It really did not have to end like this.  Laurent Gbagbo could be sipping coffee along the Charles River from a sinecure at Boston University.  Instead, he’s hunkered down in his palace, bracing for a final assault by France, the United Nations and Pro-Outtara forces.

Gbagbo will be killed or captured by the end of the day.

If it’s the latter, Gbagbo will likely spend the next several years in courtrooms and prison.  For one, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction in Ivory Coast.  But “Holding on to power after you lost an election” is not an offense that can be tried by the ICC, so before he winds up in the Hague, he will likely face justice in Ivory Coast.

And it really is important that Gbagbo does wind up facing some due process under the law. Not only for the victims in Ivory Coast, but as an example to other would-be Gbagbos in the region.  There are several elections this year in Africa, and recent African history is replete with examples of incumbents rigging elections, or refusing to step down after losing.  There are only a few examples in which an opposition party is peacefully handed power after an election.

Gbagbo’s fate will demonstrate what happens when a leader takes his country down the path to civil war.  On the other hand, it may also show that after you lose an election, and someone offers you $5 million or a job at Dr. Martin Luther King’s alma mater, take the gig.   Don’t start a civil war.

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