At Stake: Ivory Coast

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Ivory Coast has maintained close ties to France since independence in 1960, the development of cocoa production for export, and foreign investment made Cote d’Ivoire one of the most prosperous of the West African states. In December 1999, a military coup – the first ever in Cote d’Ivoire’s history – overthrew the government. Junta leader Robert GUEI blatantly rigged elections held in late 2000 and declared himself the winner. Popular protest forced him to step aside and brought Laurent GBAGBO into power.

Ivorian dissidents and disaffected members of the military launched a failed coup attempt in September 2002. Rebel forces claimed the northern half of the country, and in January 2003 were granted ministerial positions in a unity government under the auspices of the Linas-Marcoussis Peace Accord. President GBAGBO and rebel forces resumed implementation of the peace accord in December 2003 after a three-month stalemate, but issues that sparked the civil war, such as land reform and grounds for citizenship, remained unresolved. In March 2007 President GBAGBO and former New Force rebel leader Guillaume SORO signed the Ouagadougou Political Agreement. As a result of the agreement, SORO joined GBAGBO’s government as Prime Minister and the two agreed to reunite the country by dismantling the zone of confidence separating North from South, integrate rebel forces into the national armed forces, and hold elections. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of rebel forces have been problematic as rebels seek to enter the armed forces. Citizen identification and voter registration pose election difficulties, and balloting planned for November 2009 was postponed with no future date set. Several thousand UN troops and several hundred French remain in Cote d’Ivoire to help the parties implement their commitments and to support the peace process.
After the 2010 elections, the Presidency has been in dispute as President Gbagbo refused to concede that he had lost the election and there has been unrest ever since. Supporters of Alassane Ouattara have decided to take the fate of their country into their own hands. As of April 1, 2011 they have reached the largest city of Abidjan and taken over the President’s residence. It is our dream that elections in African countries will one day be free and fair and that even an incumbent will concede after a loss. Why do lives have to be lost and a civil war ensue before power can be handed over? This case highlights the important issue of free and fair elections. Since that phrase has become an oxymoron based on the latest elections held in other African countries, we can only hope that Nigeria will lead by example where Kenya and Zimbabwe have failed.