Côte d’Ivoire: Deadlock eleven days before the election

By Vincent Duhem
Posted on Tuesday, 20 October 2020 23:50

Ghana Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation speaks to the media in Abidjan
Ghana Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation speaks to the media after a meeting with Ivorian opposition coalition during a crisis prevention mission at the residence of former Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 18, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

After violence on Monday in Abidjan and in some Ivorian cities, ECOWAS has called on opponents Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi Nguessan to "reconsider their call to civil disobedience".

Like his classmates from the André Malraux school group in the center of Abidjan, Jean* did not go to class this Monday, 19 October.

With his beige uniform and small backpack, he walked along the Riviera 2 interchange in search of a woro-woro (collective cab) or a gbaka (mini-bus) to join his mother who works at the Cocody University Hospital.

READ MORE ‘There are worrying signs of the political trajectory’

On the traffic circle, dominated by a large campaign poster by Alassane Ouattara, a bus from Sotra, the public transport company, had run out of fuel. A few dozen young people set it on fire.

“They were new. They blocked the bus, asked the passengers to get out and mugged some of them,” said a salesman. A car with a government license plate also paid the price for its anger. A little further on, towards the village of Anono, barricades made of tables and burnt tires were erected. “Alassane Ouattara, it’s over,” said one of the demonstrators who were set to play cat and mouse with the police throughout the day.

High tension

With less than two weeks to go before the presidential election, tensions have risen sharply in some parts of the country such as Bonoua, Divo, Dabou, and Kotobi (near Bongouanou), where the gendarmerie was ransacked.

Several schools in Abidjan shut down in confusion. The Student and School Federation of Côte d’Ivoire (Fesci) had previously issued a 72-hour strike notice before finally suspending its strike action.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire presidential election: Opposition threatens boycott

The Abidjan clashes were confined to a few neighbourhoods and did not result in any casualties. In Bonoua, on the other hand, one young man lost his life when he was hit by a bullet. Clashes occurred between demonstrators who had blocked the main road and law enforcement officials.

On Saturday, three people died in inter-communal violence in Bongouanou, the stronghold of Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 200 kilometres north of Abidjan.

A curfew was imposed and mediations were organised, allowing a relative return to calm.

However, on Monday, some access to the city remained blocked by roadblocks. “The situation is still very tense. If nothing is done, it will be difficult to organise an election here. Every time there are political tensions at the national level, they turn into conflicts between communities at the local level,” said one elected official.

The protest against Ouattara’s third term in office has already resulted in about 20 deaths. The distribution of voter cards by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was disrupted in 16 localities, forcing the authorities to relocate it to the gendarmerie compound.

Opposition Disavowed by ECOWAS

These events occurred as a new ECOWAS delegation, led by Ghana’s Foreign Minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, was completing its mission.

After meeting with the Ivorian Head of State, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Security, as well as the other presidential candidates – Henri Konan Bédié, Affi N’Guessan and Kouadio Konan Bertin -, ECOWAS issued a statement in which it said it had “noted the continuing mistrust of candidates and political actors” and “the persistence of points of divergence regarding the electoral process.

READ MORE Tidjane Thiam’s discreet meeting with Dominique Ouattara

The mission also “urged the PDCI [Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire] and FPI [Ivorian Popular Front] candidates to seriously reconsider the decision to boycott the election and the call for their supporters to engage in civil disobedience to protest the electoral process,” and encouraged them instead to “work seriously to reach a consensus since they may not be able to control the excesses that would result from their call.

At the end of her meeting with Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, the Ghanaian head of diplomacy also called on opposition activists not to allow themselves to be used “to perpetrate acts of violence, such as blocking roads. “These are criminal activities. In a democracy, if the people must be able to express themselves, it is through the vote,” she continued, dismissing the hypothesis of a postponement of the vote.

Statements that sound like a form of disavowal for the opposition, whose main leaders must reconvene.

On Sunday, Bédié asked for the “personal involvement” of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, “in the resolution of the serious political crisis that still shakes [the] country,” accusing Ouattara of not wanting to “listen to anyone” and refusing “any dialogue.

READ MORE Can Ouattara break into this opposition bastion?

“The opposition is caught in its own trap. It indirectly incites violence and illegal modes of action. And for everyone, the use of violence is a red line,” says a diplomat in Abidjan.

Ouattara on the offensive

Reassured in his position by West African diplomacy, the Ivorian president continues his campaign.

On Sunday Ouattara met with the traditional chieftaincy in Man. As was the case in Bouaké two days earlier, the head of state then complained about his opponents.

“We are four candidates, but there are two who are still hesitating. I am told that they don’t have enough money for the campaign. We’re going to ask the Minister of Finance to give them credit. They talk about dialogue, yesterday the Prime Minister invited them to dialogue, but not all of them came…. They know that if they come to the election, they will be largely defeated. They will be humiliated and that’s what they’re trying to avoid,” he said.

READ MORE Ouattara and Bédié in the shadow of Houphouët-Boigny

Further proof that while indirect contact with Bédié is not impossible, the chances of seeing the positions move closer are diminishing by the day.

Eleven days before the election, is the time for dialogue over?

*not his real name

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