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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Côte d'Ivoire > Côte d’Ivoire: Finally Escaping the Crisis?

Côte d’Ivoire: Finally Escaping the Crisis?

Africa Briefing N°77 25 Nov 2010

OVERVIEW

On the eve of the second round of the presidential election, tension between supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara continues to increase. Clashes on 19 and 22 November 2010 between the two camps left several injured. These incidents are symptomatic of the deterioration in Côte d’Ivoire’s political climate since the first round results were announced. Together with the brutality of some of the campaign discourse, they raise the spectre of a disastrous election. The hour of self-satisfaction and polite exhortations has passed. The international community and the UN must now send a single, clear message to political and military actors: they must accept the results of the 28 November vote. Anyone sabotaging the run-off through fraud, intimidation or violence runs the risk of new UN sanctions.

During the coming days, Ivorian political leaders must work hard to lower the temperature and build on the gains of an exemplary first round, which disproved the most pessimistic forecasts. After a relatively peaceful campaign, there were no significant incidents during polling on 31 October. International and national observers expressed their satisfaction. Moreover, there was a record turnout of close to 84 per cent, proof of the willingness of citizens to put a tumultuous decade behind them.

The laudable attitude of voters contrasted, however, with a poll marked by technical flaws – albeit too few to call into question the overall results. Election officials were absent from many polling stations. The tallying and verification of results revealed the weakness of the Independent Electoral Commission (Commission électorale indépendante, CEI), which neglected to keep the public informed of progress for almost 48 hours, creating the conditions for a dangerous period in which rumours were rife. If it does not address these problems during the run-off, they could undercut the poll’s credibility and give either side grounds on which to contest the result.

Security was erratic. The Integrated Command Centre (Centre de commandement integer, CCI), responsible for this crucial task, mobilised significant numbers, estimated at 6,500 of the planned 8,000. However, with members drafted on an emergency basis on the eve of the election, the CCI lacked communications equipment and resources. Absent from many polling stations, it was incapable of coordinating deployment with the impartial forces of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the French force, Licorne. This was a serious problem because, in the event of unrest, UNOCI can only intervene at the specific request of the CCI. To compensate for the CCI’s inadequacies, President Gbagbo decided on 14 November to deploy about 1,500 loyalist army soldiers in the north of the country, still controlled by the former rebels. Nothing suggests that these troops will remain impartial.

The second round is a confrontation between the two most antagonistic candidates in the Ivorian political landscape: the current president, Gbagbo, who won 38.3 per cent of first-round votes, against the former prime minister, Ouattara, who received 32.08 per cent. Their main challenge will be to win the support of those who voted in the first round for the former head of state, Henri Konan Bédié, who came third with 25.24 per cent. There are fears that both sides will subject members of the Baoulé ethnic group, the traditional support base of Bédié’s party, to strong pressure, including intimidation and violence.

With the stakes high for the two candidates and their immediate circles, the political competition risks lurching toward serious unrest, during or after the poll. Each side has the capacity for violence, albeit asymmetrically. Both have an extremist minority that could be tempted, in the event of defeat, to again contest results in the street. In October 2000, after Gbagbo’s election to the presidency, there were violent clashes between his supporters and members of Ouattara’s Rassemblement des républicains (RDR).

The means of escaping a repetition of this scenario are, however, well-known. Above all, the organisation of the second round must be improved so as to reduce as much as possible the scope for protest against the results and thus reduce the risk of violence. The following measures should be taken:

  • Ivorian politicians must refrain from extremist discourse and respect citizens’ desire to end the crisis through the ballot box. They must show political maturity and accept the results of the run-off or use legal means if they wish to appeal against results, even if those means are limited.
  • The prime minister, Guillaume Soro, must continue to play the role of arbiter conferred on him by the Ouagadougou Political Agreement (APO) of 4 March 2007 and which he has shouldered since he came to office. If necessary, he must make a vigorous appeal to both sides for calm.
  • The CEI must correct all technical shortcomings of the first round to limit scope for second round protests. Ahead of polling and counting, it must prepare a communications plan that will keep Ivorians informed of progress in the electoral process. It should provide for the announcement of partial results, in order to avoid a dangerous political vacuum in which fear and rumour can thrive.
  • The Constitutional Council must demonstrate absolute neutrality regarding both the validation of results and consideration of appeals.
  • The Ivorian authorities must ensure the best coordination possible with the impartial international forces in order to provide security during voting. They must ensure that all defence and security forces assigned to secure the polls remain neutral and impartial.
  • The international community must continue its support, but also pressure Ivorian political leaders. On the eve of the run-off, the U.S. president, Barack Obama, who is very popular in Côte d’Ivoire, should repeat the call for calm that he made ahead of the first round. The international community must also remind candidates and their respective camps, especially those responsible for security and the mobilisation of youth wings, that they will be held personally responsible for any escalation by their supporters.
  • Members of the UN Security Council should communicate to Ivorian political leaders their intention to follow the electoral process closely. They should also ask the Council to pronounce quickly and firmly in the event of violence or manipulation of the election results. Ivorian political and military leaders must keep in mind that the sanctions regime imposed by the Security Council remains in force and that new names may be added to the current list.
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union should publicly appeal to candidates for restraint. Messages should be consistent with that of the UN Security Council regarding possible sanctions in the event of organised violence.

Nairobi/Brussels, 25 November 2010

 
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