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Côte d’Ivoire: A Need for Facilitation
Côte d’Ivoire: A Need for Facilitation
Report 193 / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire: Defusing Tensions

President Alassane Ouattara’s coalition is walking a dangerous path toward polarisation by repeating mistakes made by previous governments that could ultimately lead Côte d’Ivoire back to crisis.

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Executive Summary

The volatile security situation and political tensions are threatening Côte d’Ivoire’s recovery. The last few months have seen a series of deadly attacks against a police station, one of the main military bases of the country, several army positions and a power station. Violence also broke out in the west. Although these incidents do not pose a direct threat to stability, they show that, for some segments of the population, the war is not yet over. Some signs are particularly worrying: slow security sector reform, stalled political dialogue, a weak ruling coalition, a return to violent discourses, uncovered coup plots, and an apparent lack of political will to promote national reconciliation. President Alassane Ouattara and his new government should not rely solely on economic recovery and the tightening of security measures to consolidate peace. International attention should remain focused on Côte d’Ivoire’s stabilisation, which is all the more crucial as its neighbour, Mali, has descended into a deep and lasting crisis.

Eighteen months after the end of a post-election conflict which caused over 3,000 deaths and was merely the epilogue of a decade-long political and military crisis, no one could have expected a complete return to normalcy. Côte d’Ivoire has to cope with challenges commonly faced by post-war countries. The security apparatus is struggling to get back in order. Despite some progress, the Ivorian forces remain unstable and divided between former members of the Gbagbo-era Forces de défense et de sécurité (FDS) and former rebels of the Forces armées des forces nouvelles (FAFN). Their attitude, as well as the modalities of their integration within the Forces républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), are an impediment to reconciliation. The former FAFN are still the dominant forces, while the police and gendarmerie remain sidelined.

Over 18,000 traditional hunters deployed across the territory, the so-called Dozos, helped secure the country, thus playing a role for which they have neither legitimacy nor skills. This military and militia apparatus working for the government is not well accepted, especially by supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who is being detained at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, in the Netherlands. He could soon be joined by his spouse, Simone Gbagbo, against whom the ICC unsealed an arrest warrant on 22 November. The configuration of the security sector aggravates tensions, particularly in the west, where intercommunal land issues are adding up. Slow reintegration into civilian life of tens of thousands of youths who participated in the conflict increases their frustration and encourages them to keep their weapons as a guarantee of their economic survival.

Dialogue between the government and the opposition – which is a vital component of reconciliation – is stalled and does not go beyond statements of intent. The Front populaire ivoirien (FPI), former President Gbagbo’s party, has chosen isolation by withdrawing from the electoral process and imposing unrealistic conditions to its effective return in the political game. The FPI’s moderate wing has not been able to distance itself from the exiled hardliners who nourish hope of regaining military power. Political dialogue and reconciliation prospects are paralysed since the revelation in June, September and October 2012 of coup plots orchestrated from Ghana by former ministers of Gbagbo, his family members and close associates. These plots have convinced hardliners on the other side – including members of the Rassemblement des républicains (RDR), the presidential party, and the Forces nouvelles, the former rebellion – of the need to consolidate their military victory and maintain a repressive stance toward all representatives of the old regime, may they be moderate or not.

Political turmoil is accompanied by a return of hateful and dangerous discourses relayed by a partisan press, loyal to one side or the other. In this climate of polarisation, the government is making decisions that gradually move it away from its campaign promises of better governance and a break with the past, which allowed Ouattara to win the presidential election in November 2010. The judicial system remains biased: not a single FRCI member has been charged, either for crimes committed during the post-election crisis or for those committed since. Arbitrary arrests have been taking place in the pro-Gbagbo media and have been widely carried out by the powerful Direction de la surveillance du territoire (DST) and military police.

In the administration and public companies, some appointments were made on regional or political criteria, in the name of an “adjustment policy” – a form of reverse discrimination – that contradicts promises of improving governance. The Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR) is still struggling to start its work. The establishment of its local committees is difficult. More worrying still, the commission does not seem to be supported by the political power that established it last year with wide media coverage. The government still has not provided it with the necessary financial resources, and the personalised management style of its president, Charles Konan Banny, remains under sharp criticism.

In this context, the ruling coalition has been showing signs of fragility, culminating in the dissolution of the government on 14 November, a decision which exposed the cleavages between the RDR and its main ally, the Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). The appointment on 21 November of a senior PDCI member, Daniel Kablan Duncan, as prime minister replacing Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, who is also from that party, should abort the crisis within the coalition and ensure stronger unity. Kablan Duncan, who held the same position from 1994 to 1999 and was the incumbent foreign minister, is a respected member of his party, a personal friend of President Ouattara and, like him, an economist. The clear priority given to the promotion of strong economic growth to reduce unemployment and poverty is welcome, but it cannot be a substitute for political gestures toward national reconciliation.

The political class does not seem to have learned all the lessons from the post-electoral crisis, and is repeating the very attitudes that have led the country to the brink. It is urgent for President Ouattara, the new government and the entire ruling political class to resist the temptation of abusing power, which has already cost many lives in Côte d’Ivoire. It is time for the African organisations and the international community to publicly and firmly denounce the current Ivorian regime’s dysfunctions.

Brussels/Dakar, 26 November 2012

Commentary / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire: A Need for Facilitation

Preparing for the 2015 Presidential Election in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire’s political parties have begun campaigning without having settled how to run the election in the first place. That is a mistake. There needs to be a consensus on the election mechanics, and now is the ideal time to develop one. The conditions for a constructive dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition have never been better. The Ivorian political class should seize this opportunity to find agreement on at least three issues in order to guarantee the success of the next election: revising electoral lists; setting up a new electoral commission; and giving election losers a greater stake in the system. The international community should enable this dialogue by dispatching a facilitator to Abidjan to stimulate and arbitrate a meeting of minds among the ruling party and the opposition.

Since the end of the post-electoral crisis in 2011, the two main rival parties, the Rally of Republicans (RDR) and the opposition Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), have officially met only once face to face, in January. This meeting did not lead to any concrete decisions but it did show that dialogue was possible. As one diplomat noted, “Unlike in some other African countries, we are in a situation where it is conceivable to put political leaders face to face”.

The liberation in August of fourteen members of the FPI – they had been detained without trial since 2011 – ushered in a truce. This fortunate period is likely to grow more productive politically once the question is resolved of whether former FPI head (and former president) Laurent Gbagbo will face International Criminal Court prosecution. The FPI, hoping for a Gbagbo comeback, has frozen every important decision, including whether to engage in serious negotiations with the RDR. But the ICC’s judges gave prosecutors until 15November to finalise their accusation. If Gbagbo is kept in detention, the FPI will have to start making key decisions for itself.

Last January’s meeting between the ruling party and the opposition showed the importance of an external facilitator: it took place thanks to the intervention of Senegal’s president, Macky Sall. Since the signing of the Ouagadougou political agreement in March 2007, the most successful phases of dialogue have occurred under the aegis of a mediator. Disputes over the 2010 presidential election were settled within a permanent consultative framework arbitrated by Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré. More recently, efforts made by representatives of the UN Secretary-General paved the way for informal meetings and reinforced trust.

The appointment of an external facilitator accepted by the whole political scene would help stimulate dialogue and arbitrate meetings that otherwise tend to get very personal very fast. A facilitator could also help Ivorians focus their efforts on creating a pragmatic agenda with one simple objective: inclusive, transparent and peaceful presidential elections. This would be altogether new for Côte d’Ivoire.

The main risk today is that FPI leaders boycott the next presidential election if they are not involved in its preparation. Such a boycott would mean a low level of participation that will harm the legacy and legitimacy of the current president, Alassane Ouattara, and the whole reconciliation process. To avoid this, the opposition and ruling party have to find common ground on several issues. First is the problem of the electoral lists: the Ivorian register, counting 5.7 million potential voters, is outdated. This list does not include hundreds of thousands of youth, nor the thousands of voters left unregistered during identification operations carried out before the 2010 elections. Furthermore, if thousands of exiled pro-Gbabgo supporters decide not to come back, their participation in the vote has to be discussed.

Second, Côte d’Ivoire also inherited an outdated electoral commission that doesn’t reflect political reality and is dominated by the ruling party. This commission must be reformed to reflect a balance between the different parties – or, alternatively to be nonpartisan, though that is probably unrealistic given the currently polarised politics.

The redefinition of a legal electoral framework would not only help ensure a peaceful presidential election in 2015, it will greatly improve the prospects for successful parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2016. The return to a balanced national assembly in which the opposition is represented is crucial to political normalisation. Updating the voters list and reforming the electoral commission are not just technical issues. Forging consensus between the parties on how both processes will happen, and bringing them all on board, are essential if elections are to move the country forward – which is why a facilitator is needed.

Finally, the Ivorian constitution, largely inspired by the French one, gives immense powers to the president. Unfortunately, the president does not then tend to leave much for his opponents. Constitutional reform should give more weight to the opposition in political life and party financing. Reform is unlikely ahead of the 2015 polls but remains vital to reducing the stakes of political competition – and the price of political defeat. Without those reforms, the loser will always be tempted to contest election results, including by resorting to violence, out of fear of being left with nothing.