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Côte d’Ivoire: The Illusion of Stability
Côte d’Ivoire: The Illusion of Stability
How Europe’s Panic over Migration and Terrorism Is a Big Opportunity for Africa
How Europe’s Panic over Migration and Terrorism Is a Big Opportunity for Africa
Op-Ed / Africa

Côte d’Ivoire: The Illusion of Stability

Originally published in Daily Maverick

Among the three principal politicians who have struggled for power in Côte d’Ivoire since 1995, President Alassane Ouattara, 73, is the only one still in the game and is most likely to win the presidential election on 25 October. The significance of this election is not so much the electoral outcome – which seems to be a foregone conclusion – as much as the political choices that will result from a renewed Ouattara mandate. Without meaningful political, security and judicial reforms, Côte d’Ivoire could face yet another prolonged period of violence.

Such instability could be triggered by the next presidential election in 2020, which will likely be disputed strongly between a new generation of politicians who have grown up in war and crisis. If health considerations make Ouattara step down earlier, new elections, and unrest, could arrive much sooner.

Political exclusion persists

The president’s first term can be seen in two ways. On one hand, in May 2011 he inherited a deeply divided country, in which five months of armed conflict had killed 3,000 people and wrecked the economy. Ouattara managed to restore economic growth and reform the cocoa-producing sector, in which Côte d’Ivoire leads the world. He also reunited a country that had been divided into two distinct administrative units since the failed September 2002 coup. This is a legacy that candidate Ouattara can, rightfully, boast about.

However, upon closer examination, these successes are not quite as clear-cut as they appear. The deeper roots of conflict have not been adequately addressed. In reality, Ouattara has done very little to dismantle the infernal machinery that led to the crisis in the first place.

One of the first causes of instability is the exclusion of a certain portion of the population from political representation. During the 1995 elections, Ouattara, a northerner, was banned from running. This fostered deep frustrations, divisions and bitterness. It led to a coup in December 1999, orchestrated by a handful of northern officers who felt Ouattara’s exclusion, based on “questionable nationality”, was, in fact, discrimination against all northern Ivorians. In 2000, the exclusion of presidential candidates Ouattara and Henri Konan Bédié led to similar tensions, resulting in the partition of the country two years later.

Unfortunately, political exclusion is a persistent phenomenon in Ivorian politics.

Ouattara convinced Bédié, leader of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PCDI) and former head of state, to drop out of the race to pave the way for his candidacy. The third largest party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), faces deep internal divisions. Its leader, Laurent Gbagbo, was Ouattara’s main rival in 2010 but is now in prison. Its proposed candidate is rejected by both the electoral base and a significant portion of the party leadership. Overall, the seven other competitors have neither the recognition, nor the support, required to pose a serious challenge.

As in 1995 and 2000, therefore only one of the main three parties will present its real candidate for the elections. Many Ivorians thus face a very restricted choice in which none of the candidates truly represents them. Moreover, many are unable to vote, with only 6.3 million registered in a country of 17 million citizens.

Ouattara’s presidency was also characterised by the way many key posts were given to northern Ivorians, leaving many citizens feeling excluded. The heads of the National Assembly, the Independent Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Council all originate from the north, as do the justice minister and the director of the treasury. Likewise, the government’s security positions, such as the chief of staff, interior minister and head of intelligence, come from the north.

Post-election challenges

A renewed Ouattara mandate should take the opportunity to redistribute government positions on a more equitable geographical basis, providing a better balance between the country’s different regions and institutions. It should amend the constitution, which grants far too much power to the president, at the expense of parliament and local institutions. Without access to public finance or office, political opponents may feel the need to resort to non-electoral means to seize power.

One risk is armed violence. This is partly because Ouattara failed to reform the Ivorian military, which is in complete disrepute. Former rebel leaders of the New Forces (FN) still occupy important roles, at the expense of former pro-Gbagbo officers. The chain of command is chaotic, with several units obeying former warlords and resorting to predatory tactics. Should another war break out between competing candidates, a whole section of the military could potentially decide to abandon the government and join another camp.

Easy access to arms also raises the risk of conflicts turning deadly. While a wide-scale disarmament process was officially achieved last summer, Côte d’Ivoire is still replete with weapons. Many of these weapons remain outside state control. Last March, a UN group of experts in charge of monitoring an arms embargo discovered a warehouse in the northern region of Korogho containing 60 tonnes of military material. The warehouse is under the control of Martin Kouakou Fofié, a former warlord facing UN sanctions.

Apart from the threat to peace posed by the existence of such an arsenal, it also raises crucial questions regarding impunity. No FN members have been sentenced for crimes committed between 2002 and 2012. The judicial system remains biased, fostering a widespread sense of injustice among Ivorians and threatening any serious attempt at credible reconciliation.

In a few days or weeks, President Ouattara will likely be granted a new mandate. This will give him another five years to transition properly from stabilisation to normalisation, and he must seize the opportunity. Côte d’Ivoire will only escape from the illusion of stability when the possibility of armed struggle for power is no longer seen as a viable option.

This article was translated into English by Arnaud Bodet

Op-Ed / Africa

How Europe’s Panic over Migration and Terrorism Is a Big Opportunity for Africa

Originally published in IRIN

This week’s summit of African and European leaders in Abidjan is a chance to find a win-win solution.

Video footage of African migrants detained on their way to Europe being sold as slaves in Libya has provoked outrage and dismay in Africa and the wider international community. As a result, migration has been placed at the top of the agenda of this week’s fifth triennial African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

For Europe, migration has become an almost existential problem. The influx in 2015 of more than one million refugees and migrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa created deep divisions and raised difficult questions about the EU’s commitment to open borders. It is threatening the viability of the union and providing an opening for right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam political parties and movements across the continent.

For Africa, despite the tragic deaths of many of those in transit, the migration of its citizens to Europe has not been a major concern. The vast majority of African migrants, contrary to perceptions in Europe, move between countries on the continent, which places great strain on host nations such as South Africa and Senegal.

Unsurprisingly, these opposing views mean that the EU and the AU have very different priorities. The EU is doggedly focused on trying to prevent illegal migrants reaching its shores whereas the AU is looking for ways to increase legal routes to Europe for Africans. It is essential that these two positions are reconciled.

Leaders from Africa and Europe last met in 2014, and until now African resistance meant that migration was not even formally tabled for discussion. But the emergence of the images of modern-day slave trafficking, which followed oral accounts of Libyan slave auctions that surfaced in April this year, has shaken the African Union (AU) out of its torpor.

The EU is doggedly focused on trying to prevent illegal migrants reaching its shores whereas the AU is looking for ways to increase legal routes to Europe for Africans.

For its part, Europe has developed a two-pronged strategy to curb African migration and what it sees as the associated danger of terrorism.

First, it has tried to address the root causes of instability, forced displacement and illegal migration through investment compacts with selected countries. These deals have been heavily criticised for offering incentives for reducing migrant flows to repressive regimes, such as Sudan and Eritrea, whose own domestic policies fuel the exodus to Europe. While this containment policy had some success in reducing migrants transiting through Niger, for example, the reductions have often been short-lived as security forces are easily bribed by smugglers.

Second, the EU and its member states have tried to seal their Mediterranean Sea borders by increasing their military presence and counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel – a key transit route for illegal migrants. Taken together, these measures aimed at reducing migrant flows show that the EU is willing to do “whatever works”, as one European diplomat put it.

What the AU sees as the EU’s “fortress approach” to border control, coupled with ham-fisted European diplomacy, has alienated Africa. So too has the tendency of the media and populist politicians in Europe to link African migrants to increased terror attacks. A myopic focus on migration has increasingly become the lens through which the EU views its peace and security relationship with Africa.

If the AU and African governments really want to address the root causes of migration, they should leverage support for border control and fighting jihadists and terrorists against EU investment [...].

Discussions in Abidjan this week should focus on gradually increasing access for skilled African workers, who could be essential given Europe’s rapidly aging population. The AU and EU should also look for common ground outside the question of migrant flows to and from Europe, for example by focusing more on the root causes of migration – something both institutions profess to have an interest in.

Europe’s panic over migration and terrorism represents a significant opportunity for Africa. The EU and its member states have money to spend provided they can be assured of quick wins that will help calm the fears of citizens. “If we talk about migration, anything is possible. [...] we’ll pay,” explained one European diplomat.

If the AU and African governments really want to address the root causes of migration, they should leverage support for border control and fighting jihadists and terrorists against EU investment in education, job creation, better governance more evenly distributed economic growth throughout Africa.

This, however, requires coordination. Until now, competing national and regional interests have overridden a more unified African approach to migration that could bring continent-wide benefits. But the grim reality of the migrant slave trade in Libya seems to have stirred the pan-African conscience, and continental cooperation may now be possible.

Anna Schmauder, International Crisis Group African Union Advocacy Intern, helped with the preparation of this commentary.