Africa has no room for another despot

As African states head to the polls in coming months it will be incumbent on their leaders to bear in mind the example of Ghana, not the ruinous ways of the now-deposed Mr Gbagbo in Ivory Coast.

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It is a painfully familiar story line for many African nations. A much-delayed election gives rise to a strongman who refuses to hand over power. This eventually leads to a breakout of violence between rival factions. Hundreds are left dead and homeless in the unrest.

Ivory Coast is only the latest to suffer this tragic yet avoidable fate. On Monday, the country's trauma ended as former president Laurent Gbagbo was arrested when French and UN forces stormed his bunker in Abidjan.

The challenge now is to ensure that this cycle of events is not repeated elsewhere. Over the next 18 months Africa will play host to general elections in no less than 19 countries. The continent can ill afford any more despots to emerge.

Africa has a mixed record of peaceful transitions. When the former head of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, refused to step down in 1997, the resulting power struggle sparked a bloody conflict that has claimed at least three million lives.

Other states have chosen more wisely. In January 2009, opposition candidate John Evans Atta Mills narrowly won Ghana's presidential election, defeating incumbent Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, of the New Patriotic Party, in the second round of votes. The margin of victory was a remarkably slim 50.2 per cent of votes cast to 49.77 per cent.

Such a tight outcome is often a precursor to a sitting president who refuses to give up his position, as was the case for Ivory Coast. But in Ghana's example, Mr Akufo-Addo accepted his fate and stepped down.

Ghana has held four successive peaceful elections in a row and praise for the transparency of its political process has been widespread. "Africa doesn't need strongmen", the US president Barack Obama told the Ghanian parliament in 2009. "It needs strong institutions." Mr Obama called on other African nations to follow Ghana's example.

For the Ivory Coast, the most recent crisis was prompted when Mr Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the general election to Alassane Ouattara. As other African states head to the poll in coming months - Rwanda and Zimbabwe among them - it will be incumbent on their leaders to bear in mind the example of Ghana, not the ruinous ways of the now-deposed Mr Gbagbo in Abidjan.