The Ivory Coast and “Power-Sharing”

Ethnic and cultural frictions have long simmered in Ivory Coast, a francophone, West African state known for its cocoa exports and — until recently — its relative peace and prosperity. For years the country’s lucrative cocoa production lured ethnically and religiously distinct newcomers from poor, neighboring states, mostly to the north of Ivory Coast, halving the country along a strained geopolitical divide.

Before 2002, when tensions that had remained largely dormant for years erupted in civil war, Ivory Coast enjoyed a period of stability, standing out as one of the only former European colonies to witness a post-independence increase in European population. In a country that persisted as a single-party state until 1990, the birth of elections was regarded opportunistically, seen as affording chances to wrest control of profitable exports from a corrupt political class. Of course, leaving the fundamental problems in place, elections have been unable to reconcile the structural conflicts of statism.

In the face of such political unrest, the more discernible violence of outright armed conflict has resulted accordingly, and a confederated group of rebels called the New Forces now oversee the country’s north. Following a November election in the country — in which its Independent Electoral Commission declared the northern-backed Alassane Ouattara winner — both candidates have claimed victory and taken oaths of office.

The BBC has reported that, in reaction to the election strife, Dr. Knox Chitiyo of the Royal United Services Institute (a British think tank) “believes that having two presidents could eventually lead to some sort of power-sharing.” With international voices broaching the possibilities of various power allotments or a coalition government, the premise seems to accept on some level that neither of these candidates necessarily ought to be thrust upon the entire country, that it’s possible to prevent further violence by diffusing rather than concentrating political authority.

That premise is shared by anarchism, which endorses unqualified “power-sharing,” or a vying between multiple sources of legal and social arrangements. Addressing the popular misconception that “law and order could not exist in a society without the organized, authoritarian institutions of the state,” economist Bruce Benson suggests that “law can develop ‘from the ground.’” He notes that, “as customs and practice evolve,” the sum of the many uncoordinated transactions and relationships between individuals within a community give rise to a law based on the expectations within that community.

In the United States, we often hear about the idea of “voting with one’s feet” as a rationale for our horizontal federalism — the relationships between the states within our federal government. Similar to commentators on the political crisis in Ivory Coast, we tend to think that it’s a good idea to allow this “power-sharing,” to allow people to “vote” in such a way, and to sustain this style of “competition.” We entertain comparable reasoning with regard to our legal system. We allow different courts to have jurisdiction over the same issue, and we give those courts the power to interpret statutes given by the First Branch of the government.

All of the reasoning enlisted to justify these interrelated processes, all of the incentives they are thought to engender, can be drawn on to defend anarchism’s notion of competing “governments.” Why not allow all of these institutions or services, traditionally associated with states, to exist alongside one another, peaceful rivals within the same geographic area? But, because they don’t rely on the theft of taxation or the absence of competitors, the potential institutions of anarchy cannot properly be called “governments” or “states.”

Murray Rothbard imagined a world where the defense of human life typically thought of as the exclusive jurisdiction of the state “would have to be as freely competitive and as noncoercive against noninvaders as are all other suppliers of goods and services on the free market. Defense services, like all other services,” he said, “would be marketable and marketable only.” In Ivory Coast, the United States and around the world, the partitioning of decision-making authority among networks of noncompulsory associations — such as are witnessed every day in those less-constrained areas of human life — are increasingly attractive.

The state’s monopolization of law, both its creation and interpretation, has revealed its oppressive character again and again. Anarchism provides the alternative, a cooperative, customary law built upon an observation of individual rights reciprocated between all people.

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