Tag Archives: gbagbo

Ivorian election report for The Scotsman

26 Oct

Ivory Coast Goes to the Polls to Elect President

By Tom Sykes

 

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Despite sporadic violence in recent months and regional resentment towards the ruling party, hopes are high that the first presidential elections in Ivory Coast since the second civil war will pass peacefully today.

Incumbent Alassane Ouattara, of the RDR party, is predicted to win a second term and continue his reconstruction programme that has achieved 10 per cent GDP growth for Ivory Coast – despite, critics have claimed, not adequately addressing poverty, corruption, human rights abuses and disarmament of wartime militias.

Last month pro and anti-government forces clashed in five towns, killing one and injuring dozens, prompting fears that the coming election would be a repeat of the catastrophic events of five years ago. After the 2010 ballot, then-president Laurent Gbagbo and his challenger Ouattara both declared themselves the winner and the stalemate led to Ivory Coast’s second civil war in seven years, causing 3,000 deaths and up to 500,000 to be displaced. The French, who have always had a major strategic and economic interest in Ivory Coast, sent troops in to arrest Gbagbo for crimes against humanity and install Ouattara as president.

Since Ouattara assumed power, organisations such as Amnesty International have accused him of taking revenge against opposition groups rather than seeking reconciliation with them. The son of a former senior aide to Gbagbo, who must remain anonymous for fear of his life, said that not only has the government frozen his father’s assets and prevented him from leaving the country, but the rest of his family have been persecuted too. “My sister is a trained lawyer and I am an IT specialist,” he said. “But we cannot get jobs now because our family name is dirt. I cannot travel without a policeman seeing my name on my ID card and interrogating me for hours.”

Such punitive measures are seldom mentioned in the French or western media because Ouattara remains France’s favourite, having now re-opened Ivory Coast for business with Bouygues, Bollore, Total SA and other French corporations that the nationalistic Gbagbo snubbed while he was president from 2000 to 2010. Thierry Koffi, a young teacher and voter, belongs to a significant minority that supported Gbagbo’s attempts to make Ivory Coast more politically and economically independent. “I and many others suspect that Gbagbo got more votes than Ouattara in 2010,” he told Scotland on Sunday. “But France didn’t let Gbagbo back in power because he wouldn’t be their puppet.”

A July poll conducted by the International Republican Institute would seem to reinforce Ouattara’s legitimacy. His approval rating was 68 per cent, with respondents lauding the former IMF economist for his infrastructure improvements and pro-business policies.

However, a survey released last week by Afrobarometer Network shows a more divided electorate: 64 per cent either “do not trust” or “to a great extent do not trust” the RDR and only 38 per cent believe that the opposition parties present a credible alternative.

But two critical factors are likely to assure an Ouattara victory. While Gbagbo’s party, the FPI, remains most popular in the south and southwest of the country, Gbgabo himself is still incarcerated in The Hague and cannot stand in the election. The FPI nominee, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, lacks Gbagbo’s fame and charisma, and has war crimes allegations hanging over him. The second factor is the recent decision of the PDCI, the third biggest party, to support Ouattara’s candidacy in exchange for a power-sharing arrangement should he win.

Regardless of all these pre-election tensions, Venance Konan, editor of the country’s leading newspaper Fraternité Matin, is confident today’s poll will run smoothly.

“We do not want to fight each other any more,” he said. “While we may be divided on many things, fundamentally all Ivorians want to get on withthe job of building our country back up to what it used to be: a peaceful, prosperous African nation.”

Originally published in The Scotsman 25/10/2015

Cote d’Ivoire Country Profile (originally published in New Internationalist)

26 Sep

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At certain times of the day in Cocody, Abidjan’s smart and leafy quarter of foreign embassies and chic eateries, Westerners – most of them French – outnumber Ivorians. The eateries serve French food, the billboards advertise French fashions and French TV blares out from opulent homes. Visiting Côte d’Ivoire today, it’s tempting to feel that, despite the upheavals of the past 50 years, the country has come full circle to the moment of its independence from France in 1960. The current president, Alassane Ouattara, is arguably emulating Côte d’Ivoire’s first ruler, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, by being France’s – and by extension the West’s – ‘man in Africa’.

In the 1960s, Houphouët sold off Côte d’Ivoire’s lucrative cocoa industry (then as now accounting for a third of the world’s yield) to foreign corporations who were allowed to retain 90 per cent of their profits. The same two US companies – ADM and Cargill – still dominate Ivorian cocoa today and Ouattara has been busy awarding vast construction tenders to French firms such as Bouyges. As with the Houphouët era, the result has been ‘growth without development’: the business elite are getting richer from new hotels, highways and other amenities, while the living standards of the poor have barely risen.

Although Ouattara is widely praised for ending a decade of horrific civil war, marginalized regional and ethnic groups continue to hold grievances about the legitimacy of his regime and the imperialistic behaviour of the French during the conflict. The first civil war broke out in 2002 against the backdrop of rapid economic decline that had begun with the collapse in global cocoa and coffee prices in the late 1970s. Elected president in 2000, the nationalist Laurent Gbagbo scapegoated immigrants who, during the Houphouët boom years, had moved from the north of the country (as well as from neighbouring nations such as Mali and Burkina Faso) to work in the plantations of the south. But Gbagbo’s real crime – in the eyes of the West at least – was to challenge French economic exploitation of Côte d’Ivoire. Gbagbo cancelled a major contract with SAUR, a French gas supplier that refused to pay taxes to the Ivorian exchequer, and handed the construction of a new bridge in Abidjan to the Chinese, who agreed to do the job for a quarter of the price demanded by the French.

France’s military assault on Côte d’Ivoire in 2004 used the same ‘humanitarian’ rhetoric as the UK and US had in their invasion of Iraq the previous year. And, as with the ‘coalition of the willing’, France’s true motives were strategic and economic. Its particular brand of ‘regime change’ resulted in the annihilation of the Ivorian Air Force and the shooting of between 20 and 57 unarmed protesters in Abidjan.

The 2010 elections contested by Gbagbo and Ouattara were blemished by fraud, intimidation and violence that led to the deaths of 3,000. Both candidates were implicated in the killing, but the French intervened on behalf of Ouattara, helped depose Gbagbo and sent him off to The Hague on war-crimes charges. His trial begins next year. To many Ivorians, victor’s justice has prevailed against a man who, while no angel himself, at least tried for a little more autonomy for his people.

While the Ivorian economy is growing at an almost Houphouët-era rate, 42 per cent of the population live below the national poverty line and Gbagbo loyalists in the east and southwest of the country continue to threaten the peace process. François, a young Ivorian first-time voter I met in Cocody, hopes that the election in October this year will ‘not cause these contradictions to explode’.

– See more at: http://newint.org/columns/country/2015/05/01/cote-divoire/#sthash.ksl8iHI3.dpuf