Côte d’Ivoire is once again making headlines in the global news but for all the wrong reasons. Following the announcement of the current president Alassane Dramane Ouattara to run again for the presidential elections, headlines depict a country being plunged back into political turmoil at the expense of political personalities vying for power.
The scene is set for Ouattara, who will represent the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), to run against Henri Konan Bédié, the candidate for the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), and Affi N’Guessan for the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). In a twist of fate, Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro’s appeals to the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) were rejected, effectively removing them from the October election race.
It should come as no surprise that Ouattara’s announcement to run for a third term in office has created political turmoil in the country. With some of his political opponents, as well as other presidents in the West African region, considering this to be an unconstitutional move, discontent has spilled onto the streets. In towns across the country, deadly protests and violent confrontations have been met with repression and chaos. Violence, it seems, is back.
Does a return to violence mean history is repeating itself?
To better understand this turn to violence, it is important to look closely at where these altercations took place. Gagnoa, Daoukro and Bonoua, for example, are the political strongholds of Laurent Gbagbo, Henri Konan Bedie and Simone Gbagbo, respectively. In Ferkessédougou, the fief of Guillaume Soro, rumours and fear caused many to flee markets and other public spaces. Clashes also took place in Youpougon – the strong bastion of the FPI party – and in Divo, a city with no strong political allegiances. Yet the symbolism of these places as sites of violence cannot be overstated. They show that in Côte d’Ivoire there is a worrying lack of democratic space to exchange divergent political opinions. Structurally, the current regime has largely failed the reconciliation process, and once again the theory that economic growth will create peace dividends has proven obsolete.
To what extent then is history repeating itself and will we see a return to the chaos of 2010? There is certainly a bit of constitutional drama in this election just as there was in 2010. However, this time the question is twofold: Has Alassane Dramane Ouattara the right to run for the third time? And has the political system the right to exclude two opposition candidates, in the name of Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro? With respect to the first provocation, let me quote Gilles Yabi, you don’t need to be a constitutional lawyer to see that 2+1=3. This is further collaborated by the fact that during the adoption of the 2016 constitution, the then Minister of Justice, Sansan Kambilé, himself declared that it was constitutionally ‘impossible’ for the president to stand for a new term. This point of view was also shared by Ibrahim Cissé Bacongo, the legal counsellor of the president and the architect behind the constitutional reform, as well as Bruno Koné, the then minister for communication, economy and postal services.
On the second question as to whether Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro should be excluded – the answer is more political. Legally, both candidates cannot run for the presidential elections as both are under judicial charges. The more important question, therefore, is whether these charges are not just opportunistic before the elections. And this is the bigger and more fundamental problem with Ivorian democracy since the death of its president: all the elections have been the theatre of political intrigue and have never been fair, open and transparent. The same can be said of the judicial system and the rule of law in general. The 2010 election marked the first time out of four elections (1995, 2000, 2010, 2015) that the leaders of the three major parties were able run against each other. While these presidential elections were the opportunity to mark a new era and perhaps a new generation, the current actions of the country’s political leaders are paving the way for the country to reach a political impasse and potentially a new cycle of violence and revenge.
Put simply, the challenge for this election is to avoid going back to a cycle of reprisals where those who are not in power becomes those who are persecuted. Sadly, it feels as if the major grievances behind the civil war were not heard and the protests of the younger generation are again being relegated to the background. Once again, the political system is dominated by a struggle for personalities rather than ideas and political ideology. This political system is resilient but at what cost?
This blog piece is part of a series that looks at the politics and culture of resilience in Côte d’Ivoire. As part of a larger research study – Islands of Innovation in Protracted Crises: A New Approach to Building Equitable Resilience from Below – this series explores the ways in which certain communities are able to approach multiple crises, whether it is in the face of violence, natural hazards or epidemics. Of interest is the role that socio-political and cultural innovations play in determining or undermining resilience. If you are interested in following the blog or would like to share your views on Ivorian resilience in the face of different crises, please register and comment on the blog series at Ivoiroland.org.