Saturday, October 24

An old conflict could break out again in Ivory Coast

  • fromJohannes Dieterich

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Again and again the rulers try to secure their rule with undemocratic tricks.

For Alassane Ouattara it was a “force majeure”, a force majeure that screwed up his noble intentions. The 78-year-old president of the West African Ivory Coast had nominated his most loyal party comrade as a candidate for his successor: with Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who used to describe himself as a “disciple” of Ouattara, nothing seemed to go wrong. And then the 61-year-old died of a heart attack on July 8 of this year.

The sudden death of his “little brother” hit the President so hard that he sought refuge in a sleight of hand. Although he has already had two terms in office, he ran again for the polls scheduled for October 31 – although the Ivorian constitution only allows two terms of office for president. Ouattara’s loophole: He had a new constitution passed four years ago, which, in his opinion, reset the term counter to zero. The judges appointed by him to the Constitutional Council agreed with the president. Not so with the opposition.

Guillaume Soro, a former ally of Ouattara, called the move a “crazy company” while foreign experts spoke of an “unconstitutional coup”. When the president announced his renewed candidacy in August, the first violent protests broke out in the capital Abidjan, killing at least 15 people. The citizens of Ivory Coast are reminded of the elections in 2000 and 2010: Both ballots had plunged the multiethnic state into civil war, which killed thousands of people and the economy of the comparatively prosperous African emerging market.

The Ivorian conflict has a strong ethnic background: Opposite are Christian ethnic groups from the south of the country and Muslims from the north, most of whom immigrated from neighboring states to the north to work on the cocoa plantations during the 33-year reign of founding President Félix Houphouët-Boigny . After Houphouët-Boigny’s death in 1993, tensions between the people in the north and south intensified: successor Henri Konan Bédié, who at the age of 86 wanted to run again as the “candidate of the youth”, showed himself to be incapable of dealing with the conflicts defused and was put out of office on Christmas Eve 1999.

Country briefly divided

South Ivorian politicians, including Laurent Gbagbo, succeeded in ensuring that only candidates whose parents were born in the Ivory Coast were allowed to run in the elections in 2000: Alassane Ouattara, whose father was from Burkina Faso, was excluded from the polls.

Gbagbo won the election, but two years later civil war broke out and the country was temporarily divided. After an unstable peace agreement, Gbagbo and Ouattara faced each other at the 2010 polls: According to the election commission, the latter won the polls, but Gbagbo did not acknowledge his defeat. After months of unrest, Ivorian soldiers supported by the French Foreign Legion arrested Gbagbo in his bunker and extradited him to the criminal court in The Hague. Five years later, Ouattara was confirmed in office with well over 80 percent of the vote.

The former World Monetary Fund economist cannot count on a similarly triumphant success this time, even if he is committed to the country’s economic recovery: the world’s largest cocoa producer achieved average growth of eight percent in recent years.

In the meantime, however, the president has been accused of precisely those questionable tricks to maintain power that he once accused his opponents of: only four out of 44 candidates were approved for the upcoming presidential election. Both Gbagbo, who has since been acquitted by the Hague Court, and Ouattara’s former ally Sono have been disfellowshipped for questionable fraud.

Last Thursday, the three remaining opposition candidates pulled the emergency brake. They declared their boycott of the ballot box, which now threatens to ignite another bloody conflict: two weeks before the vote, the violent incidents are mounting worryingly.

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