By Paul Ejime
COTE d’Ivoire for several decades a bastion of peace and stability in politically restive West Africa is also no stranger to political tension and uncertainty, particularly from the 2010 disputed presidential election. More than 3,000 lives were lost from the post-election violence that followed, resulting in the intervention by the international community, which rallied behind the current president Alasane Ouattara, who claimed victory in that election. Then sitting President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat unleashed violence between his supporters and those of Ouattara. Gbagbo was later deposed and taken to The Hague for trial at the International Criminal Court. He has now been granted conditional release.
Ouattara, assumed power in 2011 and later won re-election but his second term mandate ends in October, when another presidential vote will take place. However, political tension remains. Against protest by the opposition, president Ouattara and his RHDP party carried out a controversial constitutional change in 2016, which allows for a two-term presidency and the creation of the position of Vice President.
Meanwhile, former rebel leader Guilluame Soro, who had teamed up with President Ouattara and served as President of the National Assembly has since fallen out with the president. He is now exiled in France after being tried in absentia for embezzlement and sentenced to 20 years in jail in Cote d’Ivoire. This was after he had declared his intention to run for the presidency in October. After much pressure, Ouattra last March declared that he would not seek re-election in October and went on to anoint Prime Minister Mamadou Koulibaly as the candidate of the ruling party. But Koulibaly died suddenly a week ago, and to further compound the situation, Vice-president Daniel Duncan resigned today, Monday for “personal reasons.”
One of the political permutations is that Ouattara, 78, could seize the opportunity to extend his mandate. Going by the old constitution, his two terms ends in October, but he could claim that the 2016 constitution has provision for two terms, so he has the right to start afresh. This, will not only go against his declaration to hand power to the younger generation, the move would also be met with strong resistance in a country divided along ethnic, demographic and religious lines.
Ouattara and the late Prime Minister Koulibaly are from the Muslim-dominated North while most of the key opposition politicians are from the mainly Christian South. These include former Presidents Gbagbo, 75, and Henri Kanon Bedie, 86, who also wants to contest for the presidency in October along with Soro. So, obviously, the ethnic, religious and demographic factors will bring to bear on the political calculations for the October presidential vote. Ivorian political leaders, therefore, have a great responsibility to manage the complex situation with patriotism to prevent an explosion and descent to another bloody civil war.
Also, regional group ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations, through its Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), should also trigger the mechanism for preventive diplomacy to nip potential crisis in the bud. West Africa cannot afford another civil war, particularly during this period of COVID-19, a global health pandemic.
**Paul Ejime is an international affairs expert.
– Jul. 14, 2020 @ 18:59 GMT