|Power play: Rivalry and post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire|
|Written by Marina Reyskens (1) Friday, 02 December 2011 08:16|
African democracies are historically young and inexperienced as a consequence of the colonial era. Often, power-hungry leaders try to cling to power for too long and eventually plunge their countries into corruption and conflict. Côte d’Ivoire, whilst suffering from a coup d’état, economic crisis, rebellions, and full-scale civil war, is seemingly on the long road to recovery. Following the 2002-2003 civil war, it was hoped that Presidential elections would unify the divided country and bring about strong and effective leadership structures.
Background to the election dispute
During his term in office as the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo “refused to hold elections” until a peace agreement was signed in 2007.(2) Although the maximum presidential term in the country is 10 years, Gbagbo defied legislation and remained in power since the year 2000.(3)
After months of postponement and delays, it was announced that Côte d’Ivoire would see Presidential elections on 31 October 2010. In the months leading up to the election, it was hoped that it would serve as a tool for the reunification of the country since their recent civil war of 2002-2003.(4) This was not to be, however, as the elections ultimately brought more tensions and violence to Côte d’Ivoire.
During the first round of elections, no outright winner was declared and therefore run-off elections took place on 28 November 2010 between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. The run-off election was contended between former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara from the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and the President Laurent Gbagbo from the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).
Following the run-off elections, the Independent Election Commission (CEI) announced that Ouattara gained 54% of the votes, whilst Gbagbo received only 46%.(8) However, Gbagbo called for the results to be invalidated in the northern regions of the country where support for Ouattara is strongest, as he accused Ouattara of “disrupting” the process.(9) Both candidates accused each other of election fraud. The Constitutional Council, being the body that ratified election results, answered to Gbagbo and disqualified Ouattara’s results, declaring Gbagbo the winner.(10) Therefore, even though the initial election results saw Ouattara winning by 54.1%, this was then overturned and declared that Ouattara gained only 45.9%.(11)
Even though the African Union – together with the support of the international community – officially acknowledged Ouattara as Côte d’Ivoire’s rightful election victor in March 2011, Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat.(12) As so often a trend in numerous African states during the post-colonial era, the hunger for power left Gbagbo relentless to give up his Presidency. Even though the army accepted and supported Gbagbo’s presidential swearing-in, various world leaders did not accept his victory.(13) In contrast, rebels in the northern regions continued to support Ouattara. France, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations (UN), and the United States all expressed solidarity in urging Gbagbo to “accept defeat.”(14) Sensing the situation could use outside help, Ouattara attempted to rally the support of Nigeria as an aid to oust Gbagbo.(15)
The tense situation was further aggravated due to the fact that both candidates declared themselves President and took written Presidential oaths.(16) At the mention of a proposed power-sharing agreement between the two, Gbagbo “vehemently rejected” this.(17) Suggestions of power-sharing Governments have been seen in Kenya, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.(18) However, whilst power-sharing “is an important way of resolving military conflict,” it does not ensure the resolution of political conflict.(19)
In essence, Côte d’Ivoire was “operating with two Presidents and two Governments” since the elections of 2010.(20) Consequently, the tensions and disputes between the two candidates led to violence and military action from both sides. It was feared that these election tensions had the potential to further destabilise the country and generate widespread ethnic violence.(21)
Violence and human rights violations
Following the election dispute, ethnic clashes in various parts of the country were reported, and fighting between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara supporters ensued.(22) In addition, military forces – controlled by Gbagbo – closed the borders, implemented curfews, and suspended international news sources.(23) In March 2011, Gbagbo declared Ivorian airspace a no-fly zone for French and UN peacekeeping aircrafts.(24) However, this essentially had no legal value, as Gbagbo was no longer recognised as being in power by the international community.
As a consequence, approximately one million people have fled Côte d’Ivoire – due to widespread violence where more than 450 people were killed since December 2010.(25) In addition, the ethnic violence saw over 400,000 refugees fleeing across to neighbouring countries.(26) For this reason, around 9,000 UN peacekeepers were deployed to the country to monitor the ceasefire in March earlier this year.(27)
Côte d’Ivoire also experienced various human rights violations during the post-election period, according to various human rights organisations. Amnesty International reported that both sides have “committed war crimes.”(28) For example, Gbagbo is accused of firing in civilian neighbourhoods and instructing the army to fire upon a group of women protesters.(29) Meanwhile, Ouattara is accused of “systematically killing hundreds of men” in the western regions of the country with his loyalist army – the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI).
In the hope of finding an effective and peaceful solution to the Ivorian crisis, the AU sent former South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate an agreement between Gbagbo and Ouattara. However, Gbagbo was highly critical of any foreign interference into the affairs of Côte d’Ivoire and repeatedly stated that he would defend his country’s sovereignty.(30)
As part of an international response, the United Nations agreed to impose sanctions on Gbagbo, together with those sanctions from the European Union (EU) and the AU.(31) These included travel bans on Gbagbo and his wife, as well as an asset freeze.(32) Similarly, international sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire’s banks, ports, and cocoa markets were also implemented.(33) The AU also suspended the country’s membership, whilst the World Bank “halted lending funds.”(34)
As an example of effective sanctions, one can refer to the example of Côte d’Ivoire’s currency, the CFA franc, which is used by seven other West African countries. When ECOWAS “handed over control” of the currency to Ouattara – and thereby effectively recognising him as the legitimate leader – Gbagbo’s means to pay his soldiers quickly became reduced.(35)
ECOWAS became more pressing and “delivered an ultimatum” to Gbagbo, telling him to “step down or face the threat of military force.(36) This promise was followed through in April 2011, when the United Nations intervened in the Ivorian crisis by launching helicopter strikes against Gbagbo’s military bases and residences.(37) It was authorised in order to “prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians.”(38) This was fully endorsed by Ouattara and, when asked what he thought of the way France and the United Nations intervened in Côte d’Ivoire, he said that it was “completely legitimate – it was a duty.”(39)
In April 2011, Gbagbo was captured by Ouattara’s forces with the intervention of the UN and French forces. He was put under house arrest and UN protection, along with his wife.(40) Following this, Ouattara was officially inaugurated as the President of Côte d’Ivoire in May 2011.
Failures and challenges
Apart from the obvious hunger for power by Gbagbo, a number of failures and challenges in the country’s election process can be noticed. Owing to the dubious actions of the Constitutional Council in overturning the election results, it is seen that Côte d’Ivoire requires an independent judicial institution that can effectively resolve election issues as well as implement decisions.(41) Furthermore, it is widely known that the immediate post-election period is the most challenging for any democratic process and can often be faced with disputes pertaining to results and even violence – as was evident in Côte d’Ivoire.(42)
The main challenges that face the country presently are to “restore law and order [and] begin the reconciliation process.”(43) Amongst other challenges are to “rid the [country] of militia fighters and to collect and destroy arms.”(44) Additionally, Ouattara has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “probe massacres carried out in the west of the country.”(45) These massacres consisted of deadly fighting between Ouattara- and Gbagbo-loyalist troops in April 2011. Ouattara has repeated that Gbagbo committed war crimes and crimes against humanity – and points out how 3,000 people were killed “during the post-election crisis that he [Gbagbo] caused.”(46) The Truth, Reconciliation, and Dialogue Commission was launched after 3,000 deaths and 500,000 people were displaced.
Although the fighting has died down, there are “still people with arms” and the situation in the country has been referred to as “still dangerous” – with sporadic fighting taking place in a few districts still loyal to Gbagbo.(47) Electricity and water supplies have been repaired, and the overall situation is seen as being “normal.”(48) In a September 2011 interview, Ouattara stated that the political situation in Côte d’Ivoire was “stabilising.”(49) In addition, Ouattara acknowledged that the most pertinent challenges are economic recovery, reconciliation, and security.(50)
Being no stranger to conflict, Côte d’Ivoire has experienced violence throughout much of its history and has a challenging road ahead to recovery. Together with effective, robust institutions and strong democratic leadership, prosperity and stability can be achieved.
(1) Contact Marina Reyskens through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict & Terrorism Unit (