Friday, 30 October 2015

IVORY COAST: Beyond Ouattara's luckluster victory

Alassane Ouattara has been re-elected to a second term as the president of Ivory Coast, in the first peaceful presidential election in the country in more than two decades. The provisional results of the Sunday election, announced by the Independent Electoral Commission on Wednesday, declared Mr Ouattara the winner, with 83.7 percent of the 3.1. Million votes counted.

Mr Ouattara's closest challenger, Mr Pascal Affi N'Guessan got 9%. He is an ally of Mr Gbabgo who faces trial at the International criminal Court. Several candidates withdrew from the poll, saying it was not free and fair. However, US and EU election observers claimed that the election was credible.

Mr Ouattara, 73, an American-trained economist and a former top official at the International Monetary Fund, has managed to guide an economic recovery growth rates surpassing 8 percent. His challenge now is to sustain such growth and spread it evenly across all regions, as he tries to reconcile this still divided nation.

Starting in 2000, civil war and violence tore Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, into two factions, culminating in bloody clashes that left 3,000 people dead in 2011, after former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down to let Mr Ouattara succeed him. It took an international military intervention to remove Mr Gbagbo, who faces trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges relating to the 2011 violence.

The economy is booming, with growth rates consistently above 8 percent, and in a region scarred by crises, from the ravages of Ebola to Islamic extremism in the Maghreb and around Lake Chad, Code d'Ivoire, under Ouattara, stands out as an attractive proposition from investors. Abidjan has bounced back from the dark days of post-election violence in 2010 and 2011, with life returning even to the poor neighbourhoods that saw the worst of the fighting. Mr Ouattara, a smooth, bilingual technocrat, has maintained good external relations. The future seems bright.

It also seems a resounding vindication for Ouattara's allies, chief among them France, which intervened decisively against former president Laurent Gbagbo, the loser in 2010. The precise role played by external forces in the fighting, particularly the destruction of Gbagbo's fortified residence in April 2011, will probably never be known, but it is likely to have been pivotal in securing Ouattara's triumph. Gbagbo is now in The Hague, standing trial at the International Criminal Court alongside his key lieutenant, Charles Blé Goude. Earlier this year, a court in Cote d'Ivoire sentenced Gbagbo's wife, Simone, to 20 years in prison for her role in the crisis.

As victories go, this one seems crushingly complete. Of course, winners get to write the histories. The dominant narrative of the 2010-2011 crisis casts Gbagbo as an aging demagogue, clinging to power through the deployment of increasingly rabid ethno-nationalism, finally unseated by a principled coalition acting in defense of a democratically elected president. West Africa stood form against Gbagbo, and the international allies put their money and troops where their mouth was to support Ouattara. It is not by any means a wholly inaccurate view. Security has largely returned across the country. And the headline Ivorian economy has bounced back strongly, with Ouattara's international allies following up their military support with substantial debt relief and external investors pouring in.

The final toll from the violence that broke out from November 2010 to June 2011 was some 3,000 dead, not on the scale many feared, but still an appalling number.

And the narrative of Gbagbo as self-interested spoiler elides the fact that he received nearly half of the votes in the last election. Deep grievances remain in the huge geographical and ethnic constituencies that voted for him, communities far from the bustle of Abidjan's construction sites that are now at risk of being increasingly marginalized. Allegations of harassment and abuse against Gbagbo supporters continue, and periodic spikes of violence are reported in his western bastions of support.

There have been some efforts to tackle Cote d'Ivoire's post-conflict challenges. A disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program was put in place, and a truth and reconciliation commission set up. Officials agreed on a national plan for restructuring of the security sector and established a permanent mechanism for political dialogue between the government and opposition.

But these have largely been technical exercises, skating over rather than addressing Cote d'Ivoire's fundamental challenges. The DDR program missed a significant number of those who had fought for Gbagbo during the civil war, many whom remain in hiding or in exile. Some weapons were handed in and destroyed, but many more remain in circulation. The reconciliation process heard testimony from more than 60,000 individuals, but has not lanced the boil of ethnic grievances, let alone healed it. Military reform has left commanders of the old Forces Nouvelles (FN) - the group that held the North during the country's civil war and fought for Ouattara during 2010-2011 crisis-outside formal command strictures. Some are alleged to be deeply involved in racketeering, criminality and abuse.

There also remains a widespread perception that, just as with history, justice in Cote d'Ivoire remains the preserve of the victors. Nearly all those investigated and prosecuted for abuses carried out after the 2010 election have been associated with the Gbagbo's regime, including most recently first lady, Simone Gbagbo's chief bodyguard, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

Yet serious abuses were carried out during the crisis by both sides, including by the very FN commanders now getting fat on the post-war settlement. In fact, those responsible for the single most serious incident-the 2011 massacre of some 700 Gbagbo supporters at Douekoue, a western market town, have not yet been formally identified, let alone prosecuted. A new Special Investigations Unit is reportedly underfunded and so far ineffective. Two senior FN commanders were put under investigation in July 2015, thought it remains to be seem if they will ultimately face trial.

So post-war Cote d'Ivoire remains fundamentally bipolar, with an outward-looking, confident surface masking deep reservoir of resentment. It falls to Ouattata, above all, to reconcile these two personas. His ability to govern is heavily dependent on his external appeal, which is founded on his reputation as champion of the democratic process. He has promised, for instance, not to stand for a third term. Going back on this promise seems extremely unlikely. So he and his allies have a complex web to untangle and not much time to do it.

To date, his fractions and heterogeneous coalition has left him a little room to maneuver. He is succeeding, so far, in holding his power base together, most importantly securing the support of the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire, or PDCI, of former president Henri Konan Bedié, which commanded the pivotal swing vote from the center of the country. The opposition, most importantly Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front, or FPI, is still fractured and incoherent-an FPI faction stood against Ouattata in Sunday's election, while others boycotted. A relatively peaceful victory was then the clear outcome.

But Ouattara now faces significant political turbulence. Many key PDCI figures are unhappy about ceding the presidency for another term. Guillaume Soro, former political leader of the Forces Nouvelles and current head of the National Assembly, remains a key powerbroker and rival, and may resist investigations of FN abuses. Ouattara's electoral legitimacy is undermined by the FPI's partial boycott.

There have been direct talks with FPI, which has long resisted involvement in the formal dialogue mechanism. Some important prisoners tied to Gbagbo have been released, as noted, two FN commanders placed under investigation. But these are tentative steps. Real security sector reform and equitable justice remain absent. Moreover, external investment must be translated into domestic economic diversification and sustainable employment, and the spoils shared out beyond Abidjan.

It is not impossible to reintegrate once warring factions into Cote d'Ivoire's society, but doing so will require brave leadership from the top. Ouattara has yet to show that, even if he won another presidential term.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Researcher & Writer
African Affairs Expert