A few minutes after midnight on Wednesday this week, the Ivorian electoral commission chief, Youssouf Bakayoko, announced provisional results of the Ivorian presidential election held on October 31. President Laurent Gbagbo won about 38 percent of the vote, while former prime minister, Alassane Ouattara won just over 32 percent. The third place went to former president Henry Konan Bedie who polled about 25 percent of the vote. Since neither of the candidates won 50 percent plus one vote, a runoff will be held later this month between President Gbagbo and former Prime Minister Ouattara. Bedie’s party questioned the fairness of the process, according to the VOA. Alphonse Mady, the secretary general of Bedie’s Democratic Party of Ivory Coast asked for a recount. However, observers reported no evidence of fraud. Some had been excluded from some of the counting process, but the European Union observer mission said it does not believe that affected the outcome. Soir Info, an independent daily newspaper, concluded that Laurent Gbagbo kept a firm hold of the votes in the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan while Alassane Ouattara imposed his supremacy over the northern regions.
The election itself had been described as primed to re-unite the country, eight years after the start of the civil war that split the country into government and rebel controlled halves. The votes were held in the two halves. Three days of waiting for the results added to tensions and VOA reported that shops in the commercial neighbourhood of Treichville in Abidjan were closed just as people were stockpiling food and fuel in case of violence. The tension was sufficiently worrisome for the Ivorian Army Commander, Gal Philippe Mangou, to reassure the Ivorian people to go about their business, according to AllAfrica.com. Until the announcement of the results, there was relative peace. The international community had congratulated the Ivorian people for pulling off the election which had been postponed severally in the past. The UN Security Council issued a statement on Wednesday, which commended the Ivorian people “for their massive and peaceful participation in this crucial vote, which represents a historic step towards the restoration of sustainable peace in Cote d’Ivoire”. And it was testimony to the enthusiasm of the Ivorian electorate that a voter turnout of nearly 80 percent was recorded. The UN special Representative also met the three leading gladiators, and used the meeting to call on them to respect the result of the election. The elections, in the words of the French Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Jean Marc Simon, were “sufficiently reliable, making any attempt for fraud impossible”.
Observers believe that the second round race will now focus on winning the 15 percent of votes which went to former president Henry Konan Bedie. Bedie and Ouattara had made a public pledge to back each other in a second round runoff against Laurent Gbagbo. But it is believed that Gbagbo might also be able to attract voters who are uncomfortable with Alassane Ouattara. As a matter of fact, the candidacy of Ouattara has been one of the central issues in the Ivorian crisis. He had previously been prevented from running because of questions about his nationality, coming as he does from the northern part of Ivory Coast where many people have roots in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Fasso. In an interview we conducted in the grounds of the presidential palace in 2004, President Laurent Gbagbo had been angry with me, when I raised a point about the absurdity of shutting out of the political system, a man like Alasane Ouattara, who had served as the prime minister of the country. Gbagbo has been in power since 2000 and his mandate expired five years later but he has stayed in office ever since, arguing that elections were not possible as a result of the war which broke out in 2002-2003.
Ivory Coast is the world largest cocoa producing country and was once the economic power house of the sub region. So much changed with the civil war and the division of the country into a government controlled area in the south and a rebel stronghold in the north. Through the years of political stalemate, the northern-based rebels and their supporters were said to have profited from the gold trade and diamond smuggling. The northern main city, Bouake became increasingly run down, as I witnessed when we travelled with the rebels in the region during the 2004 visit. In the south, exports of cocoa also boomed, while in the past eight years, crude oil export rose six-fold to 60,000 barrels per day. A major consequence of the development of the past few years is the increase in the crime wave in Abidjan, the commercial capital; many businesses died off, stagnated or moved elsewhere. Abidjan which is the headquarters of the African Development Bank saw its transfer to Tunis, as a consequence of the instability occasioned by the civil war and the political stalemate. Ivorians set great store by the elections even when they were also apprehensive about the likely response of the political actors to the results which came at midnight on Wednesday. On the eve of the election, the Prime Minister, Guillaume Soro, himself a former rebel leader, had called on all the candidates to accept the outcome of the vote. The 9,000 strong UN peacekeeping force also deployed armoured personnel carriers in Abidjan as well as assisted in transporting ballot records from 10,000 polling stations after polls ended.
It was a 2007 peace deal in neighbouring Burkina Fasso, after several abortive rounds of talks, which eventually provided the framework for the political agreement reached within the country. Guillame Soro was appointed the prime minister in a unity government. Consequently, the UN-patrolled buffer zone between the south and north was dismantled and the roadmap for the election was drawn. As part of the agreement, the rebels were supposed to lay down their arms but disarmament has never really taken place. The insurgents returned to barracks and still wear patches which identify them as members of the New Forces movement. The western part of Cote d’Ivoire also saw the emergence of thousands of militias during the civil war, rendering the region practically lawless and so effective is the sway of these bands, that they prevented the three leading candidates, Gbago, Ouattara and Bedie, from holding political rallies in the region. President Gbagbo too has under his command in Abidjan, thousands of militant youth supporters who have been accused of lawless behavior over the years of the crisis.
A central controversy, and one that has been stressed by Gbagbo and his supporters, is the fact that a quarter of the 20 million people in the country are foreign immigrants who originally came to work in the cocoa and coffee plantations, often from Mali and Burkina Faso. Gbagbo’s party believes countless foreigners falsified documents to be able to participate in the elections or to become Ivorian. It is the rejection of the foreigners which gave rise to the concept of “Ivoirite” and the near-xenophobic attitude of the supporters of Gbago. It was also a major trigger for the civil war. The “Ivoirite” concept taken to an absurd extent even rejects Alassane Ouattara as a citizen of Ivory Coast. It took a while before President Laurent Gbagbo agreed to validate the electoral list, which eventually allowed 5.7 million people to be eligible to vote. With the second round runoff expected before the end of November, it is hoped that the electoral process can help to unlock the logjam that has taken Ivory Coast away from the pre-eminent place it once occupied in the West African sub-region. A new president will have to find a way to heal the wounds of the past eight years.