Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast): There is no Democracy Going on There

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The repressive regime of Côte d’Ivoire has proved yet again that for Alassane Dramane Ouattara, democracy is the least of all concerns and that power consolidation by all means necessary is what matters most.

On October 20, 2016, the social media and international TV networks relayed scenes of how, by means of tear gas, clubs, and arbitrary detentions, Ouattara’s police crushed a peaceful march organized by major opposition leaders against the autocrat’s abusive power grab. The sight of Aboudramane Sangaré (FPI), Danielle Boni Claverie (URD), Mamadou Koulibaly (Lider), Ettien Amoikon, Gnangbo Kacou, and other opposition figures being brutalized and unceremoniously tossed in the back of a police truck for opposing Ouattara’s desire to hurriedly rewrite the Ivorian constitution suggests that Côte d’Ivoire is anything but a democracy. Yet, it was in the hope of making Côte d’Ivoire a model state that in 2005 Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Gbagbo Laurent of Cote d’Ivoire took an exceptional measure that made Ouattara a candidate to the Ivorian presidency, despite a constitution that barred him from eligibility.

Indeed, in 2002, President Laurent Gbagbo had been democratically elected for nearly two years when Côte d’Ivoire was cut in two by a rebellion led on behalf of Ouattara, who, in order to circumvent Article 35[1] of the Ivorian Constitution that made him ineligible to run for president, resorted to a coup of force. The coup failed, but the rebellion besieged the Northern half of the country, consolidated its military, economic and political control over the region, and started the business of pillaging the country’s resources with the complicity of some international speculators and politicians, especially with the support of the Chirac government in France. The major demand of the rebellion was that Ouattara’s candidacy to the presidency be allowed despite the constitutional hurdle of Article 35.

As a staunch supporter of the Ivorian Constitution, President Gbagbo refused to give in to this anti-constitutional request. In order to give the rebels’ position a boost, President Chirac of France pretexted that President Gbagbo had ordered a raid on a French military camp in Bouake, in Central Côte d’Ivoire, and consequently, Chirac ordered the total destruction of the Ivorian military air fleets. President Thabo Mbeki, who at the time of France’s aggression against Côte d’Ivoire, was in the country in his capacity as mediator in the Ivorian crisis mandated by the African Union, understood the full inference of Chirac’s involvement: France had openly taken sides with Ouattara and would stop at nothing to make him a candidate. In fact, Chirac made it even clearer when on the night of November 6-7, and on November 9, 2004, respectively from the air, on the Houphouët-Boigny and de Gaulle bridges, and on the ground of the Hotel Ivoire, the French army deliberately shot and killed scores of unarmed Ivorian youths who were peacefully protesting against the presence of French tanks in the neighborhood of the residence of the Ivorian President, Mr. Laurent Gbagbo.

So, fearing the imminent annihilation of Côte d’Ivoire by France unless Ouattara could run for election, President Mbeki urged his Ivorian counterpart to avail himself of Article 48 of the Ivorian constitution to exceptionally, and only for the upcoming elections, allow Ouattara to be a candidate. In effect, Article 48 allows the President of the Republic to take exceptional measures when the circumstances require it, that is to say, when the institutions of the republic, the independence of the nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfillment of its international commitments are under a serious and immediate threat, and the regular functioning of the constitutional public authorities is interrupted. To take these exceptional measures required by the circumstances, the Ivorian President must inform the people after having consulted with the President of the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council. So, with Gbagbo’s authorization through Article 48 of the constitution, Ouattara was able to run an open campaign in 2010 on the entire Ivorian territory, without restriction, while in the Northern part of the country occupied by his rebellion, Gbagbo’s representatives were not allowed to promote their candidate, and on election day, reported intimidation, fraud, and ballot stuffing on behalf of Ouattara were the order of the day.

These irregularities did not get Ouattara the expected results. When on December 3, 2010, the Constitutional Council of Côte d’Ivoire proclaimed Gbagbo the winner of the elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, who by May 2007 had replaced Chirac at the Elysée, but who had vowed to carry on his predecessor’s scheme in Côte d’Ivoire, maneuvered to create a tripartite front with the United States and the United Nations against the elected Ivorian President (through Resolution 1975 of March 30, 2011) and to use then UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s words in order to have “the proper leader … put in place” at all costs, even at the cost of war. And to war the tripartite front went in Côte d’Ivoire. On April 4, France and the UN dropped their first official bombs on the Presidential Palace in Abidjan where President Gbagbo and some of his collaborators were staying. On April 11, 2011, French ground operations broke into the Palace through a tunnel linking it to the French Embassy, captured President Gbagbo and delivered him to Ouattara’s rebel forces, who later deported him to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, the Netherlands, so that Ouattara could rule uninterrupted.

Having arrived in power by way of despoliation of the Ivorian Constitution and war on the Ivorian people, having ruled in the last five years by silencing political dissent through arrests and incarceration of opposition leaders and intimidation and expropriation of the masses, Ouattara is convinced that he has license for implementing the most implausible. So, he cannot conceive that many people in Côte d’Ivoire still dare to oppose his off-the-cuff decisions and dictatorial governing methods. Ouattara cannot comprehend that the Ivorian people, who have struggled for decades to make democratic gains, refuse that he spoil those gains. He cannot fathom that democratic leaders, who were in the trenches battling for democracy in Côte d’Ivoire long before he had discovered Côte d’Ivoire only in the 1990s, refuse that he substitute a constitution that 86.53% of the electorate approved in 2000 with a constitution of his own making, tailored to keep him and his clansmen in power ad infinitum.

Ouattara, who actually knows very little about Côte d’Ivoire and the Ivorian people, does not understand how profound their determination for democracy is; he does not understand that not even severe repression can quell the Ivorian people’s resolve for freedom and democracy. Hours after they were released from Ouattara’s jail, the leaders that were arrested on Thursday, October 20, 2016, renewed their call for continued protests until Ouattara’s dictatorship is crippled. Ouattara, with all his power will not be able to prevail over the Ivorians’will.

[1] “The candidate for the presidency must…. be of Ivorian origin, born of father and mother who are also of Ivorian origin. He must never have renounced his Ivorian nationality, nor have ever claimed he was of another nationality.”

On behalf of the Ivorians of the Diaspora

Martial Frindéthié,

Professor of Francophone studies

Appalachian State University in Boone

North Carolina, USA

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