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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Côte d'Ivoire > Cote d’Ivoire: Securing the Electoral Process

Cote d’Ivoire: Securing the Electoral Process

Africa Report N°158 5 May 2010

The full report is available in French.


Already delayed six times, Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election is still some way off. Over two months after President Gbagbo dissolved the Independent Electoral Commission (Commission Électorale Indépendante, CEI) and the government, preparations are at a virtual standstill. The process of electoral identification already carries serious risks of violence. Armed groups and militias, the resurgence of xenophobic language and a challenging socio-economic situation make for an explosive environment, threatening the stability of this key West African country. Unless its politicians urgently meet the challenge of escalating tensions, accelerate electoral preparations and desist from hate speech, and unless regional, UN and other international partners establish the operational, political and security mechanisms necessary to prevent violence, the peace process could very well collapse, with dramatic consequences for the country and its neighbours.

Côte d’Ivoire’s civil war erupted in September 2002, when a section of the army attempted a coup d’Etat. The coup failed, but the insurgent soldiers took control of the northern part of the country. With the arrival of young intellectuals and under the leadership of former student leader Guillaume Soro, they articulated grievances that northerners were treated as second class citizens. An on-and-off war continued until the signing of the Ouagadougou Political Agreement in March 2007, which considerably calmed the situation. Since the middle of 2009, however, tensions have risen again over the electoral process and the question of Ivorian identity and nationality.

The risks of destabilisation were highlighted by the demonstrations that followed the dismissal of the government and the CEI on 12 February 2010. Organised by the opposition, they resulted in seven deaths and several dozen wounded. In Gagnoa, security forces fired live rounds at demonstrators. Similar incidents may occur again if senior politicians do not quickly find a compromise allowing the electoral process to resume. But beyond this specific requirement, they must restore the relatively peaceful and cooperative political climate which followed the Ouagadougou Agreement.

The only solid achievement on the road to elections thus far is an electoral list that identified more than 6.3 million potential voters. Following a review, 5.3 million were put on the provisional list. The rest, whose nationality had not been confirmed, were put on a second list. The next stage, during which the lists could be challenged, led to a dispute between the ruling party and opposition, as a result of which the CEI was dissolved and the process ground to a halt. A new commission, in place since the end of February, has restarted work, but without yet addressing the main concerns around the electoral list. Neither the procedure for confirming that list nor the plan for securing the distribution of electoral material and the collection of results has been clarified.

The president’s supporters, believing that it favours their rivals, want to challenge the list of 5.3 million voters. However, this list was drawn up according to a process agreed on by all political parties and has also been implicitly approved by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. It should not, therefore, be challenged. The presidential camp also contends that full disarmament of the former rebel forces should be a pre-condition for elections. The ruling party must pull back from this extreme position, which is unacceptable to the opposition and threatens the cooperative and consensual basis of the Ouagadougou agreement.

Côte d’Ivoire’s relative peace is threatened by the intransigence of the leading actors, by personal insults exchanged between them and especially by the return of xenophobic Ivorian nationalism (commonly known as “Ivoirite”), with its lexicon of “true Ivorians” and those of questionable citizenship. This language of exclusion reinforces fear between communities and is a powerful driver of violence. Unless senior politicians definitively refrain from its use, they may be preparing the ground for chaos, either before the elections, during the vote itself, or, as in 2000, in the immediate aftermath.

The rise of xenophobic language is occurring in a context of an armed peace. Disarmament has yet to take place in the zone controlled by the former rebel forces. In the extreme West, pro-government militia maintain a climate of fear and insecurity, obstructing normal democratic life. In current conditions, it is hard to envisage a peaceful electoral campaign. In Abidjan, the “young patriot” movements and their xenophobic discourse are still present. Opposition youth groups are reacting by firming up their own street-level organisation. The risk is that political demonstrations may again lead to clashes between the youth groups, driven by mutual mistrust and fear of exclusion.

National and international actors must agree on a new plan for securing the elections, then use it to build confidence among the population and to initiate a dialogue with local politicians and officials. The present insufficient plan is based primarily on a promised, but much delayed, mixed Ivorian force, made up of former rebel and loyalist elements, supported by the relatively small especially in terms of police capacity  UN (ONUCI) and French (Licorne) contingents. The international community must step in, if necessary, to fill the gap.

The international community has so far been patient and reserved, barely reacting to the dismissal of the government and the electoral commission and the violence of February, apparently unable to lay out clear red lines that the Ivorian actors must not cross. This timid position is out of line with the gravity of the situation. More generally, the international community must be bolder in identifying those responsible for violence and those who are blocking the electoral process. The UN Security Council, which is to review the ONUCI mandate on 31 May, should consider applying further targeted sanctions on individuals, as has been done successfully to calm the situation in the past. 


To President Laurent Gbagbo and the ruling FPI party:

1.  Respect to the letter the Ouagadougou and supplementary agreements, particularly the engagements to create conditions for “free, open, transparent and democratic elections” and to maintain a “permanent dialogue based on mutual trust”; desist from language that stigmatises foreigners and “enemies of Côte d’Ivoire” and blames the current crisis on foreign powers or West African communities living in the country. 

2.  Show clear willingness to go forward by dropping demands for the comprehensive revision of the list of 5.3 million enrolled voters and by minimising any changes made to the composition or role of the Electoral Commission’s 415 local offices.

3.  Renounce links with militia organisations, in the first instance by changing party rules to make membership incompatible with militia membership. 

To the Interior Ministry:

4.  Guarantee the security of the population in the west of the country by increasing the security force presence, and give those forces clear instructions to apprehend those responsible for rapes and robberies, so as to reduce the general level of violence and allow the elections to take place in a peaceful environment.

5.  Desist from using specialised anti-crime units such as the Special Security Command (CECOS) to police political protests; train, in coordination with the international community, new police units dedicated to peaceful crowd control; give clear instructions to security forces outlining a gradual and measured response to unrest; and take legal measures against any member of the security forces who uses live ammunition against unarmed crowds.

To the Prime Minister and General Secretary of the Forces Nouvelles (FN) former rebel movement, Guillaume Soro:

6.  Continue to press FN political and military leaders to accelerate disarmament in the area under their control, so as to encourage a climate of peace and trust and to prevent the president’s supporters from using non-disarmament as a pretext to block the electoral process.

To the Forces Nouvelles (FN):

7.  Commit to facilitating distribution of electoral material by lifting road blocks throughout the area under their control; allow UN and Electoral Commission officials engaged in this operation unhindered passage; and enter into detailed talks with the UN and the Electoral Commission to ensure smooth electoral logistics in their zone.

To the Ivorian Government: 

8.  Help prevent growing public dissatisfaction from feeding into violence by reviewing economic management with a view to improving living conditions, including  an ensured and regular supply of water and electricity.

9.  Release the funds needed for the mixed security force, including pay for former rebel troops, and provide those former rebel troops with transport and communication equipment.

10.  Draw up, in collaboration with the Electoral Commission and the UN, a public version of the election security plan, in order to inform and reassure the population.   

To the Independent Electoral Commission:

11.  Produce, as soon as possible, a definitive and consensual electoral list and a new electoral timetable; use these to establish a comprehensive map of polling stations and, along with ONUCI, a detailed plan for distributing electoral material and collecting results; and confirm precise logistical requirements with ONUCI.

12.  Establish, following discussion with the government, a performance-related remuneration system based on specific and time-framed objectives.

To the political opposition:

13.  Respect the code of conduct signed in April 2008 and desist from personal and insulting language, both in political speeches and in the media.

To the UN Security Council and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG):

14.  Ensure the security of the electoral process by:

a) maintaining ONUCI’s troop level, and reinforcing it, preferably with a police contingent, in the West region for the electoral period;

b) meeting with local authorities, in particular the mayors of Abidjan’s main suburbs, to draw on their unique expertise and discuss potential flash points; and

c) reinforcing security around the prime minister, to protect him from attack by disgruntled former rebels.

15.  The SRSG should make fuller use of his certification mandate by taking a more robust and proactive line and speaking out more frequently, for example against repeated media abuses, including the continued partiality of state media.

16.  The Security Council should make clear its intention to extend the current individual sanctions regime to anyone who blocks the electoral process, incites violence or is in a command position over any group guilty of organised violence during the electoral period.

To the facilitator, President Blaise Compaoré:

17.  Apply strong and consistent pressure on the FN to ensure they start a real disarmament process.

18.  Organise, at the start of the electoral campaign, a meeting of the main political parties to publicly confirm their commitment to the code of good conduct and to peaceful resolution of electoral disputes.

To the African Union:

19.  Request the Panel of the Wise to start preparatory work for a mission to Abidjan that would focus on preventing electoral violence, in particular by defining specific redlines on electoral conduct, incitement to violence and manipulation or rejection of the results, and by engaging with the parties to help resolve electoral disputes peacefully.

To the European Union:

20.  Expedite:

a) current negotiations on a common position and include targeted individual sanctions among measures to be taken if clear instances are observed of incitement to violence or blocking of the electoral process; and

b) restoration of the tribunal at Guiglo, much faster than the envisaged 24 months, so the numerous cases of violence in the Moyen Cavally region can to be heard.

To all elements of the international community involved in Cote D’Ivoire:

21.  Remind the protagonists that national or international justice mechanisms are available to bring to trial anyone who may attempt to initiate violence around the elections, and be prepared, if violence occurs, to support such measures.

Dakar/Brussels, 5 May 2010

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