Future uncertain in the Ivory Coast argues NAI’s new guest researcher

The political process in the Ivory Coast has been hijacked by the political elite, says Dr Linda A. O. Darkwa, who has just started her three month stint at NAI as one of the Institute’s guest researchers.

Linda Darkwa, a research fellow at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy, University of Ghana, will concentrate her research on constitutional democracy whilst in Uppsala.

At present, none of the two candidates in November’s presidential election (incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara) is likely to concede defeat. Although Alassane Ouattara has been recognised internationally as the victor, Laurent Gbagbo is refusing to leave office.

Asked whether the people of the Ivory Coast understands the democratic process, Linda Darkwa responded that the democratic process comprise many things which includes voting. According to her, by registering and going out to vote, the people of the Ivory Coast demonstrated that they understand the need to participate in the election of their political leaders. By extension, they also indicated that there would be a winner and a loser and the loser needed to give way to the person who won.

Currently, the people of the Ivory Coast, who have endured years of armed conflict, would simply want to go on with their lives. However, as it stands now, ordinary people cannot go on with their daily lives. The deadlock of the political process is hurting the country and its people, especially the most vulnerable.

Linda Darkwa argues that to some extent it was possible to predict what would happen after the elections although “no one could have predicted the magnitude of the post-election troubles”. According to her, there were signs signalling disputes and conflict of interests. The recurrent postponement of the elections by Laurent Gbagbo and the suggestions that the Electoral Commission was heavily staffed with pro- Ouattara supporters at its inception were ominous signs. The fact that Laurent Gbagbo was allowed to contest again after ten years in office (five of which was negotiated in the name of peace) was itself a source of conflict.

In hindsight, there are lessons to be learnt from the Ivorian experience. As a country in transition, was it really necessary to have maintained two management bodies – an Electoral Commission and a Constitutional Court? After all, there had been several compromises in the name of peace so why could adjustments not have been made so as to minimize the variables for potential conflict?

According to Linda Darkwa, it is imperative for neighbouring countries in the sub-region to act decisively and quickly for the resolution of the conflict. Mechanisms for the pacific resolution of the dispute have been activated by both the sub-regional body ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) which is the Continent’s highest organisation. Different teams have been sent to the Ivory Coast in the African tradition of dispute settlement, to speak to their “brothers” Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattarra. In addition to what is publicised, there are also ongoing quiet diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully. Laurent Gbagbo has however demonstrated that he is unwilling to respect the peaceful resolution of the conflict through diplomacy.

Linda Darkwa insists that power sharing should not even be considered an option as it will set a bad precedent in the sub-region where a number of elections are lined up between now and 2012. A military option is not the most preferred choice because it raises fundamental legal questions. Yet, we cannot afford another Liberia or Sierra Leone in a sub-region which is recovering from the wars of its past. So, a military option is one that cannot be ruled out although it will undoubtedly be fraught with several challenges unless adequate logistics are obtained. The question is whether the world will put its money where its mouth is. “Will the countries which have condemned Laurent Gbagbo and called for a military intervention be ready to effectively support one?”

Côte d'Ivoire
Linda Darkwa
Political conflicts
West Africa
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