Ivory Coast needs a transition phase

By Eric Edi

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/94277
With a sluggish reconciliation process, nation is not ready for a presidential election

Laurent Gbagbo Picture

Laurent Gbagbo, former Ivorian president

The apparent calm in the West African nation is deceptive. Many unresolved issues have created seething tensions that make the likelihood of renewed violence real. A transitional phase is required, for all actors to prioritize the birth of a new contract and prepare a new electoral cycle by building on past failures.

Although the national reconciliation process is a fiasco, the deeply fractured Ivory Coast is mulling a presidential election in 2015. The subject is raising a lot of controversies as some argue that a presidential election is inappropriate and others claim that it would end the current crisis. At least seven candidates have already made known their intentions to contest the ballot if it takes place. While it is not surprising that Alassane Ouattara is one of them, it is confusing that Essy Amara, Charles Konan Banny and Kouadio Konan Bertin intend to run, whereas on 1 February 2015, the political party they are members of, the PDCI, endorsed Alassane Ouattara. Not only do they object to the decision of the political bureau of the PDCI, but also they are opposing the same person they helped into power in 2010 in the most unconstitutional manner. Other potential candidates like Ahipeaud Martial and Mamadou Koulibaly also offer contradicting postures. They lambast the government for violating the rule of law but they want to contest the ballot. All this is puzzling and debilitating.

No one denies that the constitution of the Ivory Coast requires that a presidential election take place every five years to elect the president, consolidate democracy and strengthen national cohesion. But can this requirement be fulfilled this year? For many pressure groups like the Committee of Actions for Ivory Coast in the United States (C.A.C.I-USA), there cannot and should not be any election in Ivory Coast in 2015, unless the political body wants to trigger new violence and erase the democratic gains that Ivorians have enjoyed starting April 1990.

  1. REASONS AGAINST AN ELECTION

The first reason to refrain from a presidential election in 2015 is that the disputes over the results of the 2010 presidential election and the unprecedented violence that followed it have not yet been elucidated. The UN Secretary General, who was deeply involved in the dispute, has been silent if not ambiguous about the true result of the 2010 presidential election, but hurriedly declared that all records were destroyed. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been unable to gather evidence to support the charges against Laurent Gbagbo. Consequently, Laurent Gbagbo’s trial has not yet started, though it has been more than three years since he was transferred to The Hague. Is there any legal basis that can account for this long detention? For many Ivorians, Laurent Gbagbo’s case underlines the pervasiveness of the question: Who won the presidential election of 2010? Until this question is answered, hopes of a successful reconciliation and return to political normalcy are slim.

The second reason is that accepting a presidential election in 2015 would legitimate the regime in power, condemn Laurent Gbagbo, approve violence as a means to access power, and negate Ivory Coast’s right to sovereignty and democracy. It is worth emphasizing that many groups like the C.A.C.I-USA and mostly the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), the main opposition party, continue to refute Alassane Ouattara’s legality and legitimacy on the basis that he did not win the 2010 election. This claim was repeated by the individuals and dignitaries of Laurent Gbagbo’s administration, who faced trial in Abidjan for charges related to the post-2010 presidential election violence. Ake Ngbo, Bro Gregbe and Simone Gbagbo, just to mention these three defendants, said that Laurent Gbagbo won in 2010, was regularly sworn into office by the Constitutional Council, and that they did nothing wrong by serving in his administration or supporting his regime. What is thought-provoking is that a great majority of Ivorians have firmly stood on the conviction that Laurent Gbagbo won the election and the feeling that the charges against him, his entourage, and supporters are unfair and lopsided.

This feeling has increased since a tribunal in Abidjan sentenced the defendants. It is obvious that the sentences, which may include a possible 20 years in jail for Simone Gbagbo, are baseless and a new obstacle to the reconciliation process. For four years, this reconciliation has stalled. The Dialogue, Truth, and Reconciliation Commission concluded its mission in 2014 without appeasing prevailing tensions. The chairman of this defunct commission, who is himself a potential candidate, has acerbically critiqued the regime in power for not taking the required steps to end political violence. There are sufficient grounds to claim that the prevailing tensions will lead to new waves of violence, perhaps more dramatic than what happened in 2010. In fact, no one should mistake the current quietness for a regained political normalcy. The truth is that Alassane Ouattara is exercising severe repression on opposition parties, leaders and ordinary citizens.

Under Alassane Ouattara, political repression is the new political order. It consists of freezing opponents’ assets, detaining opponents without trial, torture, impunity, protecting warlords, rebels, and fighters who forcefully took lands and farms from their rightful owners, forcing Ivorians into exile, denying political parties public funding, prohibiting opposition parties’ rallies, and operating an unjust judicial system. The rebel fighters, who helped Alassane Ouattara into power, still possess their weapons. Nearly 18,000 of them are reported missing, and those who were inserted in the national army continue to threaten security by holding major cities and towns to a stand still to request the money due to them. The government temporarily won their appeasement by promising to pay them lump sums instead of proceeding with the disarmament and demobilization program. Peace is therefore fragile and does not guarantee a transparent and fair election.

Another reason has to do with the old-new or new-old debate about Alassane Ouattara’s Ivorian citizenship and eligibility to contest a presidential election in Ivory Coast. Predictably, the debate has resurfaced. It has never been put to rest anyway! The debate about changing or not changing Article 35 of the Constitution, which defines the criteria of eligibility to the position of President of the Republic, illustrates the relevance of the subject. In reality, Alassane Ouattara has not renounced the intention to alter this article although he recently declared that it would not happen until after the election. It shall be remembered that in 2003, Alassane Ouattara, the rebels and some opposition leaders blamed the Ivorian crisis on Article 35. They claimed it discriminated against members of the ethnic groups from the northern part of Ivory Coast.

If, despite his access to power, the debate over Article 35 has resumed, it means that Alassane Ouattara’s answers and handling of questions about his Ivorian-ness have been critically opaque. Therefore, if in 2010, Laurent Gbagbo used Article 48 of the Constitution to authorize him into the presidential election, nothing similar can be done in 2015, unless the intention is to perpetuate the violations of the constitution of Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, Alassane Ouattara is not ready to clarify the muddy waters around him, which will fuel more tensions.

A final reason is that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Constitutional Council are not transparent and fair as they currently stand. The IEC is chaired by Youssouf Bakayoko, the same person who sabotaged the 2010 election and pushed the country into an unprecedented political stalemate and violence. His continued presence at the head of this institution illustrates the weakness of political institutions and the preparation of massive electoral frauds. Next to him is the unconstitutional appointment of Mr. Kone Mamadou, a former rebel leader, to the chairmanship of the Constitutional Council.

  1. THE BEST ALTERNATIVE

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Frantz Fanon

The relative obscurity for Ivory Coast is the uncertainty of durable peace and independence. There are two ways to end this obscurity: refraining from a presidential election in 2015 and installing a political transition. There are ample constitutional reasons to object to the presidential election now. The most important is avoiding further chaos and giving the political body sufficient time to install a political transition. Indubitably, a political transition is the golden alternative for peace in Ivory Coast. This strategic alternative is based on the premise that Alassane Ouattara is the instigator and beneficiary of the political violence, ethnic hatred, and unimaginable fracture that Ivory Coast has been undergoing and that his exit from power through street pressure is opportune.

Civil disobedience and street mobilizations are two ways to pressure Alassane Ouattara out of power. Pro-democracy forces have used these tactics all over the world and more recently in Burkina Faso, where the “Balai Citoyen,” opposition political parties, and civil society organizations mobilized to prevent Blaise Compaoré from changing the constitution to ensure a new term in office. The pressure concluded with the peaceful exit of the ruler after 27 years in power. The countries of the international system acknowledged the street movement, the power shift and asked Blaise Compaoré to capitulate to the will of the citizens. If these countries accepted the fall of Blaise Compaoré as a victory of democracy, there is no reason to believe that they would not do the same thing if a similar movement was to take place in Ivory Coast, where the rule of law does not exist anymore.

Organizations report that human rights and economic democratization have fallen to low levels under Alassane Ouattara. This means that the economic emergence that Alassane Ouattara boasts about is a mirage. According to the World Bank, the double-digit economic growth rate has not yet increased average households’ purchasing power. Rampant poverty and soaring unemployment rates keep the chances of renewed political violence very high. It is unbecoming to say that the success of the national soccer team at the last African Cup of Nations is a sign of national reconciliation.

The prevailing tensions and likelihood of renewed violence are the rationale for a political transition, that is to say, a political interval during which political and social actors will prioritize the birth of a new contract and prepare a new electoral cycle by building on the failures of the 2010 experience. The aim of the political transition is to put the constitution back at the core of Ivorian political discourses and behaviors, restore the national army in its pre-Ouattara nature, disband all para-military groups and militia born of the rebellion and the post-election crisis of 2010, and create a political spectrum that will allow political actors to exercise their constitutional rights and obligations without restraints.

The aim of the transition is also to achieve national reconciliation via a new culturally, regionally, and politically sensitive reconciliation commission. The imperative for this commission is to free Laurent Gbagbo, end political detentions and tortures, return all the refugees and exiles home and facilitate their re-entry into work force, give the stolen goods, properties and lands back to their rightful owners, unfreeze all assets, audit the results of the 2010 presidential election, and seek the truth about who did what and why. When these reconstructive steps are complete, Ivory Coast will have built a safer state to hold a free, open, and transparent presidential election.


* Eric Edi, PhD, is with the Committee of Actions for the Ivory Coast. See blog(French).

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