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While months of political stand-off between two self-proclaimed Ivorian presidents may have come to an end, genuine political and economic liberation for the country’s people is far from being achieved, writes Maurice Fahe.

When the first round of Ivorian presidential elections left a tie between the outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, a candidate to his own succession, and Alassane Ouattara, who for a long time had had doubts surrounding his nationality, to the delight of many, an air of profound tension or even fear could be felt.

Gbagbo had to win, if only to confirm once and for all ‘who is who’ in Côte d'Ivoire. In other words, he clearly had the intention to undo the illegitimacy associated with his reign. After all, hadn't he offered his critics, and the most vocal amongst them, Alassane Ouattara, the unique opportunity to run for elections, the only elections in 2005 that would eventually take place in October–November 2010? In any case, Ouattara's defeat at the polls appeared inevitable to him. Was it then necessary to amend Article 35 of the constitution, as had been suggested to him during the Marcoussis Agreement? Would he also prefer the exception to reforms? He could only but win! Wasn't the slogan of his political party, the Front Populaire, ‘win or win’, evocative enough? Didn't he control one of the keys to paradise, the Constitutional Council, which he had constitutionally stuffed with his allies, had appointed a close confidant as its president, Yao N'dre, a professor in international relations, who joined politics without any socialist conviction, save for the fact that he had once been in the opposition and was a former internal affairs minister?

Comforted by several opinion polls which depicted him victorious, the support from patriots, the militia and the army, Gbagbo was determined to assemble all means necessary to disarm the rebellion by force once his electoral victory had been announced. As 100 per cent president and 100 per cent presidential candidate, Gbagbo had at his disposal the state machinery. However, since the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) remained out of his reach in Pretoria, he would thus attack it despicably.[1] Faced with the impossible task of altering the composition of the CEI, would he then be able to at least change its president? His only point of honour was to ‘deworm the electoral register’ which had been reduced to 5,727,000 voters in a country that counts 22 million inhabitants. Having finished top in the first round of elections, Gbagbo decided to compensate his mediocre performance in the media between the two electoral rounds, with an aggressive campaign marked with a return to the drawing board. ‘A 100% candidate for Côte d’Ivoire,’ he rallied himself behind national-ethnicism, a concept which had long been forgotten. He would also push the electorate to tension. On the eve of the election day, and with the executive power in place, Gbagbo went ahead to declare a curfew and then decided to send his army to requisition the north in a bid to ‘safeguard’ the elections.

Since the demise of Félix Houphouët-Boigny and the opening to elections of the coveted position he held for 36 years, Ouattara's attempts to succeed him had at every effort been thwarted by all manner of strategies. His political interest compelled him to win, if only to give sense to the endless chorus that Gbagbo would never have been president had the efforts of the main opposition candidates, at whose helm Ouattara had of course placed himself, not been frustrated. For over a decade, Ouattara had prepared himself as presidential candidate, and now that the course of events offered him the opportunity, he had no intention of wasting the moment! To be a candidate, a unique opportunity in the only elections in 2010, meant little to him, given that he too believed in his unquestionable victory. This absolute certainty was so obvious to him that it seemed a belief. A former assistant director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ouattara had the backing of several magnas of international finance and business mediums of the triad.

In addition, and this was not the least of his advantages, Ouattara had priceless support from the armed rebellion. The latter did not have, at least not officially, a candidate in the run for elections, but it was obvious that Ouattara had earned their favour. If the massive presence of the rebels within the CEI aimed at ensuring transparency in the electoral process, it would be foolhardy not to think that they would not use this opportunity for other purposes. A partisan to the ‘live together’ mantra and a liberal, Ouattara seemed to fight for the triumph of the republic, where Gbagbo and proclaimed defenders of public institutions were attacking one of the fundamental principles of the republic, the equality of all citizens. Ouattara’s strength transformed itself everywhere into weakness for his adversaries and, more so, the strongest amongst them all. The disarming exercise was carefully dodged by both parties. If Gbagbo could count on security forces, the militia and patriots, Ouattara had on his side the rebels of 19 September, millions of determined followers and the Dozos.[2]

Moreover, the old political class, which had split into several rival factions in 2005, had resolved their differences and had since reunited. It rallied behind the national-ethnicism concept of the middle-class faction, whose interests it represented, thus worsening the contradictions within the old political class. Bédié, from the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDC) would for his part dedicate himself to linking the ties he once helped undo. It is certain that having him (Bédié) as a presidential candidate, the PDC had no future. Given that he had failed miserably in his entrance into the political scene, he could only but excel his exit by opening up prospects of a reformed political life to the masses, who, in the absence of a new candidate to regenerate the PDC, had devoted themselves to restoring a fallen president.

Faced with the combined forces of ethnic and class interests, there was only the ghostly National Congress of Democratic Resistance (CNRD) left – a heteroclite assembly of opportunists and proletariat xenophobes without vision, a grouping of trade unionists without sincere followers. Where Gbagbo seemed to count on eclectic and single backing, Ouattara portrayed ideological and class support. On 28 November, that backing collapsed.

On Monday 11 April 2011, after trying in a vain and murderous attempt to exploit the supposed contradictions of the ‘international community’ as he had done in 2000, Laurent Gbagbo, a man of several attributes, was defeated militarily having been defeated, prior to this, electorally. He fell into the arms of Ouattara’s men, who were helped by the armed decisive intervention of the French–UN coalition, the unwavering support of the USA, and, truth be told, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, who armed the ex-rebel troops, renamed ‘the Republican forces of Côte d’Ivoire’ to suit their cause. This arrest officially closed the drama that ensued the post-electoral crisis of 28 November 2010. Having had two presidents and two governments for four months, Côte d’Ivoire finally finds normalcy in one president and one government.

But on 11 April 2011, President Ouattara devoted not only the end of (at least temporarily), a long period of national-ethnic reign, veiled occasionally under the hideous cover of Ivoirité, and other times under the guise of distorted patriotism, the bankruptcy of opportunism, but Ouattara also portrayed the triumph of partisans patented with neoliberalism and shameless semi-colonialism over those of shameless neoliberalism concealed under a facade of anti-colonialism and hypocritical pan-Africanism.

For the new neoliberal imperialist rule to reign without a jolt, it was imperative that all the conditions of the domination of the oligarchic factions be met, in other words, the possibility of a change at the helm of the state. For this to happen, the will of the people and not the blessings of God[3] was what was needed. On 11 April 2011, the pseudo-democratic, semi-colonial republic, through the will of the people and by means of iron and fire, prevailed over national-ethnicism. However, for Côte d’Ivoire to move forward without the possibility of retracing its footsteps, it has to translate this electoral and military swing into its constitutional and legal form.

In 1958, Côte d’Ivoire received republic status as a gift from its forced marriage with the French republic. Since 11 April 2011, it must incorporate this status as a sign of victory over national-ethnicism. But alas, the triumph of the republic, at least the symbol of bankruptcy of the national-ethnicism concept, instead of devoting the total emancipation of a people under the yoke of international imperialism, portrays to the contrary, Côte d’Ivoire as it has always been, a semi-colony outrageously dominated by imperialism. On 11 July 1960, through the signing of a particular agreement with France, Côte d’Ivoire had in an amicable manner liberated itself from the yoke of French imperialism. On 7 August, Houphouët-Boigny gave a solemn resonance to this mutual stamping by declaring Côte d’Ivoire’s independence. But on 21 April 1961, as if to clearly show that the previous events were but a simulation, Houphouët-Boigny signed a cooperative agreement with the French, thus returning to the latter, the privileges it had transferred barely a year before. The sequel was but a succession of mirages and fantasies. Just when the Ivorians had started believing that they had accomplished a miracle,[4] they were faced with the obvious. Now when they believed that they had finally found themselves, they lose themselves once again – real issues, false solutions. It is unquestionable that Ivorians seek democracy, justice and social equality. Some day, it will be necessary to give satisfaction to this atavistic aspiration, even at the risk of having a repeat of the same comedy and tragedy. It is up to the people to decide.


* Translated from French by Caroline Sipalla.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

[1] On 12 February 2010, Gbagbo, under the pretext of presumed fraud of the then CEI President Robert Beugre Mambe, dissolved the government and the Independent Electoral Commission, despite the fact that the presidential elections, which had been deferred on several occasions had been scheduled to take place at the end of February/beginning of March. He would later succeed in replacing Beugre with Youssouf Bakayoko, who until then was foreign affairs minister.
[2] Traditional hunters.
[3] The fallen president was convinced that it was God and not the people who gave power. He always ended his speeches with ‘God bless Côte d’Ivoire’.
[4] During the first two decades of its independence, Côte d’Ivoire witnessed great economic growth, which was termed ‘the Ivorian miracle’. With the current crisis, the Ivorian miracle appears to be a mirage.