Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo on the campaign trail Photos: AFP/Getty Images

Pressure mounts for election

Published:  29 December, 2009

Further delays to the elections in Côte d’Ivoire despite international pressure for a resolution have prompted concerns over the prospects for a smooth return to unity in the divided country

Pressure is mounting on the government of Laurent Gbagbo in Côte d’Ivoire after further delays to an already vastly overdue election in the West African nation. Mr Gbagbo has been in power since 2000 and his mandate expired in 2005.

The United Nations Security Council issued a statement in December threatening sanctions on “those who would block the progress of the electoral process,” and urging the government to finally come good on its promises to hold a poll.

The country remains split in two, with the south held by the government and the north by the Forces Nouvelles de Côte d’Ivoire, former rebels who launched an attempted coup in 2002. The civil war ended with the creation of a government of national unity in 2003, although the ceasefire agreement failed to hold despite French intervention. An African Union plan, endorsed by the UN Security Council, allowed for Mr Gbagbo to extend his mandate for a year beyond 2005 so that disarmament on both sides could continue. This extension, and a further one in 2006, have both now passed. Under a further deal, Guillaume Soro, leader of the FNCI, became prime minister in 2007, on the condition that he did not contest the forthcoming election.

A proposed November 2009 election was postponed, ostensibly until February or March 2010. However, with Mr Gbagbo insisting that technical problems – including a dispute over the eligibility of nearly 2m Ivorians to vote – make this second date look increasingly unattainable. “The pressure will ramp up, but the omens do not look good for a February or March election,” says Knox Chitiyo, head of the Africa programme at the Royal United Services Institute, a UK security thinktank.

Remi Bello, founder and head of research at B&M Consulting, is concerned by the nationalist direction that the current political discourse is taking. “This is one of the issues that caused the civil war in the first place, and it shows that this issue has clearly not been resolved,” he says. “The discussion over this issue is surprisingly raw and abrasive, considering it’s been quite a few years since the peace agreement.” For Mr Bello, the key question is what role Guillaume Soro plays in the electoral process. Although barred from standing, he is unlikely to accept marginalisation having tasted power at 37 years of age. “The rebels still control most of the north of the country and Mr Soro still has influence within those rebel circles. He’s young, he’s ambitious and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” says Mr Bello.

There are also questions over the the relationship between Mr Soro and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, who was once a victim of the same nationalism that now seems on the rise again. Mr Ouattara was disqualified from the 2000 election after his nationality was questioned. He has been vocal about the government’s lack of progress in resolving some of the original causes of the conflict. Whether this will mesh with Mr Soro’s ambitions in the event of further postponement remains to be seen. “I feel that [Soro] is ultimately going to be the kingmaker,” Mr Bello says. “If things don’t pan out the way he would like then we might see some conflict.”

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