News / Africa

Analysts Worry Elections May Not End Ivory Coast Division

A truck driver takes a break on the line that separates northern rebel-held Ivory Coast from the government-run south (file photo)
A truck driver takes a break on the line that separates northern rebel-held Ivory Coast from the government-run south (file photo)

As Ivory Coast prepares for a tightly contested presidential run-off now scheduled for November 28, analysts and commentators are worrying the election may not end the country's division, split between a rebel-held north and a government-run south.

Immediately after it became clear the run-off would be between President Laurent Gbagbo and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, one Ivorian newspaper called it "a duel to death." Ivorian newspapers, from all political stripes, were filled with a flurry of commentary and historical analysis.

Articles noted that in 1992 when Mr. Ouattara was prime minister under former long term post-independence President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Mr. Gbagbo, then an opposition pro-democracy leader, had been put in jail for organizing a student protest.  

Mr. Gbagbo's supporters have accused Mr. Ouattara of being behind the northern rebellion which has cut the country in two since 2002, a charge the former International Monetary Fund official has denied.  The presidential spokesman reiterated those accusations this week, calling Mr. Ouattara the "godfather of the rebellion."

Mr. Ouattara had been barred from previous Ivory Coast presidential elections over doubts concerning his nationality, but a key component of repeated peace deals with the rebels, who remain in control of the north, has been to allow him to run.

A former head of the powerful national student union Martial Joseph Ahipeaud wrote a long opinion article this week in which he said results of the first round, in an election delayed five years, indicated Ivory Coast is anything but a cohesive nation, and rather, he wrote, a confusing collection of different religious and ethnic groups.

Mr. Ouattara, a Muslim from the north, polled more than 95 percent of the electorate in many parts of the mostly Muslim-north in the first round, while getting less than five percent in certain parts of the mostly Christian west. Overall, he finished second with 32 percent of the vote, to Mr. Gbagbo's 38 percent, which included dominating percentages in southern, eastern and western regions.

The third place candidate, former President Henri Konan Bedie, got a sizable 25 percent, with strength in the Christian center. Mr. Bedie, as well as other minor candidates, is calling for supporters to vote for Mr. Ouattara in the run-off, in line with pre-election agreements.

Long-time journalist in Africa G. Pascal Zachary, who recently authored the book "Married to Africa," says if those votes add up to more than 50 percent, a Ouattara win would be significant. "He would be a symbol for a lot of reasons, of a more progressive forward-thinking Africa, where Muslims and Christians can co-exist, where moderate Muslims can play by the rules like he has been doing and rewarded with real power," he said.

Mr. Ouattara has long been the political favorite of many residents in Ivory Coast who are the descendants of migrant agricultural workers from neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of these residents, who have long complained of discrimination, were able to get Ivorian nationality and voting papers during the ongoing peace process.

But anytime there was an opposition protest during Mr. Gbagbo's presidency, there was a violent crackdown. When the Ivorian military bombed rebel areas in 2004 during the peace process, and the French rapid reaction force, which is still present, reacted by destroying Ivorian fighter jets, there were mass protests by so-called Young Patriots, fighting for what they called a second independence against the former colonial power.

Zachary says a Ouattara victory could be turbulent. "I think (Mr.) Ouattara is the way to go if we were just social engineering. On the other hand, obviously, there are determined factions within Cote d'Ivoire to prevent his victory and somehow those factions and people have to be mollified but they can be through some kind of negotiated settlement," he said.

Mr. Gbagbo's supporters say they believe many of Mr. Bedie's supporters will vote for the current president based on ethnic and religious preferences, so they are predicting victory for their own side.   

In this case, many Ivorian commentators say the country could remain divided. Rebel leader Guillaume Soro is prime minister in a government of national unity, but Mr. Gbagbo has said he will choose a new prime minister if he gets a new term.

His opponents also fear the army will not accept a victory by Mr. Ouattara. A newspaper close to Mr. Bedie this week said Mr. Ouattara's victory would mean order and prosperity, while his defeat would mean anarchy and misery.

Zachary, who currently writes the popular Africa Works blog, says in the case of Ivory Coast, elections may not be the solution. "Elections are instruments to deliver goods. They are not ends in themselves, so sooner or later if this round fails to deliver a winner, a clear decisive winner, there needs to be a looking at alternatives. One of those is a negotiated permanent government, the second possibility is partitioning the country permanently," he said.

But a University of Quebec in Montreal Sociologist Marie Nathalie LeBlanc, who has studied identity issues in Ivory Coast for years, says she does not believe most northerners want to secede.

She says she believes the problem in Ivory Coast, also known as Cote d'Ivoire, is more about access to resources, than ethnic or religious differences. "It is a rich country and it is a territory that until the past few decades has managed to live off relatively well from its resources. The resources are not situated in the north of the country. I would say one of the realities of this whole geopolitics of Cote d'Ivoire is that the northern population has very little advantage to split from the rest of Cote d'Ivoire," she said.

Within this context, the August arrest of an Ivory Coast army colonel in the United States for allegedly trying to bring back millions of dollars in guns and ammunitions to Ivory Coast and circumvent an ongoing arms embargo has sparked additional fears among Ivorian commentators that an unsuccessful election, where the loser does not accept defeat, could spark a new round of fighting, rather than reuniting the country.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs