Category Archives: Côte d’Ivoire

Grant Godfrey – Takeaways from the legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

The Legislature of the Third Republic of Côte d’Ivoire met for the first time on January 9, 2017, having been elected on December 18.  Two seats remain vacant after the Constitutional Council annulled the polls in Divo and KouiblyThe election results are complete enough, however, to draw some conclusions about what to expect going forward:

  • President Alassane Ouattara will continue to enjoy very few political limits. He succeeded in having his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and former president Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party (PDCI) present a joint candidate list to voters, as the Houphouëtist Alliance for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). This is a major step toward the re-unification of the two parties after they split in 1994, reinforced by its victory at the polls: the RHDP can already claim 167 of the Assembly’s 255 seats, an overwhelming majority. It need only obtain 3 extra votes to amend the new constitution without a referendum.
  • Pascal Affi N’Guéssan’s leadership of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) is threatened. N’Guéssan has not been able to mobilize former president Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters at the polls. After receiving less than ten percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential race, N’Guéssan hoped to use rebuild the party with legislative success. The FPI hoped to win 30 seats it could use as a base for rebuilding a party starved for a taste of power. The party only achieved a tenth of that goal. Perhaps the biggest shock from these elections is that the FPI will not even be able to form its own parliamentary caucus.
  • There is no public opinion data to explain why the FPI fared so poorly, but the boycott called for by its hard-core wing, which refuses to recognize Affi’s leadership, surely played some role. Expect the “Gbagbo or nothing” hawks to continue to attack the inclusiveness of the Assembly and the legitimacy of Ivoirian elections and democratic institutions. 
  • In the absence of strong party contests in most districts, commentators looked to voter turnout as a key indicator of popular sentiment. The 34% national turnout rate represents a steep decline of voter participation from the constitutional referendum (42%) and presidential poll (53%). The Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI) once again conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), which was able to confirm the national turnout rate and other process indicators. In the south of the country turnout was even lower: POECI calculated a 15% rate in Koumassi, one of four races where it conducted a district-level PVT.
  • POECI and other civic groups continue to garner credibility, and a corresponding degree of influence, for Ivoirian civil society. The Observatory of the Code of Good Conduct, which monitors a voluntary agreement among political parties and candidates to conduct fair campaigns, again denounced violations when they occurred, regardless of who perpetrated them.
  • Voters are (still) dissatisfied with top-down management of the political process by party leaders. The RHDP victory, while resounding, comes with a pair of black eyes.  The low turnout rate and the victory of 75 “independent” candidates (29% of the Assembly seats) send a clear message that voters don’t want RHDP leaders choosing the people’s representatives for them.  Many of the independents are in fact RDR or PDCI figures, including incumbents who found themselves off the RHDP candidate list.  The Cocody race where incumbent Yasmina Ouegnin beat Communications Minister Affoussiata Bamba by over 10% exemplifies this.  Bamba was “parachuted” into the race by RHDP leadership to face Ouegnin after Ouegnin opposed the constitutional revision process.  While many independents are likely to back Ouattara on most issues, or even re-join the RHDP, their success in such phenomenal numbers illustrates weaknesses inherent in the RHDP and underlying party structures. The ruling coalition seems not to have learned from a similar attempt to impose leaders on constituents in the 2013 local elections. This top-down approach to party management is likely to become increasingly hard to sustain as 2020 approaches.
  • Women gain no ground. Despite the new constitution’s emphasis on gender parity, women were only 12% of the candidates in 2016 and won 29 seats, basically holding steady in their parliamentary presence at 11%. The barriers women face to getting on the ballot are compounded by the same opaque party and coalition nomination processes that gave rise to this year’s unprecedented numbers of independents.

Côte d’Ivoire – Analysis of presidential powers in the new constitution

Have the president’s powers increased significantly in Cote d’Ivoire’s new constitution, adopted by referendum on October 30, 2016, threatening to usher in a dictatorship? Or is the new constitution balanced and likely to bring stability to the country? The new fundamental text inaugurating the country’s third republic since independence in 1960 was passed by an overwhelming majority of votes – 93.4 percent. At 42.4 percent, voter turn-out was, however, well below the 52.9 percent turn-out in last year’s presidential election.

The opposition, led by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), called for a boycott of the vote, alleging the new constitution will vastly increase presidential powers and allow the president to effectively nominate his successor thanks to the introduction of the position of vice-president. Also, a new, indirectly elected Senate with a third of its members to be appointed by the president will serve primarily as a means of presidential patronage, according to critics. The constitutional revision process was furthermore criticized by the opposition and some civil society groups for being rushed and not inclusive enough [see previous blog by Grant Godfrey on the reform process here]. Presidential supporters have dismissed these claims, arguing the new constitution reflects priorities and concerns collected through widespread consultations and will contribute to bringing peace to the country. Specifically, they argue the vice-presidency will help avoid problems of succession as happened at the death of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993.

Ironically, changes to nationality requirements for presidential candidates in Article 35, the most controversial article of the 2000 constitution, were hardly debated. Instead, it was the elimination of the upper age limit for candidates in the new Article 55 which was most controversial. Opponents claim this change will pave the way for President Ouattara who is currently 74 to stand again for reelection in 2020. The claim is dismissed by the presidential majority with reference to the two-term limit enshrined in the constitution and to repeated statements by Ouattara himself that he does not intend to run for a third term.

So what does a close comparison of presidential powers in the new and the old constitution from 2000 reveal? How much has changed? Below I compare various components of the president’s power, using the scale developed by Shugart and Carey (1992).[1] Specifically, I discuss whether there has been an increase in the president’s legislative and non-legislative powers. I also look at transitional provisions of the new constitution.

Table 1. Presidential powers in Côte d’Ivoire, using Shugart and Carey’s scale

  2000 2016
Package veto 2 1
Partial veto (right to veto part of a bill) 3 2
Decree (authority to make law without delegation) 0 0
Exclusive introduction of legislation (reserved policy areas) 0 0
Budget (authority over annual budget bill) 1 1
Referendum (right to initiate referenda) 4 4
Total legislative powers 10 8
Cabinet formation 4 4
Cabinet dismissal 4 4
Censure (assembly power to dismiss cabinet) 4 4
Assembly dissolution 0 0
Total non-legislative powers 12 12
Total 22 20

Contrary to expressed opposition concerns, the president’s legislative powers have actually decreased, according to Table 1. This is because it now only takes an absolute majority of legislators to override a partial or package presidential veto, in contrast to a two thirds majority as required in the 2000 constitution. Shugart and Carey’s scale does not take into consideration presidential powers of appointment of senators. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the ability to appoint a third of the Senate in the new constitution does provide the president with a powerful patronage tool and can increase the presidential majority in both houses combined; however, in the event of irreconcilable disagreement between the two houses of the legislature, it is the lower house (Assemblée Nationale) that prevails (Article 110).

Presidential powers to initiate a referendum have remained unchanged. However, constitutional amendments can now be adopted by a two thirds legislative majority, without the need for approval through a popular vote (Article 177). In that sense, the president’s powers to avoid a referendum have increased.

Non-legislative presidential powers are significant, but have not changed with the introduction of a vice-president. The president has full authority to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet; though the national assembly may organize hearings and commissions of inquiry, its oversight powers are restricted to making recommendations to the government. The legislature cannot censure the cabinet or individual ministers. On the other hand, the president cannot dissolve the national assembly ahead of the end of its five-year mandate. Combined, the president’s legislative and non-legislative powers were and remain significant, higher than for most of the Latin American presidential constitutions discussed by Shugart and Carey (ibid.).

In an apparent effort at avoiding the potential for divided government and gridlock, a transitional article (Article 182) provides for an only four-year mandate for the legislators to be elected at the end of 2016. The next presidential election in 2020 will thus coincide with the start of a new legislature, increasing the chances for presidential and legislative majorities to coincide. Transitional provisions also address the selection and powers of the first vice-president to take office after the constitution enters into effect. Specifically, the first vice-president will be appointed by the incumbent president, Ouattara. Should Ouattara die, be impeached or chose to step down before the end of his term, the vice-president would take over for the rest of the presidential term. However, in such an event, transitional Article 180 would limit this first, non-elected vice-president from exercising full presidential powers, notably from appointing a new vice-president and prime minister, and from initiating constitutional reform.

So to conclude, presidential legislative and non-legislative powers as measured by Shugart and Carey (1992) have not increased in the newly adopted constitution of Côte d’Ivoire. They were high and have been marginally reduced. However, President Ouattara does have new appointment powers (the vice-president, senators) at his disposal as the country transitions to a new constitution – powers which can be used for positioning a preferred candidate for succession and for cementing the presidential majority.

How the combined, significant powers of the Ivorian presidency are wielded over the remainder of the current presidential term and beyond will be of crucial importance for the consolidation of the country’s nascent democratic institutions.

[1] Matthew S. Shugart and John M. Carey. 1992. Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Powers are measured on a scale from 0 to 4, with 4 being the highest.

Cote d’Ivoire’s Constitutional Gamble

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington (DC)

Today, Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara’s cabinet is expected to approve a new draft constitution. The government plans to ask voters to enact it through a referendum at the end of October. While there is broad agreement among political party leaders to revise the current constitution’s conflictual provision that requires both a presidential candidate’s parents to be Ivoirian, Ouattara is expected to go beyond this and propose a new basic law. In his Independence Day speech to the nation, he outlined other major changes, principally the creation of a vice-presidency and of a senate.

A “committee of experts,” composed of renowned jurists, began work on the new text on May 31.  So far, public input has been limited to a series of closed meetings with political, traditional and civil society leaders. Meanwhile, public opinion research indicates that Ivoirians do not consider constitutional reform a top priority. A focus group study carried out by the Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Côte d’Ivoire (POECI) found that citizens would prefer the government address outstanding issues of national reconciliation, unemployment, security and the cost of living. A separate poll confirmed the urgency citizens attach to these issues, and also reported that more Ivoirians support a simple revision of existing provisions, rather than replacing the constitution as the government now plans. According to this research, Ivoirians are not exactly opposed to the president’s reforms, but do question their urgency in light of other priorities.

In the absence of an actual text to debate, talk in Abidjan has focused on the process chosen for producing such an important document and the government’s rush to pass it before legislative elections due by December. The opposition FPI has come out against the project, and a number of civil society organizations have requested that the government postpone the referendum to allow for a more inclusive process and to better inform the public on the subject matter of the vote.

The decision to go beyond the constitutional changes agreed on at Linas-Marcoussis has led to much speculation regarding Ouattara’s motives. The vice-presidency is clearly an attempt to avoid succession controversies, such as the one that followed founding President Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s death in 1993. Some also see it as an attempt by the president to impose a successor and suppress the internal competition between Speaker Guillaume Soro and Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko.  Ouattara seeks to cement his majority by formalizing the union of his Republican Gathering (RDR) party with its coalition partner Democratic Party (PDCI) into a Houphouëtist (RHDP) party, possibly even  before legislative elections. Leadership quarrels within the alliance now could jeopardize the merger. Should it persist after the legislative elections and the FPI win a significant number of seats, the opposition could even hope to work with RHDP dissenters on close votes in the next National Assembly.

Multiplying institutions could create more opportunities for participation by and reconciliation with the opposition, if done inclusively. However, many observers believe that the opportunity to name a vice-president and a large number of senators will instead be used to provide Ouattara with enough patronage opportunities to keep the RHDP coalition together. Indeed, opposition parties’ objections to the expected changes are twofold: the cost of new institutions, and a charge that they will weaken Ivoirian democracy by subjecting even more of the government to presidential control.  

Ouattara no doubt wants to make changes before the 2020 contest starts to overtake policy issues. A defeat of the referendum seems unlikely given his resounding re-election victory last year. However, should Ivoirians decide that they want a greater voice in reforms, a more inclusive process, or that new institutions should depend less on the presidency, the Ivoirian poll could join the Brexit vote as a case study of the unintended consequences of referenda.

Constitutional reforms underway in West Africa

A number of countries in West Africa are undergoing a constitutional reform process, in pursuit of stronger, democratic institutions: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. Senegal held a constitutional referendum earlier this year. In stark contrast to recent constitutional changes and ongoing debates in the Central Africa region – Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where focus has been on extending presidential terms, the declared intent of some of these reforms is to build bulwarks against presidential overreach and overstay.

The constitutional changes in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali follow the violent overturn of democratic processes in all three countries, albeit under very different circumstances. In Benin and Senegal, constitutional reform was a promise of the presidential campaigns of Patrick Talon and Macky Sall, respectively.

Constitutional review commissions in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire are preparing completely new constitutions. A principal concern in Burkina Faso is to find ways to “lock in” presidential term limits and to better balance strong presidential powers. It was former President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at removing presidential term limits that led to his overthrow in October 2014 in a popular uprising. A 92-member commission representing the ruling party, opposition parties (including the CDP of Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) was seated in early June. Its members have two months to present a new draft constitution. The draft will undergo popular consultations, go to the president for comment and be finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. Opposition parties have demanded, however, that the decisions of the constitutional commission be reached by consensus, threatening to walk out on the process otherwise.

In Cote d’Ivoire,  President Ouattara appointed a commission of 10 experts at the end of May, giving them a month to make proposals for a new constitution. During the month of June, Ouattara himself undertook consultations with opposition parties, civil society, traditional leaders and others to receive their suggestions before scheduling a referendum to take place before the end of the year. Key expected changes include the introduction of a vice-presidency and the rewording of article 35 which requires a presidential candidate to be born of both parents of Ivorian origin. The constitutional review process is controversial, however. Opposition parties criticize it for being insufficiently participatory, rushed and ill-timed, as the country has yet to fully heal and reconcile after the 2010 election-related violence.

In Mali, a 13-member expert commission is charged with proposing revisions to the 1992 constitution to incorporate provisions of the 2015 Algiers peace accord signed between the government of Mali and former rebel groups. The constitutional commission will have six months to complete its job. The 1992 constitution is the consensual product of the 1992 National Conference and is vested with significant popular legitimacy. It is unlikely to be completely scrapped and replaced.

The constitutional revision that passed by referendum in Senegal in March of this year shortened presidential terms from seven to five years, and added wording to clarify that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms” (Art. 27). Other articles were amended to provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Court, although changes affecting presidential powers are overall fairly minor.

In an even more radical move, newly elected President Patrice Talon of Benin has suggested that presidential terms be limited to one single term. A 35-member commission with representation from political parties and civil society was charged with proposing a series of political and institutional reforms. The commission submitted its report on June 28. The report includes two constitutional scenarios – one where the current two five-year terms are maintained, the other where they are replaced by one single six- or seven year term. The commission was divided on the issue, as some members were concerned a single term would not provide sufficient incentives for accountability.

The process and focus of these various constitutional reforms vary and reflect different priorities and political realities in each country. Overall, however, the combined picture is one of democratic dynamism that contrasts sharply with the institutional atrophy witnessed in other regions of the continent.

Côte d’Ivoire – Newly reelected President Ouattara turns his attention to the question of succession

President Alassane Ouattara was reelected for a second five-year term on October 25, 2015. He won convincingly in the first round of the poll, with 83.7% of the vote. Voter turnout was 52.9%, according to the independent election commission (CEI). Contrary to 2010 where more than 3,000 people lost their lives in post-election related violence, this year’s presidential election was peaceful and the stakes much lower. With former President Laurent Gbagbo at The Hague, awaiting trial, Ouattara ran against a divided opposition and was favored to win. Attention now shifts to preparing for a peaceful succession in 2020.

The major wager in this election was the voter turnout, which in 2010 was more than 80% for both rounds of the presidential race. Some opposition leaders had called for a boycott to protest against “an electoral masquerade,” in their words. A victory with voter participation below 50% would have been somewhat tarnished, as reckoned by former president of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the ECOWAS observation mission to Côte d’Ivoire. The first turnout figure announced by the CEI on October 27th as results were still being counted was “around 60%,” a figure immediately derided by opposition leaders who claimed the number was in the order of 18%. A civil society coalition that did an independent parallel vote tabulation of the electoral process, POECI (Plateforme des organizations de la societe civile pour l’observation des elections en Cote d’Ivoire), found that voter participation was 53%, with an error margin of plus/minus 1.8%. When the CEI announced the election results on October 28th, an error in the final calculations of the turnout rate led the CEI chairman to announce that turnout had been 54.6%, a number that within hours was corrected downward to the final figure – 52.9%.

The drama around the voter participation rate reflects the deep divisions that persist within Côte d’Ivoire, rooted in political exclusion and an ongoing battle for power between three key leaders – Ouattara, Gbagbo and former President Henri Konan Bedie – since the death of founding father Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993. Despite five years of sustained economic growth during President Ouattara’s first term, little has been done to heal the wounds left by the post-election violence in early 2011 that saw civil warfare in the streets of Abidjan. The three leaders represent Côte d’Ivoire’s three major political parties, the FPI (Gbagbo), the PDCI (Bedie) and the RDR (Ouattara). In Gbagbo’s absence, Affi Nguessan ran as candidate representing a faction of the FPI. Bedie had declined to stand and for the PDCI to present a candidate, supporting Ouattara instead as part of a broader coalition – the RHDP (le Rassemblement de houphouetistes pour la democratie et la paix). Some PDCI stalwarts contested this decision and decided to run as independents instead. With Gbagbo and Bedie not in the running, the real test of Ouattara’s legitimacy lay in the degree to which voters would actually chose to participate in the vote.

With a respectable 50%+ voter turnout rate, President Ouattara now has the mandate to move forward with political reforms that could help heal the rifts among Ivorians and pave the way for a peaceful succession at the end of his second and last term in 2020. Ouattara has indicated that constitutional reform will be an immediate priority. Notably, he wants the infamous article 35 of the constitution removed, which states that to be eligible, both of a candidate’s parents have to be “of Ivorian origin”. This was article was thus worded in an expressed effort to exclude Ouattara himself from standing for election in 2000, when the constitution was adopted. Another possible change is the introduction of the position of vice-president in Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential constitution.

Succession is squarely on Ouattara’s mind: “Je ne pense qu’a cela” (I’m constantly thinking about it). The peaceful transition of power to the next generation would be an important measure of his success at the helm of the state. Introducing a vice-president position could be an attractive means of grooming his successor. Ouattara has even said he could consider stepping down before ending his second term and handing over the reins to a vice-president, if things are going well.

Stabilizing Côte d’Ivoire for the long term would require the development of democratic practices and norms that go beyond patronage (a page from Houphouet-Boigny’s playbook which Ouattara by some accounts has copied). It would require the development of a party system that channels and mediates competing interests, with competing societal programs. Ouattara’s challenge is not just to groom a successor, but to turn the RDR/RHDP coalition into a party/coalition with strong internal democratic norms and practices that can help the rise of a new generation of democrats.

Scott Straus – Making and Unmaking Nations

This is a guest post by Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science and International Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison

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In Making and Unmaking Nations, I set out to understand why genocide occurred in some places but not in others. The answer is complex, of course. But a good part of the story, I found, has to do with long-running political ideologies, which stem from decisions that presidents had made previously. To understand then why genocide happens, or does not happen, leadership matters. I further argue that some of Africa’s first generation of presidents, which today do not often receive credit, had a long-term positive impact on the political trajectories of their countries.

Some background on the project: for the past 18 years, the focus of my research has been genocide. My first book focused on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. From there, I sought to develop a general theory by employing comparative methods. As I worked on that subject, I developed two main critiques of the existing literature. The first is that scholars typically compared genocide cases to genocide cases. A common comparison included the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and Bosnia, for example. The second is that scholars compared cases that were quite different—in terms of world region, historical time period, and the countries themselves.

My research thus privileged two comparative principles. First, genocide cases should be compared to non-genocide cases, in particular ones that possessed many of the drivers that scholars believe cause genocide. The operative question became: what was commonly different among the non-genocide cases compared to the genocide cases? Second, the comparative frame should aim for greater structural similarity among the cases. All told, I decided to focus on post-Cold War Sub-Saharan Africa. For the non-genocide cases, I examined Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal. For the genocide cases, I examined Rwanda and Darfur.

The non-genocide cases all experienced a civil war that could be construed as being fought along identity lines. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, there was a civil war that began in 2002 in which the rebels were based in the north and were primarily Muslim. They fought against a Christian, southern-led government, and the rebels fought in the name of ending discrimination against Muslim northerners. In Mali, in the early 1990s, Tuareg and Arab rebels fought the government in the south, also in the name of their communities. In addition to war, the countries experienced political transition. In Côte d’Ivoire, there was a succession fight, failed elections, and a coup. In Mali, the country was transitioning from an authoritarian system to a multi-party one. Moreover, in each country there was low-level, unpunished violence against civilians committed by state forces and in some countries there were pro-government militias, even hate media. On balance, these factors represented much of the consensus in the genocide studies literature about the causes of the phenomenon.

So what was different about the non-genocide cases? Part of the answer lies with the dynamics of the armed conflict, in particular the level of threat that the rebellions posed to the central governments. In Côte d’Ivoire, an international intervention halted the rebel advance and separated the two sides. In Mali, the rebels were confined to the north. In Senegal, the rebels were restricted to the far south. In contrast, in Rwanda the rebels ultimately overpowered government forces. Darfur is more complicated. There the rebels were limited to the west but they were able to score some significant military success and threaten local, government-allied actors.

But alongside questions of threat, I also discovered an element that surprised me. In particular, in the non-genocide cases, when I conducted interviews with leading military and political actors, as well as intellectuals in the country, they consistently said something along the lines of, “We do not define this fight as a war between one identity group and another identity group.” In effect, they argued that the nation was multi-ethnic or plural. In some cases, they also claimed that dialogue, rather than war, was a founding principle of politics in their country.

That raised the question of why? Why in places like Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal did at least some elites not define the armed conflict in identity terms? Obviously not everyone held such views. In these countries, there clearly were elites who framed the fight as a war between ethnic groups or religious groups. But a significant current did not.

The answer that I develop in the book concerns “founding narratives,” or public stories that define who constitutes the primary political community of the country, who should hold power, and what values, if any, define the national political community. They are “founding” in the sense that they define first principles of the nation and were developed at critical junctures when regimes changed. That included when countries became independent or when regimes transitioned from one type to another, say as they transitioned from authoritarian states to democratic ones.

At these critical junctures, presidents faced and made choices about how to define their nations. In some cases, they explicitly fashioned and promoted a plural or multi-ethnic vision. They said, in effect, “we are a country of many groups,” and they in turn developed policies that allotted institutional or development power across the country. To be sure, there was favoritism, but the vision was of a multi-ethnic nation. In contrast, in other countries, the claim was that the state belonged to a primary identity group, which was said to have political primacy over another identity group that shared the same territory.

To explore this proposition, I developed a database of presidential speeches for the five main countries in the study. For each year, prior to the onset of a military crisis, I selected the same two national holidays when presidents typically delivered addresses to the nation. I in turn sought to track what kinds of themes were developed, and then to see whether those themes reappeared when the military crisis unfolded.

The finding in brief is that presidents in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal consistently developed themes of pluralism, unity, tolerance, and dialogue as fundamental to their nations while in Rwanda and Sudan presidents promoted the idea that the state represented the interests of Hutu and Arab Muslims, respectively. In war, these ideological visions in turn shaped the strategies and tactics that military and political leaders crafted in response to threat. Where the nation was imagined as plural, the idea of fighting a final war against another ethnic or religious group was not in the repertoire of action. By contrast, if elites saw a threat emanating from a group that did not deserve power against a group that did, the idea of a war of destruction against the former group became imaginable.

The story is more complicated than that. One has to ask whether and how these founding narratives took root in a country. One has to ask whether there were counter-narratives and also whether other factors shaped escalation or de-escalation. But in the end I attribute significant impact to ideological visions and to the presidents who developed and promoted them. In Africa, the likes of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Léopold Senghor, and Alpha Oumar Konaré displayed real leadership. They were not saints, but their visions for the nation created bulwarks against genocide and similar forms of mass violence against civilians.

Scott Straus is Professor of Political Science and International Studies at UW-Madison. Scott specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights, and African politics. His most recent book publication is Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa (Cornell University Press, 2015). His introductory book on genocide, Fundamentals of Atrocity Prevention, is scheduled for publication in late 2015 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has also published several books on Rwanda, including The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2006); Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011); and Intimate Enemy (Zone Books, 2006). Scott also co-authored (with David Leonard) Africa’s Stalled Development (Lynne Rienner, 2003), translated The Great Lakes of Africa (Zone Books, 2003) and co-edited (with Steve Stern) The Human Rights Paradox (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). He has also published in the American Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, Foreign Affairs, World Politics, Politics & Society, Journal of Genocide Research, African Affairs, Terrorism and Political Violence, Genocide Studies and Prevention, and the Canadian Journal of African Studies. Scott has received fellowships from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the United States Institute of Peace. In 2009, he was awarded the campus-wide William H. Kiekhofer Distinguished Teaching Award and in 2015 a Distinguished Honors Faculty award. In 2011, he was named a Winnick Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He co-edits the book series Critical Human Rights with Steve Stern. Before starting in academia, Scott was a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Cote d’Ivoire – President Ouattara and coalition backing in 2015 presidential poll

Will the coalition that brought Alassane Ouattara to victory in the presidential run-off in December 2010 hold as a pre-electoral alliance fielding a single candidate for the October 2015 presidential election? With the political geography and party constellation of Cote d’Ivoire dominated by three major parties, no single party can secure a candidate an outright majority. To be reelected, President Ouattara must enlist the support of a critical mass of the 2010 winning coalition, the Rally of the Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), so-called after former President Félix Houphouët-Boigny who ruled Cote d’Ivoire from independence to his death in 1993.

On February 28th, Ouattara won the support of his most important ally, the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire – African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA), in his bid for re-election. In an extraordinary PDCI-RDA party congress, an overwhelming majority of participants voted in favor of supporting Ouattara as the single RHDP candidate for the upcoming presidential race. The PDCI-RDA is the party of former President Henri Konan Bédié who came in third in the first round of the 2010 presidential poll. The PDCI-RDA is a member of the RHDP together with Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and two smaller parties, the Union for Democracy and Peace in Cote d’Ivoire (UDPCI) and the Movement of the Forces for the Future (MFA).

The UDPCI already declared its support for Ouattara at its party congress in December 2013, while the MFA is still holding out on backing Ouattara as the sole RHDP candidate for the fall election.  MFA chairman Anaky Kobena recently announced the question will come up for a vote at a party congress in April. Kobena has complained of the MFA being excluded from cabinet and other government positions, contrary to the other members of the RHDP-alliance: a PDCI member has served as prime minister since March 2012, while UDPCI chairman Mabri Toikeusse is Minister of Planning and Development since June 2011.

The single candidate issue has created divisions within some RHDP-member parties. Within the PDCI-RDA, a group of party leaders, including former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Essy Amara, former deputy speaker of parliament Jérôme Kablan Brou and member of parliament Bertin Kouadio Konan – nicknamed the “Club of Four” – oppose Bédié’s backing of Ouattara. The four boycotted the recent party congress and have declared their intent to present a joint platform. In the MFA the issue has been the opposite – a break-away faction in opposition to Kobena has since 2013 declared its support for Ouattara’s candidacy and threatens to divide the party in two. The UDPCI and the RDR are the only two parties within the alliance where the single candidature is non controversial.

The leading opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of former President Laurent Gbagbo is also suffering from internal factionalism. While FPI chairman Affi N’Guessan wants to run, other FPI leaders insist on the freeing of Gbagbo currently on trial at The Hague as a precondition for the FPI participating in the October election.

The RDR, the PDCI-RDA and the FPI are the three major parties in Cote d’Ivoire, aligned with the country’s three political heavyweights – Ouattara, Bédié and Gbagbo, respectively. In the 2010 presidential poll, Gbagbo won 38% of votes in the first round, followed by 32% for Ouattara and 25% for Bédié. With Bédié’s backing, Ouattara went on to win the run-off with 54% against Gbagbo’s 46%. In 2015, with the support of Bédié and the UDPCI, and with the FPI divided, Ouattara seemingly stands a good chance of reelection, even if the PDCI-RDA and the MFA should split. However, should the FPI decide to boycott and Affi not run, it remains to be seen which candidate(s) would gain the support of FPI voters.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
CAR July (TBC) TBD
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
DRC TBD
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Côte d’Ivoire – Significant progress in dialogue and reconciliation

The violence that followed former President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after his defeat in the 2010 presidential election left 3,000 people dead and deep scars in the Ivorian social fabric. Gbagbo is now awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, while his party, the Ivorian Popular Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien – FPI) is considering its options.  The FPI boycotted legislative and local polls held in 2011 and 2013, respectively, and therefore lacks formal representation in elected office. The FPI has also refused to participate in the Permanent Dialogue Framework (Cadre Permanent de Dialogue – CPD), a forum where the government periodically discusses substantive issues with the opposition.

Real progress on reconciliation only started recently, with the release on bail of 14 Gbagbo loyalists on the eve of Côte d’Ivoire’s national day, August 7th, 2013. The prisoners released included Gbagbo’s son Michel and the chairman of the FPI, Pascal Affi N’Guessan. Shortly after assuming office in 2011, President Alassane Ouattara had established a Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Commission Dialogue, Verité et Réconciliation – CDVR), headed by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. The CDVR struggled, however, to start its work and has thus far had little impact on the reconciliation process. The Commission was recently mandated to continue its work for another year.

With presidential elections in October 2015 fast approaching, the government has multiplied its good-will gestures toward the FPI and Gbagbo-supporters.  The first direct meeting between Affi N’Guessan and former Prime Minister Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou – mandated by President Ouattara to lead dialogue with the opposition – took place on January 15, 2014 and lasted a full three hours. This despite  a public statement by Affi N’Guessan only 8 days prior, declaring Ouattara ineligible to be a candidate in 2015 because of doubts on his nationality. To which the ruling party spokesperson retorted that the FPI wants to revive an old debate, qualifying Affi N’guessan as “a prisoner of war on temporary bail.”

Despite lingering tensions between the FPI and the ruling Rally of the Republicans of Côte d’Ivoire (Rassemblement des Républicains de Côte d’Ivoire – RDR), reconciliation initiatives have recently picked up speed. Late January, nearly 1,300 members of the Ivorian armed forces who had been in voluntary exile returned from Ghana and Liberia, following government guarantees for their safety and an FPI-mission to Accra who met with Gbagbo-supporters in exile there. Reportedly, the number of refugees in Liberia has fallen to 52,000, down from 220,000 three years ago. In early February, 2014, the government announced plans to free another 60 prisoners, with about 700 remaining prisoners still awaiting trial or bail. And on February 6th, Affi N’Guessan met for the first time with Banny and assured him that the FPI is willing and ready to support the CDVR’s efforts of national reconciliation.

The situation appears ripe and the political context conducive for more substantive dialogue on issues of electoral reform in preparation for 2015. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) was invited by the Ivorian government to support such reform efforts and fielded an international delegation in December 2013 that met with leaders across the political spectrum and will issue its recommendations in the coming weeks. Priority reform measures include reconfiguration of the independent election commission and updating of the voters list.

President Ouattara has already announced his intention to stand for reelection. The participation of the FPI in a peaceful presidential poll in 2015 would provide the newly elected president with the legitimacy required to heal a country that has been deeply divided since the death of its first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in 1993.