Côte d’Ivoire: The Ghosts Of The Past

By Lassina Jacques Saade *

The more political tensions rise in Côte d’Ivoire, the more Ivorians are haunted by the ghosts of the past. The inhabitants of the country of the late Felix Houphouët-Boigny fear a recurrence of the deadly clashes that had punctuated the 2010 presidential election. That was a deep political crisis lasting several months amid a civil war whose macabre toll was estimated between 900 and 3000 dead.

It is therefore with great apprehension that the population awaits the next Presidential election set for October 31, 2020. Once again, the same actors from the previous crisis are vying for the coveted post of President of the Republic. The candidacy of Alassane Ouattara, the outgoing President, is contested by his rivals who maintain that the constitution does not allow him to run for another term after his ten years as the head of state.

Henri Konan Bédié

The former president, Henri Konan Bédié, stepped down from his post following the coup d’état of December 24, 1999. Now he wants to take his revenge by standing as a candidate of the PDCI, the party that reigned over Côte d’Ivoire for decades. But Bédié’s candidacy did not go smoothly, and he had to end it with an alliance contracted with Ouattara for the elections of 2010 and 2015, thus containing the ambitions of the young wolves who deemed him too old, 86, to be a standard-bearer.  

Despite his legal quarrels at the International Criminal Court, Laurent Gbagbo’s candidacy was submitted by his unconditional supporters grouped within the GOR movement (Gbagbo or Nothing), but it was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Cote d’Ivoire.

Although the urgency for the former flagship of the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) is to regain his freedom and return to the country, his supporters are steadfast and demand his re-registration in the electoral roll. Closing the list of former protagonists of the 2010 crisis, there is the hot and fiery Guillaume Soro, ex-prime minister and ex-president of the National Assembly who is keen to present himself under the banner of his new party, Générations et Peuples Solidaires, created after a quarrel with Alassane Ouattara whose advances he rejected to continue to campaign within the RHDP, the Rassemblement des Houphouetistes for Peace and  Dévelopment.

But the constitutional court ruled Soro’s candidacy inadmissible because he had been sentenced to twenty years in prison for “concealment of embezzlement of public funds” and “money laundering” by the Abidjan criminal court. He has also been prosecuted since late December 2019 for an alleged “insurgency” attempt. But Guillaume Soro and his supporters do not see it that way and he tells whoever wants to hear it that either he is restored to his rights or the presidential election will not take place. All of this contributes to creating psychosis and fear as the population lives with expectations.

It must be said that beyond the personal ambitions of each other, and also political intrigues, the vast majority of Ivorians do not want their country to reconnect with the demons of the past. But there are candidates for this presidential election whose name alone evokes difficult times and painful memories

The prescriptions of the “Daoukro Sphinx.”

The name Henri Konan Bédié, for example, will forever be associated with the concept of Ivoirité, the anti-breaker law, and an electoral code designed to exclude political opponents from the electoral game. Under the pretext of Africanizing the republican institutions and preferentially placing Ivorian executives in positions of responsibility, Henri Konan Bédié will take the opportunity to stuff the administration with militants and supporters of his party, the PDCI. Anyone who was suspected, rightly or wrongly, of having a bent for the Opposition was outright fired.

The victims of this open discrimination were numerous, and they were Ivorians with northern sounding names, foreigners who had lived and worked quietly in this country during the years of peaceful reign of President Felix-Houphouët Boigny. This very widespread and insidious ivoirité policy leads to real social unrest.

President from 1993 to 1999, Henri Konan Bédié was also the architect of an electoral code both tailor-made and intended to oust his main political rival, Alassane Dramane Ouattara. The provisions of this code stipulate that any candidate for president or that of deputy to the National Assembly should have lived continuously in Côte d’Ivoire for the five years preceding the date of the elections and he must not have obtained the nationality of another country. In its article 49, the code stipulates among other things that “no one can be elected president of the republic if he is not over 40 years of age and if he is not Ivorian by birth, born of both father and mother. – the same Ivorians by birth .” These are the provisions of the law that the Ivorian authorities will use against Alassane Ouattara to deny him his Ivorian nationality.

But they did not expect the courage of a young judge, Zoro Bi Ballo Epiphane, who challenged the regime of Henri Konan Bédié by issuing in September 1999 a certificate of nationality to Alassane Ouattara. The latter will be prosecuted by the authorities for forgery and the use of forgery because of his certificate of nationality. The rest is history, but it is not surprising that many observers have characterized these provisions as an electoral code of exclusion.

But that’s not all. Since Henri Konan Bédié’s regime had also put in place an anti-breaker law that makes it liable for damage caused during a mass demonstration, it was under this law that on October 27, 1999, the authorities sentenced to 2 years in prison several RDR officials who had been arrested, including Ms. Henriette Diabaté. This arrest and the authorities’ refusal to release the defendants triggered the coup against Bédié on Christmas Eve, 1999.

Laurent Gbagbo

If the Ivorians hoped for a change of policy with the arrival of Laurent Gbagbo to power, they quickly become disillusioned. Indeed if the new president is not the designer of Ivoirité, he will be the one who, for ten years (2000-2010), carried out the many facets of this controversial policy to the letter. While the law originally aimed above all at putting an end to Alassane Ouattara’s presidential ambitions and neutralizing potential competitors, it found applications in almost all spheres of Ivorian society. And the populations themselves have ever since felt the repercussions of this pernicious doctrine.

There is no shortage of anecdotes on this subject and Ivorians are always ready to tell you, sometimes with humor, cases of abuse, humiliation, and denial of their rights. Even to obtain a simple travel document, one could be exposed to the worst treatment. To renew a passport, for example, you had to prove that your parents are Ivorian, even with a valid certificate of nationality. The police always told you invariably that the certificate of nationality has no value because in the court there, “they do whatever.”

The procedure, therefore, required coming with another parent who would be able to validate the information contained in the file. It was absolutely necessary to submit to this shameful and discriminatory procedure since it applied only to northerners who were thus victims. Woe to him who protests! Once your back was turned, you would simply tear up all your papers. The experience of an 80-year-old lady in this regard was quite uplifting, but also heartbreaking. This octogenarian who wanted a passport to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca had the surprise of her life when she was refused the issuance of her travel document.

The policewoman who spoke to her told her that there was no proof that she was born in Odienné. Faced with the disbelief displayed by the old lady, the policewoman went to find an interpreter to explain clearly to the mother in the Dioula language what it was. It is, therefore, a fellow of 1.90 m who came up in front of the old lady to tell her this: “But Mum, I studied in Abidjan, I am settled in Abidjan, I work in Abidjan, my children were born in Abidjan, but does that mean that they are Ebriés.”

Let us remember that the Ebriés are the indigenous populations of the region of Abidjan and its surroundings. Incredible as it may be, the old lady had no choice but to nod as she wiped away her tears between sobs.

The specter of rebellion

There remains only Guillaume Soro, the leader of the GPS party. Despite his relative youth, he is part of the class of elders who carry the embers of Ivorian politics. Despite the fact that he held the high positions of Prime Minister and President of the National Assembly, his name remains rather associated with the rebellion that shook Côte d’Ivoire during the 2000s.

Guillaume Soro

Guillaume Soro was the Secretary-General of Forces Nouvelles, a coalition of a rebel movement whose armed elements controlled the central, northern, and western part of Ivorian territory.

The fights between the New Forces and the loyalist forces of Laurent Gbagbo were sometimes very hard and caused many victims. Many years later, Ivorians remain very affected.

Many will tell you that they were locked up for days on end, with little food on hand, not daring to venture outside. They will all tell you that they would never want to relive such events again. That’s why Guillaume Soro’s recent fiery speeches have sent shockwaves across the country.

Will the leader of GPS be able to carry out his threats? The near future will tell. For now, the vast majority of Ivorians sigh when speaking of Guillaume Soro, before invariably concluding in the same way: “Too bad he was in such a hurry. He should have been patient and stood by President Ouattara, power was going to fall to him without difficulty. It was for him but alas, he has said too much! And he continues to criticize the president. Pity!

It emerges from all this that the Ivorian populations no longer want to go back. The preservation of peace, social tranquility, and economic development remain the most important issues for everyone. However, the past ten years have been the most peaceful in Côte d’Ivoire after the boom years of the Felix Houphouët-Boigny era. And so far President Alassane Dramane Ouattara has been its guarantor, symbol, and hope.

* This article originated from in AlloAfrica News

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