Côte d’Ivoire: Securing the Electoral Process
Côte d’Ivoire: Securing the Electoral Process
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Retour de Laurent Gbagbo en Côte d’Ivoire : une nouvelle occasion de réconciliation
Retour de Laurent Gbagbo en Côte d’Ivoire : une nouvelle occasion de réconciliation
Report / Africa 4 minutes

Côte d’Ivoire: Securing the Electoral Process

Unless senior Ivorian politicians refrain from xenophobic language and more is done to ensure the security of the whole electoral process, they may be preparing the ground for violent chaos, either before, during or in the immediate aftermath of elections.

Executive Summary

Already delayed six times, Côte d'Ivoire's presidential election is still some way off. Over two months after President Gbagbo dissolved the Independent Electoral Commission (Commission Électorale Indépendante, CEI) and the government, preparations are at a virtual standstill. The process of electoral identification already carries serious risks of violence. Armed groups and militias, the resurgence of xenophobic language and a challenging socio-economic situation make for an explosive environment, threatening the stability of this key West African country. Unless its politicians urgently meet the challenge of escalating tensions, accelerate electoral preparations and desist from hate speech, and unless regional, UN and other international partners establish the operational, political and security mechanisms necessary to prevent violence, the peace process could very well collapse, with dramatic consequences for the country and its neighbours.

Côte d'Ivoire's civil war erupted in September 2002, when a section of the army attempted a coup d'Etat. The coup failed, but the insurgent soldiers took control of the northern part of the country. With the arrival of young intellectuals and under the leadership of former student leader Guillaume Soro, they articulated grievances that northerners were treated as second class citizens. An on-and-off war continued until the signing of the Ouagadougou Political Agreement in March 2007, which considerably calmed the situation. Since the middle of 2009, however, tensions have risen again over the electoral process and the question of Ivorian identity and nationality.

The risks of destabilisation were highlighted by the demonstrations that followed the dismissal of the government and the CEI on 12 February 2010. Organised by the opposition, they resulted in seven deaths and several dozen wounded. In Gagnoa, security forces fired live rounds at demonstrators. Similar incidents may occur again if senior politicians do not quickly find a compromise allowing the electoral process to resume. But beyond this specific requirement, they must restore the relatively peaceful and cooperative political climate which followed the Ouagadougou Agreement.

The only solid achievement on the road to elections thus far is an electoral list that identified more than 6.3 million potential voters. Following a review, 5.3 million were put on the provisional list. The rest, whose nationality had not been confirmed, were put on a second list. The next stage, during which the lists could be challenged, led to a dispute between the ruling party and opposition, as a result of which the CEI was dissolved and the process ground to a halt. A new commission, in place since the end of February, has restarted work, but without yet addressing the main concerns around the electoral list. Neither the procedure for confirming that list nor the plan for securing the distribution of electoral material and the collection of results has been clarified.

The president's supporters, believing that it favours their rivals, want to challenge the list of 5.3 million voters. However, this list was drawn up according to a process agreed on by all political parties and has also been implicitly approved by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. It should not, therefore, be challenged. The presidential camp also contends that full disarmament of the former rebel forces should be a pre-condition for elections. The ruling party must pull back from this extreme position, which is unacceptable to the opposition and threatens the cooperative and consensual basis of the Ouagadougou agreement.

Côte d'Ivoire's relative peace is threatened by the intransigence of the leading actors, by personal insults exchanged between them and especially by the return of xenophobic Ivorian nationalism (commonly known as "Ivoirite"), with its lexicon of "true Ivorians" and those of questionable citizenship. This language of exclusion reinforces fear between communities and is a powerful driver of violence. Unless senior politicians definitively refrain from its use, they may be preparing the ground for chaos, either before the elections, during the vote itself, or, as in 2000, in the immediate aftermath.

The rise of xenophobic language is occurring in a context of an armed peace. Disarmament has yet to take place in the zone controlled by the former rebel forces. In the extreme West, pro-government militia maintain a climate of fear and insecurity, obstructing normal democratic life. In current conditions, it is hard to envisage a peaceful electoral campaign. In Abidjan, the "young patriot" movements and their xenophobic discourse are still present. Opposition youth groups are reacting by firming up their own street-level organisation. The risk is that political demonstrations may again lead to clashes between the youth groups, driven by mutual mistrust and fear of exclusion.

National and international actors must agree on a new plan for securing the elections, then use it to build confidence among the population and to initiate a dialogue with local politicians and officials. The present insufficient plan is based primarily on a promised, but much delayed, mixed Ivorian force, made up of former rebel and loyalist elements, supported by the relatively small - especially in terms of police capacity - UN (ONUCI) and French (Licorne) contingents. The international community must step in, if necessary, to fill the gap.

The international community has so far been patient and reserved, barely reacting to the dismissal of the government and the electoral commission and the violence of February, apparently unable to lay out clear red lines that the Ivorian actors must not cross. This timid position is out of line with the gravity of the situation. More generally, the international community must be bolder in identifying those responsible for violence and those who are blocking the electoral process. The UN Security Council, which is to review the ONUCI mandate on 31 May, should consider applying further targeted sanctions on individuals, as has been done successfully to calm the situation in the past.

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