Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
UN Photo

As Côte d’Ivoire's post-electoral crisis continues, Pierre Sané discusses the circumstances leading up to the contested election results and stresses the need for the country to be left to solve its own problems.

They were to be the elections that would put an end to the crisis, to finally turn the page on Félix Houphouet-Boigny’s inheritance and to set Côte d’Ivoire on the path of peace and development. They were by all means the most at-length and painstakingly prepared African elections, which involved, since the Marcoussis Agreement reached in January 2003,[1] an imposing number of parties: the government, the armed rebellion, the Côte d’Ivoire political parties, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the International Organisation of La Francophonie, France, the European Union and the United Nations, not to mention the successive mediators (the Togolese Gnassingbé Eyadema, the South African Thabo Mbeki and the Burkinabe Blaise Compaoré). Never seen before in Africa!

The polling process had been an intricate consensus between all the parties involved, even if there had been slips at each and every stage. From the open air meetings to the population census, from the creation of the polling list to the issue of national identity cards, from the establishment, then re-establishment of the Independent Election Commission to the distribution of polling cards, the whole process prepared and implemented by the authorities, the opposition and the rebels under the watchful eye of the international community was supposed to lead to an indisputable result. Beyond the Elections Act and the constitution, a code of conduct had been prepared by the political parties in order to guarantee compliance with the rules by all those involved in the polling competition… The cherry on the cake was that the United Nations had been called upon to certify the whole process set up. Never seen before in Africa!

Thus, and after the first ballot, all agreed to validate the genuineness of the round, and both candidates undertook to abide by the outcome of the second ballot. However, once it is all done with, we have two winners. This means a failure and a dead-end, which may drive the country to a civil war much more ravaging than the one it went through between 2002 and 2005. And the only outcome for the winner, whichever side it is, will be to have to rule for a long time against the other half of the country. What happened? How did the situation develop and how can it be sorted out? Beyond cutting judgments, partial siding, overbearing orders and threats, it is crucial to reach an unprejudiced post-mortem that will represent a lesson for Côte d’Ivoire and Africa.

An impartial and unbiased observer of the Ivorian political arena and aware that even if I claim my allegiance to pan-Africanism, one should not allow oneself to order the Ivorian authorities around, especially in an Africa where internal disputes are intricate, and where ballot processes manipulations are more than the rule. From what should have been the ‘perfect’ ballot to the present entangled situation, I have identified four anomalies/mistakes which, in my opinion, have led to glitches resulting in the foreseeable failure of the process. This fiasco should of course be blamed on all the parties involved, whether domestic or international.

The first anomaly involves the non-compliance with the agreements endorsed, which, in particular, set out a framework and schedule for the serene organisation and holding of presidential elections. These terms were outlined in the 4th Amendment to the Ouagadougou political agreement,[2] which outlines a framework for the demobilisation, disarmament and weapons storage, defines the provisions for restoring the state machinery and government authorities throughout the country, while planning the end of the crisis.

Article 3 of the amendment highlights that ‘… in order to support the better organisation of the elections, both Parties have agreed to stimulate immediately, and under the ICC [Integrated Command Centre] and the supervision of the Impartial Forces, the disarmament and storage of the weapons of both former confrontational Forces, as well as the demobilisation of the former New Forces troops. In any event, these operations must be completed at the latest two months before the date chosen for the presidential elections.’

The amendment also specifies the regrouping and cantonment of the rebel forces, the dismantling of militia, the payment of demobilisation bonuses, all ‘due to be completed at the latest two months before the presidential elections’. In addition, article 8 of the same Amendment acknowledges that ‘the absence of reunification of the Country and the slow progress of the institutional and political normalisation critically hinder the organisation of fair, transparent and democratic elections’.

It seems that the above provisions, absolutely crucial to holding open ballots, have not been implemented, the rebels refusing to disarm and making the redeployment of the administration and collection by the state of fiscal and customs income uncertain. The recent events (Iraq, Afghanistan) have shown that it is illusory to expect to hold open and transparent elections in areas controlled by armed rebels.

Why did the international community not insist that the rebels comply with the Ouagadougou political agreement and its four amendments, which they themselves signed and endorsed? Why did the United Nations Security Council not order the rebels to disarm, as stipulated in the Ouagadougou agreement that the council endorsed? Why did Blaise Compaoré, the facilitator and a leading figure in the Ouagadougou process, not apply the required pressure to ensure compliance with this crucial provision? And finally, why did the rebels and their political leader, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, refuse to disarm despite having signed the agreement?

This essential breach of the painstakingly prepared electoral process inevitably would lead to potential violence and intimidation in areas actually controlled by opposition groups in the centre, north and west of the country. The fact that such violence may have affected the validity of the ballot was considered differently by the Constitutional Council and by the representative of the United Nations secretary general in Côte d’Ivoire simply added to the crisis.

As I see it, the second anomaly rests with the composition and operating mode of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Taking the oath at the presidential palace on 25 February 2010 before the Constitutional Council, and in the presence of the facilitator and of the United Nations representative, its members had ‘committed [themselves] to fulfil their assignment in compliance with the Constitution, and with complete impartiality’.

However, this commission consists of 31 members, 11 representing the constitutional bodies and 20 issued from the political parties and rebel groups. It seems to be a unique situation in Africa that among the 20 representatives of the political parties and rebel groups in the commission, 18 belong to the opposition and two to the party in office! Even supposing that the constitutional bodies delegates (11) are close to the government, it would still only add up to 13 against 18. One way or the other, the ‘independent’ commission is in point of fact controlled by the opposition! Its chair is a senior member of the opposition coalition, and a former PDCI (Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire) minister in the Gbagbo cabinet. Strangely, all its members were appointed by presidential decree! And among the 18 members representing the opposition, six stand for three rebel groups (MPCI, MPIGO and MJP) which merged a long time ago with the New Forces, and eight who come from four opposition political parties (PIT, UDPCI, MFA and UDCY), which at the first presidential ballot only managed a combined score of 3.5 per cent of valid votes, the four others representing the RDR and PDCI. Never to be seen in Africa … or elsewhere!

And still, the 2001 electoral law only made provisions for ‘two representatives of each political party or group with at least one MP at the National Assembly or having won at least one local council election’.[3]

Meanwhile, there had been an attempted coup, an armed rebellion, the dispatch by France and the United Nations of intervention forces, and the instigation of the political ballet leading from Marcoussis to Ouagadougou, via Accra and Pretoria. It is in Marcoussis that such a composition was devised, regardless of the Ivorian constitution endorsed two years earlier by the vast majority of the people, and notwithstanding the most basic impartiality rules.

In addition to this rather odd composition (and probably to limit its consequences), a decision-making module was added, which will definitely lead to a blockage: consensus. This blockage resulted from the disagreement over the way the outcome from several northern districts in the country, from the opportunity to disclose temporary ballot results considering the lack of consensus, and from the removal of authority from the Electoral Commission by the Constitutional Council. It is pursuant to this removal of authority that the IEC chair, a member of the opposition, has hastily and amidst great confusion declared non-consolidated results, and moreover not even validated by all the IEC central commissioners and, most unusually, from the campaign HQ of the opposition candidate, i.e., his own!

Previously, a picture had circulated around the world, that of papers ripped away from the very hands of the IEC spokesperson, a member of the opposition. The perpetrator, an IEC central commissioner and representative of the interior minister, justified his action before the media: ‘The operating mode we mutually agreed upon outlines that before the results are made public, they must be consolidated by the Central Commission. The matter is that Mr Bamba Yacouba’s actions are a blatant breach of the operating mode unanimously endorsed by the IEC’.

It is therefore obvious that the Electoral Commission did not abide by its pledge of impartiality and compliance with the constitution. However, considering its composition, operating mode and the stakes, how could it be otherwise? Can one be both judge and judged? Why should one consider that the results collected and disclosed by the sole chairman of the commission (and the commission has not to date ruled on the issue) are a fair reflection of the electorate’s majority wishes? And, crucially, why was such composition of the Electoral Commission ever imposed?

In any event, the 2008 decree amending the Electoral Code for the end of crisis poll outlines that the final announcement of the outcome is within the exclusive remit of the Constitutional Council, the disclosure of temporary results by the IEC being only one stage in the electoral process. And this is where, in my opinion, rests the third mistake. It is due to the haste of the Constitutional Council. The issue here is not to challenge its legitimacy or the legality of its action. Like anywhere else, its composition and assignments are determined by the constitution. Also, and like anywhere else, its chair is appointed by the executive leader. Arguing that the chair is somewhat close to the president is therefore not admissible. It is the same everywhere.

Just as it is everywhere else, Côte d’Ivoire Constitutional Council is the sole judge of the constitutionality of the laws. It ‘controls the fairness of referendum operations and of the election of the people’s representatives’.[4] It ‘rules on the eligibility of candidates to the presidential and legislative elections, on the disputes linked to the election of the President of the Republic and Members of Parliament. The Constitutional Council announces the final results of the presidential elections’.[5] It is under the provisions of this mandate that the Constitutional Council cancelled the ballot in seven districts (out of the eight challenged), on the grounds of five appeals introduced by candidate Laurent Gbagbo based on irregularities involving ‘the absence of his representatives and delegates in the polling stations; ballot-boxes stuffing; conveyance of records of proceedings by unauthorised individuals; voting obstruction; absence of polling booths; and rigging of valid vote numbers’.

Based on evidence provided to support the demands, the Constitutional Council cancelled the ballots in the relevant districts, and readjusted the results, thus leading to confirm Laurent Gbagbo as the winner.

However, since the decision of the Constitutional Council is final and not subject to appeal, and considering the unusual circumstances, why did the council not take the time to make further enquiries on the demands submitted by candidate Laurent Gbagbo, and maybe even ask candidate Alassane Ouattara to introduce his own queries without challenging non-compliance with the deadlines? Similarly, why did it not order a new ballot in those districts disputed by requesting that the government involve the armed forces and the United Nations troops to guarantee security in the polling stations of these seven districts? Or just cancel the ballot, and hold it again after 45 days as outlined in the decree?

This nevertheless remains a decision by the supreme court of the country, and it is not ours to challenge here as it has happened so often in a number of other African elections, and even elsewhere (such as, for instance, the struggle between George W. Bush and Al Gore in the United States). I can understand that the swiftness implemented aimed at counteracting the chair of the Electoral Commission, but this unavoidably created a suspicion of prejudice.

The last rush and anomaly were of course the official recognition of the outcome by the representative of the United Nations. During a press conference held in Abidjan on 12 November 2010, the United Nations General Secretary Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Choi Young-Jin had certified the final results of the first ballot of the presidential election held on 31 October 2010, six days after their announcement by the Constitutional Council. Relying on the five certification criteria (peace, inclusivity, access to state media, finalised polling list and results), the UNOCI leader had considered that the first ballot of the presidential election had been held in ‘an overall peaceful and secure environment despite isolated incidents, in particular intimidation actions and obstruction to free movements in some regions’.

It was the first time in its history that the UNO was entrusted with such a role. Pursuant to the Pretoria Agreements (2005),[6] the Security Council had, through its resolution No. 1765,[7] had entrusted the United Nations general secretary special representative with the exclusive and personal certification mandate. The resolution emphasises that ‘the Certifier must safeguard the legitimate results with honour and determination. He will ensure compliance with the results, that the winner is effectively the candidate who came out ahead, that the results be neither democratically disputed nor subject to compromise.’

Relying on the compliance with the above-mentioned criteria, the certification by the general secretary special representative involves the various stages of the electoral process, the safeguard of ‘legitimate results’ and the prevention of ‘non-democratic disputes’. The crucial issue which requires clarification is therefore definitely the meaning of ‘legitimate results’. Are they interim results? Or final results? Those announced by the Independent Electoral Commission, or those published by the Constitutional Council?

Legitimate means compliant with the law. In this very instance, the legitimacy of results derives, like in any democracy, from the body imparting such legitimacy, i.e., the Constitutional Council. Why did the United Nations secretary general special representative not work on the results proclaimed by the Constitutional Council, and decide to certify them or not, as was the case for the first ballot? In the event of enduring disagreement, why would he not have thoroughly checked the cancellation criteria brought forward by the Constitutional Council, and assessed their validity, and even required, under those exceptional circumstances, that Alassane Ouattara submit ‘democratic divergences’, then transmit a report to the Security Council?

No election is ever perfect, whether in Africa or elsewhere. And nobody can today pretend unequivocally that either won the presidential election, and in particular if the petitions filed were justified or not. This is why a judicial body is the one to which the law confers last resort authority to determine and decide the final outcome of the ballot. During the past decade, many elections in Africa were challenged.

Only the decisions made by the supreme judicial bodies have conferred victory to one of the candidates. Such should have also been the case in Côte d’Ivoire, unless the legitimacy of its Constitutional Council is challenged, which would be against the resolutions of the Security Council on Côte d’Ivoire: They all state that ‘[they] confirm its definite regard for the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of Côte d’Ivoire, and endorse the significance of good neighbourhood, non interference and regional cooperation principles’. Supervision by the United Nations does not in any way affect the Ivorian constitution.

The haste with which the certifier declared a winner undoubtedly contributed to the present deadlock, contrary to what occurred in Guinea where the various bodies took their time, thus allowing the tensions to dwindle.

All these malfunctions have drawn Côte d’Ivoire to the brink of civil war, and the crucial issue now is to avoid it.

How can that be sorted out?

Since the FPI (Ivorian Popular Front) came to power in 2000, one must admit that this party has never been able to run Côte d’Ivoire peacefully. Having suffered a coup, followed by an aborted armed rebellion which led to a de facto partition in 2002, the regime has been imposed by the international community a power sharing arrangement, which has seen its opponents, and even the rebels, exercise part of the power, including control over the Electoral Commission, hence over the election process.

Instead of punishing the rebels and their support, they were offered ministerial jump seats, imposing consecutive prime ministers until appointing the rebels’ leader in the position (expected to be neutral during the oncoming presidential elections). What they did not achieve through armed rebellion was offered to them on a silver tray by the international community, without getting in counterpart disarmament and country reunification.

It is therefore understandable that half of the country, which supported President Laurent Gbagbo, has grown a defiant attitude towards this international community, which hurried to acknowledge the interim results, hence ignoring the democratic process and the constitutional rules of the country. On the other hand, the other half of the country considers that only the involvement of the international community can protect the reliability of the ballot. Henceforth, orders and injunctions can only enhance the divisions that hit the country. As for an armed intervention, and whatever may be the alleged reasons put forward, it would have immeasurable consequences in the whole region. Also, and even if Alassane Ouattara or Laurent Gbagbo were to be in power, they would be disregarded by half of the country and reigning over a ruined community.

What is now an absolute must is a political dialogue, but this time it has to be an internal interchange without interferences or go-betweens. Just let the Ivoirians deal with their own issues!

They are solely responsible for finding a way out of the crisis, and crucially for the future management of their country’s resources – in particular the significant oil reserves which attract a lot of lust as all over Africa.[8]

While awaiting the end of the crisis, it is imperative that everyone is fully concerned with preventing violence on both sides, and ensures that any allegation of human rights violation is subjected to impartial local judicial enquiries, and swift and appropriate punishment. It would indeed be foolish to believe that in such an environment, violence is only on one side. There is no such thing under these circumstances as the ‘good ones’ and the ‘bad ones’. Africa nowadays is subjected to a struggle for power which, beyond the obvious ethnic and religious national divergences, essentially opposes two concepts of society, and which, in simple words, see leaders promoting global liberalism to others, who support a sovereign and socialist pan-Africanism.

As we celebrate 50 years of independence, all Africans should consider what is really at stake through today’s events in Côte d’Ivoire. Gullibility after 50 years is unforgiveable!


* Pierre Sané is the former Amnesty International secretary general and former UNESCO assistant director general.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] 2003 Marcoussis (France) Agreement
[2] 2007 Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) Agreement
[3] Article 5 of the Law No. 2001-634 dated 09 October 2001, outlining the composition, organisation, attributes and operation of the Independent Electoral Commission
[4] Article 32 of the Constitution of the Côte d’Ivoire Republic
[5] Article 94 of the Constitution of the Côte d’Ivoire Republic
[6] 2005 Pretoria (South-Africa) Agreements
[7] Resolution No. 1765 endorsed by the Security Council on 16th July 2007
[8] ‘It is a promising area, where geological discoveries are quite similar to the significant findings uncovered in neighbouring Ghana’, says Marc Blaizot, geo-science director of the Total exploration and production department. ‘Present knowledge suggests that the reserves could amount to as much as 1.5 billion barrels’. From Jeune, 23rd October 2010.