Côte d’Ivoire: Ensuring Credible Elections
Côte d’Ivoire: Ensuring Credible Elections
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 139 / Africa 3 minutes

Côte d’Ivoire: Ensuring Credible Elections

Côte d’Ivoire continues towards peace one year after the ex-Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebellion leader Guillaume Soro was appointed prime minister by his former adversary, President Laurent Gbagbo, but violence could still return.

Executive Summary

Côte d’Ivoire continues towards peace one year after the ex-Forces Nouvelles (FN) rebellion leader Guillaume Soro was appointed prime minister by his former adversary, President Laurent Gbagbo, but violence could still return. All actors must focus on creating the political and security conditions necessary for the free and fair elections that, for the first time in the drawn-out peace process, appear possible within less than a year. However, the competition for the presidency, for which certain politicians appear ready to go to extremes, combined with the proliferation of armed groups and growth of impunity in recent years, present a potentially explosive environment. Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré, who is the facilitator and arbitrator of the peace process, as well as the UN Security Council, must assume their responsibilities to avert another descent into violence in this pivotal West African state.

On 14 April the government announced that the first round of the presidential elections will take place on 30 November 2008. After months of negotiations, crucial texts defining voter identification procedures and amendments to the electoral code were also adopted by the government. These announcements, though very welcome, do not alter the fact that the Ouagadougou Peace Accord (OPA), signed on 4 March 2007, has produced mixed results. There has been a general improvement in the security environment, and the so-called zone of confidence, which amounted to a physical and symbolic partition of the country, has been dismantled.

However, overall implementation is far behind schedule, and there has been no decisive progress on two critical issues: “identification” of the population – the work of the mobile courts has been but a first step towards determining who is a citizen and who may vote –and the disarmament of former rebels and militias, and their reinsertion or reintegration into civilian life or the military. While not wholly unrealistic, the 30 November date for the presidential election will be extremely difficult to attain.

Nothing has been done in the past year that would jeopardise the continuation of Gbagbo’s power and Soro’s political survival. But the most politically sensitive and risky tasks need to be undertaken now, including: identification of the population and electors on a consensual and transparent basis; and regrouping all ex-combatants, proceeding with their disarmament, providing programs to further their learning and economic reintegration, and assigning those who are to join the new Ivorian Defence and Security Forces to the Integrated Command Centre (ICC), which combines ex-rebel and loyalist military headquarters. It will be the progress of these operations on the ground, not the political speeches and pageantry, which will show the real will of Ivorian leaders to finally end the suffering of their fellow citizens.

Technical and financial constraints are real, but the government also used them as excuses to justify delays. The real problems, which threaten the entire peace process, come from the political manoeuvrings of Ivorian leaders in the lead-up to the elections. If all the steps of the electoral process are followed in a transparent manner, none of the main candidates – Gbagbo, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara of the Rassemblement des républicains (RDR) and former President  Henri Konan Bédié of the Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) – can be certain of victory.

Getting all political actors – those who want elections, those who do not and those who only want them if they are assured of winning – to agree to create the conditions for transparent democratic polls will be difficult. The calm political climate since the signing of the OPA, though genuine, should not fool anyone: the struggle to influence the electoral process and the presidential campaign will be harsh and divisive, with the risk of returning the country to turmoil.

To avoid elections even more disastrous than those of October 2000 and to ensure that they contribute to mending the torn social fabric, three things are critical: strict adherence to the OPA by the signatories; implementation of a consensual security plan for the identification operations and the elections; and a conflict prevention strategy with the facilitation of President Compaoré and the UN mission (ONUCI).

Compaoré has a specific responsibility for the OPA. If his good offices are not sufficient to force the actors to respect their commitments, he should expose the spoilers and recommend individual sanctions to the Security Council, of which Burkina Faso is currently a member. If the Ivorian elections occur in a violent setting or the results are contested, regional and wider international efforts to resolve the crisis over the past six years will have been in vain. A successful outcome to the peace process is critical for the stability and economic future of all West Africa.

Dakar/Brussels, 22 April 2008

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