never trust the leadership of their country to a foreigner.
Not surprisingly, both the casting and count of votes reflected the division of Ivory Coast between contending armed groups in the two regions - the official army and New Forces. The Electoral Commission said Ouattara had won with 54.1 per cent of votes against 45.9 per cent for Gbagbo. The Constitutional Court vetted the result on account of voting irregularities, particularly in the North; its count reversed the verdict: 51.45 per cent for Gbagbo and 48.55 per cent for Ouattara.
Ouattara’s response was to call for a national strike of workers on 26 December 2010, to continue until Gbagbo hands over power. But most workers in the capital, Abidjan, and the main ports, Abidjan and San Pedro, all in the south, ignored the call. Only some shop-keepers in Bouake, the capital of the rebel-held north, heeded it.
Political order in divided societies
Ivory Coast is a divided society. The outsized egos of its presidential candidates were fed by a real social crisis that divided the country into a regional civil war. No one familiar with the country’s unfolding crisis should have been surprised by the ruling party’s refusal to accept the verdict in a ‘winner-takes-all’ election. Africa had already witnessed similar refusals in other countries, notable Zimbabwe and Kenya.
The notable thing is the refusal by those who pressed the solution in the Ivorian case to heed the lessons of a similar crisis in Africa. When it came to Zimbabwe and Kenya, power-sharing arrangements were put in place, with a helping hand from SADC in Zimbabwe and the UN in Kenya. The objective in both cases was to avert a full-blown crisis.
In the Ivory Coast, however, the UN insisted on an election, and a regime change in line with its results. When the election led to a political stalemate, the UN, a body set up to strengthen peace-keeping, came in with guns blazing to force a military implementation of its preferred solution.
In the words of Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, the Ghanian analyst I quoted earlier, Cote d’Ivoire was “an avoidable disaster.” The price of that disaster will surely be paid by the people of Ivory Coast in the years to come.
Mahmood Mamdani is professor and director of Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York. He is the author, most recently of Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War and the Roots of Terror, and Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
- NEW: Nuclear Regulatory Commission is monitoring a north Alabama plant
- NEW: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is asking for a “major disaster declaration”
- There is conflicting information on the Alabama death toll
- The death toll rises to as many as 202 people in six states
Read more about this story from CNN affiliates WBMA-TV and WIAT-TV. Is severe weather affecting you? Share stories, photos and video with iReport.
(CNN) — Daylight illuminated a scene of utter devastation across many areas of the South Thursday, following storms of near-epic proportions that killed at least 202 people in six states.
The vast majority of fatalities occurred in Alabama, where as many as 149 people perished, although Gov. Robert Bentley told reporters Thursday there were 131 confirmed deaths.
Live blog: Death toll rises in Southern storms
A breakdown provided by Bentley’s office showed that violent weather claimed lives in 16 Alabama counties. Thirty people perished in DeKalb County in northeastern Alabama; the death toll in the hard-hit city of Tuscaloosa, in west-central Alabama, was at 36 as of Thursday morning, said Mayor Walter Maddox.
“I don’t know how anyone survived,” Maddox said. “We’re used to tornadoes here in Tuscaloosa. It’s part of growing up. But when you look at the path of destruction that’s likely 5 to 7 miles long in an area half a mile to a mile wide … it’s an amazing scene. There’s parts of the city I don’t recognize, and that’s someone that’s lived here his entire life.”
Politics often presents us with strange ironies, and the absurd birther conspiracy meant to discredit President Obama gives us a doozy. It was the existence of literacy tests for voters that kept African-Americans effectively disenfranchised in southern states until the 1960s. And yet, the persistent lie that the nation’s first (half) African-American president was not really born in the United States is a pretty solid argument for some kind of test—perhaps just one of simple common sense—for voters.
Despite having long ago released documentation that he was indeed born in Hawaii, Obama Wednesday released yet another document—a longer-form version of his birth certificate—proving what was already proven. It was a supremely undignified concession by a very dignified man, and it’s a sorry comment on the state of politics and the media in our Misinformation Age that the president felt he had to do it.
But the demand for and release of the document doesn’t really say that much about Obama. Unfortunately, it says some pretty unattractive things about some of the rest of us.
There’s the almost clinically self-absorbed Donald Trump, could-be candidate for president, who pronounced himself “proud” and “honored” to have been part of the effort to make Obama prove he isn’t a fraud. Not that Trump’s demand had much to do with Obama, anyway; like much of Trump’s self-promotion machine, the birth certificate campaign was all about Trump. [Vote now: Will Trump seriously run for president?]
Then there are the establishment Republicans, who haven’t come out and said they believe the birthers, but certainly have appeased them enough to keep from alienating a potentially powerful part of the base. Witness the remarks of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus:
The president ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy,” Priebus said. “Unfortunately, his campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our number one priority—our economy.
You can’t have it both ways, encouraging the “distraction” and then castigating Obama for trying to dispense with it. Talk about blaming the victim. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP 2012 candidates.]
Most embarrassing is how this makes the United States look to the rest of the world. When Obama was elected, it was a sign—even for those who don’t like his policies—that the United States was what it claimed to be: a place that celebrates equality of opportunity. It shut up those critics who noted that, while the United States lectured other countries about race relations, its own record wasn’t so impressive. The loud voice of the birther brigade, especially with the powerful media megaphone they have been given, merely reinforces the worst impressions foreigners have of this country. Obama made history with his election. It’s humiliating that some of his fellow citizens are still trying to deny it.