Côte d’Ivoire Votes: What is At Stake One Year Later

This post was originally published on UN Dispatch on December 12, 2011.

One year after the presidential election that caused the country to descend into chaos, Côte d’Ivoire held its first parliamentary election since 2000 yesterday, Sunday December 11. Media reports concur on a few points: voter turn-out was low and the election was generally peaceful, in spite of the boycott by pro-Gbagbo supporters.

The low turnout on Sunday can perhaps be explained in part because of the raw memories of the 2010 vote, and in part because of a generally apathetic view towards parliamentary elections, according to the National Electoral Commission Chair, Youssouf Bakayoko. BBC correspondent John James suggests that a combination of these elements, as well as the fact that the parliamentary assembly has limited powers, can explain the low level of participation. Because of the boycott by the pro-Gbagbo opposition party, most of the 1,000+ candidates hail from the governing party coalition, leaving little room for genuine choice in the ballot box.

Since Alassane Ouattara came to power last spring, he declared that legislative elections would be held in December – with or without Gbagbo’s opposition party – and, indeed, he has kept his word. As with the recent presidential election in Liberia, the lack of opposition participation weakens the democratic nature of the vote, as well as the mandate of those elected. A boycott in a parliamentary election, however, is likely less damaging for Ouattara. The fact that these elections were held, as originally planned, plays in his favor.

While the parliamentary elections have been hailed by Ouattara and the UN as a “step toward reconciliation”, it remains to be seen how Gbagbo supporters will react to the official announcement of the results on December 18th. As suggested by reports from Al Jazeera, Gbagbo supporters still have major grievances that remain unaddressed. The boycott itself, both by Gbagbo’s party and by his supporters who did not cast their ballot, suggests that much still needs to be done to ensure that tensions between different factions are not rekindled.

As Laurent Gbagbo’s trial in The Hague unfolds under the auspices of the International Criminal Court, it will be important to observe the repercussions in Côte d’Ivoire. Furthermore, the legitimacy and democratic nature of Ouattara’s government will continue to be tested in 2012. The parliamentary election will very likely hand Ouattara a good amount of legislative power, with a probable majority. How Ouattara will wield this power, and whether opposition parties, news media and individuals will be given the freedom and political space they need to operate and share their views, remains to be seen.

Côte d’Ivoire: Le couple Gbagbo inculpé de “crimes économiques”

This post was originally published on UN Dispatch. C’est le premier billet en français que l’éditeur m’a commandité, donc c’est un essai. Amis francophones, j’aimerai beaucoup savoir ce que vous en pensez.

C’est un premier pas pour la justice en Côte d’Ivoire: Laurent et Simone Gbagbo – assignés à résidence dans le nord du pays depuis leur capture dramatique et médiatisée du 11 avril dernier – ont été inculpés hier par le procureur de la République d’Abidjan. L’inculpation porte sur les “crimes économiques” commis par l’ancien président et sa femme. Le procureur a annoncé le jeudi 18 août lors d’une conférence de presse que les chefs d’inculpation contre Mr. Gbagbo concernaient notamment “vol aggravé, atteinte à l’économie nationale, détournement de deniers publics, pillage.

Continue reading “Côte d’Ivoire: Le couple Gbagbo inculpé de “crimes économiques””

PSA: An unmissable seminar on Côte d’Ivoire

I just received an email advertising a seminar that is truly unmissable if you’re interested in Côte d’Ivoire (or West Africa more broadly) and humanitarian law. Next Thursday, May 12th at 9:30 am, the Harvard Humanitarian Law and Policy Forum is hosting a live (online) seminar entitled Côte d’Ivoire: Assessing the International Response. Speakers include some of the brightest minds on West African affairs – Mike McGovern from Yale, Corinne Dufka from Human Rights Watch, for instance – and will look at the following questions:

This Live Seminar will examine the international community’s response to the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. Though the widespread violence is generally subsiding with the arrest of former President Laurent Gbagbo, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire continues to raise a number of concerns in terms of protecting civilians and adequately addressing their needs. This Seminar will address the following questions:
–What legal frameworks apply to the situation, and what forms of protection do they provide to civilian populations?
–What political, normative, and operational dilemmas arise for (elements of) the international community in responding to the ongoing crisis?
–What is the role of relief and development efforts in the current context?
–Has the response of the international community been appropriate and effective?

Register here

I’ll probably post some kind of summary of this either here or for UN Dispatch. If you have a chance to tune in, I’d love to know your thoughts/reactions afterward.

Battle for Abidjan

I don’t want to draw the parallel too much, but as I wrote for UN Dispatch yesterday, I think there might be a useful historical comparison between the current events in Cote d’Ivoire and the siege of Monrovia, which precipitated the end of the second civil war in Liberia in 2003.

Of course, things were quite different in Liberia. Following more than decade of unrest, the country was in shambles, and there was little restraint among warring factions. I’m not on the ground to confirm, but other than the horrifying massacre at Duekoue, I have not heard many reports of widespread, indiscriminate, full-blown violence. For all the differences between the two conflicts, Laurent Gbagbo’s desperate hold on power is profoundly reminiscent of Charles Taylor’s in Liberia. Like Taylor, Gbagbo has his most loyal men controlling key areas, while he continues to sit in the presidential palace. Monrovia’s unique geography played into the hands of advancing rebel forces, who were able to isolate Taylor in the center of Monrovia by taking over bridges leading into the city. In Abidjan, the layout is different, but, similarly to Monrovia, there are islands and bridges, which are strategically important in urban warfare – whoever gains control of access routes has the advantage.  The airport, which is currently controlled by UN and French forces, is on an island. The presidential palace sits on a peninsula.

I don’t know how long this siege will last. Gbagbo will not step down, and will not leave easily. The best case scenario is that he’s currently negotiating exile conditions in a third country and will get airlifted with his family. Worst case scenario is that the presidential palace where he sits is stormed by rebels and he is killed. At this stage, I’d say both of these possibilities are equally as realistic.

It’s our responsibility to bear witness to what is happening in Cote d’Ivoire now. Unspeakable crimes have already been committed by both sides of the conflict, and will continue to happen. Media and public attention are not silver bullets, but along with the real threat of prosecution, may help attenuate the levels of violence. At least, that is my hope.

Photo credit:
Côte d’Ivoire – Reuters
Liberia – Corbis/Jehad Nga