Apathy as Cote d’ Ivoire Holds Presidential Election
Apathy as Cote d’ Ivoire Holds Presidential Election
By Jules Konan, Ivorian Committee for a Workers’ International sympathizing group
The mood in CÃ´te d’Ivoire is a very unusual one at the moment as the presidential elections scheduled for October 25 approaches. It can only be characterized as a complete apathy towards the outcome, mixed with fear that the country might be going towards a new electoral crisis. Presidential elections in CÃ´te d’Ivoire, as in every country in the world, is usually a highly debated and passionate event, when different factions fight for popularity while the people are called to choose who will lead the country for the next five years. However, this time, most people are really resigned to the fact that Alassane Ouattara, the current president, is going to be re-elected without any serious challenge.
Five years ago, the last presidential elections provoked a new round of civil war, with the country deeply divided between the Laurent Gbagbo camp (candidate of the national petty bourgeoisie, who adopted an anti-imperialist rhetoric though mostly in words) and the Alassane Ouattara camp (a neo-liberal, ex-IMF leader, supported by most imperialist States). Ouattara was able to come to power only with the decisive help of the French and UN armies, including the bombing of Gbagbo’s residence and at least 3000 deaths in street fights all over the country.
But now, with Gbagbo in prison (still waiting for judgement at the International Penal Court since five years), as well as many members of the FPI (Ivorian People Front, Gbagbo’s party), there is no serious contender facing Ouattara. It has to be said also that all main political parties are split on the issue of supporting Ouattara or participating in the elections. This is especially the case of the remainders of the FPI, who split between a boycottist faction and another one that is determined to run for elections and is called collaborationist for this reason and others.
The election campaign has been organized in a very amateurish way. The registration of new electors was rushed, the State media are still only open to Ouattara and his team, there are issues of whether Ouattara should be allowed to run as a candidate because of a xenophobic law in the Constitution that demands that both his parents be of Ivorian nationality and that he resigned from his seat of party chairman. Also the composition of the Independent Electoral Commission is disputed by many people. The regime found it so difficult to convince other candidates to run in these elections, that it has even resorted to offer 100, 000 CFA francs (35000 Naira) to every candidate, outside any legal disposition. However, this has not prevented some high profile candidates such as ex-Foreign Affairs minister and ex-African Union head Essy Amara and liberal politician Mamadou Koulibaly to cancel their bid in protest over the way these elections are being run.
It is true that Ouattara is not devoid of supporters. Under his presidency, CoÌ‚te d’Ivoire has gone back to an appearance of stability and quiet. The economy has been rebuilt, new infrastructure projects are popping up here and there. These are mostly toll bridges and roads, built on the ruins of poor people’s homes and whose tolls are operated by private foreign companies. Also factories are being built, and tourism and agriculture have known the beginning of a new development. CÃ´te d’Ivoire has now become the world’s first producer of cashew nuts and retains a strong lead in world cocoa production, while the prices paid to the farmers have gone up. But for most people, the economic growth has meant nothing in terms of employment and wages. Actually, for many people, the only thing which has gone up over the last 5 years, are prices of consumer products. Even the price of fuel has barely decreased despite the fact that the world oil prices have greatly diminished over the last months.
At the same time, no political movement is allowed to lead an active life. Last week’s march on the State television, which gathered barely 300 people, was the first demonstration to be allowed in the country since Ouattara came to power. Political activists are routinely being arrested at every occasion, including during press conferences. Some people even get sent to prison for just being present near places where meetings should be held, without any reason other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time! Trade unionists also have a very hard time. Teachers on strike can even get ‘visited’ at their homes by pro-regime thugs. At the same time, ex-rebel leaders who caused innumerable deaths and suffering on the Ivorian people during the 10 years of civil war are still not worried and even enjoy comfortable seats in the regime’s administration.
So despite the appearance of stability, the Ivorian people are still as divided as before under the forced smiles. In the West, a small civil war is being constantly led between the native land owners and small farmers and foreigners (mostly from Burkina Faso) who come to take their lands by force, mostly with support from the regime. Paramilitary forces are still making law in some areas of the countryside, and many ex-rebels haven’t dropped their weapons but use them as road bandits. Corruption is rife, especially on the higher levels of society.
Despite all these, the bourgeois ‘opposition’ is not able to do anything. Other than denounce Ouattara’s mismanagement of the economy and insensitivity, they do not propose anything such as an alternative programme. Also, by claiming that Ouattara is not Ivorian and therefore cannot be a candidate, they risk convincing many Northerners who might be critical of the regime to side with Ouattara in defence of their ethnicity and national rights. In the complex condition of Cote d ‘Ivoire and given the history of the civil wars, using ethnic argument as the opposition does is dangerous. Due to the fact that the different State boundaries defined by imperialism do not correspond to the real national and cultural groups as well as migration into Cote d ‘Ivoire from surrounding African countries, many of the Northern population have mixed parentage – having parents coming from Guinea-Conakry, Mali or Burkina Faso. Therefore by invoking section 35 of the constitution against Ouatarra, a large section of the Ivorian population is automatically labelled as foreigners who cannot enjoy certain political and economic rights. Herein lies the bankruptcy of the method of the FPI and bourgeois opposition.
It is clear that the elections will happen and that Ouattara will be re-elected, but most people will still refuse to consider him as ‘their’ president and this might trigger new social upheavals in the near future. This is in addition to the possibility of post-election violence breaking out. It has to be said also that many people are really disenchanted with politics and with the ideas of social struggle, given that the country was allegedly run during ten years by a ‘anti-imperialist’ regime which just made a mess of everything. Given that there is no alternative offered on the electoral front, they do not see a reason to go and vote.
Some radical youth consider the need to drive Ouattara out of power of utmost importance and have decided to side with whichever bourgeois politician seems to have the most chance to win the elections. This is why they are ready to fight for the opposition ‘leader’, Charles Konan Banny, despite the fact that he is an ex-West African Central Bank governor and one of CÃ´te d’Ivoire’s richest people. By all standards, he is as corrupt and inefficient as any other politician.
But all illusion in any wing of the bourgeosie would soon face disappointment. This is because what is behind the crises in Cote d’Ivoire is the iniquitous capitalist system which enriches a few at the expense of the mass majority. The political crises of the last 20 years or so broke out after the relative stability of the country’s first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s 33 year regime came to an end in 1993. Fundamentally, it is a conflict over which faction of the indigenous capitalist class will take political power to run the capitalist system. For the imperialist powers, they are merely siding with whichever wing of the capitalist ruling elite that can best safeguard the system. In all of these and for all the existing capitalist political parties, the interests of the working masses of Cote d’Ivoire, whether of the North or South, are not the primary considerations.
This is why others, including the CWI sympathizer group in CÃ´te d’Ivoire, are starting to draw the lessons of the last ten years and to look for a real radical programme for change based on a working-class political alternative. That radical programme argues that unless the capitalist system is dismantled and imperialism defeated, an end to the social and economic crises will not be in sight. Such a programme would include nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ democratic control and management, first and foremost Abidjan’s harbour (second on the African continent), the banking sector, oil, electricity, transport and establish a State monopoly on foreign trade and especially over the cocoa, cashew, rubber, palm oil and fruit export chains. To be able to do this, the labour movement must be active in fighting for demands that aims to improve the collective living conditions of the working masses of Cote d ‘Ivoire. Such demands should include a call for a raise in the minimum wage, funding for education, employment and measures to bring down the cost of living. Against the stoking of division by the rival wings of the ruling elite, the labour movement have the duty of uniting the working masses through struggle. Obviously however, whatever concessions won through struggle would be temporary so far capitalism remains. Therefore, the labour movement must also take the lead in forming a mass working class political party to lead the struggle for a socialist alternative.
To remove Ouattara, a real alternative needs to come to the fore that can unite all the people of CÃ´te d’Ivoire regardless of their ethnicity, religion or nationality (25 % of the people are foreigners) around a clear socialist programme for change, put into action by the power of the working class. This is a struggle that can only be won on the long run and requires a whole new mindset away from the traditions of bourgeois politics and clientelism. This is why the CWI is using the electoral mood to spread among the people the idea of the need to create a new party based on the working class. Our success will depend on our clarity and perseverance amidst adversity and scepticism.