An international dereliction of duty: Ouattara’s third term bid in Côte d'Ivoire
“The blood of our brothers, our sisters and our children has flowed again only due to their legitimate quest for freedom and democracy, (…) I would like to pay tribute to the young N'Guessan Koffi Toussaint beheaded in Daoukro, to the young Kissi Morel shot dead in Bonoua, to the Kouamé family, 4 of whom were burned alive in their house in Toumodi, to name just a few of the many victims. Ivorian democrats will not forget their martyrs,” said 86 year-old former President Henri Konan Bédié, President of the historic party dating back to Côte d'Ivoire independence, the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire-African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA) in an address to the Ivorian nation on 9 December 2020. How did this violence come about?
When on 6 of August 2020 78-year-old former President of Côte d’Ivoire Alassane Ouattara decided to run for a third term, after having gone on record five months earlier as saying that he would step down since the Ivorian Constitution sets a two term limit, spontaneous nation-wide non-violent demonstrations erupted calling for him to respect the law and leave office.
Ouattara responded with a crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators. Since the 6 August 2020 there are 376 new political prisoners currently in detention. While some people are released, others are arrested.
“Nightly raids in villages account for many more arrests targeting those who organize the peaceful protests and are often not accounted for by official government statistics,” an NGO leader wishing to remain anonymous explains.
On 18 August Amnesty International reported that Ouattara’s police was allowing machete-wielding men to attack protesters.
Since 6 August 2020 unlawful government officials and the police have killed 87 people and 484 have been injured. The UN refugee agency reported that by 10 December 20,818 new refugees, joining those still in exile since the crisis in 2011, have fled to neighboring countries. Many other thousands are internally displaced.
Yet what a coalition of political parties headed by the Coalition for Reconciliation, Democracy and Peace (CRDP) and the Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS), two platforms making up together up to 90 % of the country’s political representation, civil society organizations, trade unions and millions of protestors marching in villages and cities are demanding is also upheld by four recent African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) judgements.
The AfCHPR since 2016 found Côte d’Ivoire to be breaching both the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, as well as well as the 2001 Ecowas Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
In a letter addressed to the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at the end of October, former President Thabo Mbeki expressed his reservations on holding the elections, especially in light of the failure of the Joint Solidarity Mission of the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations and the Conseil d’Entente on 7 October. Mbeki also invoked the importance of first enforcing the AfCHPR judgements as the coalition of opposition parties called for.
Faced with the Ouattara government's refusal to open a dialogue and after all avenues of legal and institutional actions were exhausted, the opposition parties called for a nation-wide civil disobedience, and subsequently an active boycott of the elections with all legal means possible.
The election held on the 31 of October 2020 was largely boycotted with various sources pointing to a 8% turnout. The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) and the Carter Center published a preliminary report on the 2 of November entitled “Non inclusive Ivorian election is boycotted, leaving country fractured.”
The elections evoked tales of an electoral far west. Images of ballot stuffing circulated on social media and was also denounced by the IEOM and a local observer mission Indigo, which also noted votes cast by people not registered on the electoral roll or not having their identity papers.
“Emil Kirjas, a former Secretary general of Liberal International (LI, a world-wide coalition of liberal and progressive democratic parties) is a paid consultant of Ouattara’s RHDP party and has worked for Ouattara in Abidjan months before the elections. His mission had no sanction from LI and he was told in advance that he should not pass himself off as LI”, said Robert Woodthorpe Browne, Vice President on the Bureau of LI, referring to the International Election Observer Mission of Liberals and Democrats headed by Macedonian-British national Kirjas, and the only mission which stated the elections had gone really well.
On the 3 of November journalist Yao Alex Hallane Clément was at Henri Konan Bédié’s house to cover the birth of the Council of National Transition (CNT), a loose union of the two platforms headed by Bédié, so as to save a democratic space facing an increasing authoritarianism repression, as the house was raided by police and circa 20 people arrested.
Yao broadcast the raid on Facebook before he was also arrested. Former Prime Minister and spokesperson for the CNT Pascal Affi N’Guessan was arrested on 6 November and is now being held for weeks in an undisclosed prison.
Bédié in his 9 of December speech calls for a non-recognition of Ouattara’s self-appointed presidency as all dialogue with Ouattara has been suspended until the numerous political prisoners are freed and the many exiled allowed to return.
The Ivorian upright non-violent civil disobedience for democracy has been betrayed by a generalized national and international institutional dereliction of duty.
Numerous French parliamentarians and journalists from a wide political spectrum have criticized French President’s Emmanuel Macron’s and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s overt support of Ouattara’s unconstitutional candidacy, yet the calls for action to halt the violence fell on deaf ears.
During a French National Assembly session on the 25 November Le Drian, fearing no ridicule, invoked the sudden death of Ouattara’s ruling party, the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) Presidential candidate Ivorian Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly to validate Ouattara’s violation of the Ivorian Constitution.
The European Left African Working Group in a 4 November press release called for a volte-face in Europe’s diplomacy and reproved the European Union’s unwavering support for the Ivorian regime which “discredits its words and its actions throughout Africa.”
Socialist deputy Brigitte Crottaz questioning parliament in mid-December asks, “Does Alassane Ouattara remain a credible and appropriate interlocutor for Switzerland, when we know our attachment to democratic principles and human dignity?”
The flawed national judicial processes mirror the dereliction of duty also playing out at the International Criminal Court (ICC): a complaint for genocide and crimes against humanity against Alassane Ouattara and his Forces Nouvelles militia from 2002 to 2012 with over 5,000 individual victims testimonies is officially acknowledges since 2016, yet the ICC remains silent on this dossier and maintains open an appeal to a no case to answer against Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.
On 3 December two Zouglou singers, known as Yodé and Siro were arrested for questioning in a song the public prosecutor Richard Adou’s actions, who seem indifferent to the grave documented crimes committed. Adou had them arrested and condemned to a 12-month suspended prison sentence and then released on bail with a 7,500 euro fine each.
“In the realm of music, there is no note called courtesy. Adou Richard, in the subconscious of the population, represents the judiciary. That’s why, we called him out. We only relay what the people say and think," Siro said during the trial hearing, as he recalls the words of his songs for a halt on the weaponizing of identity politics for personal power gains on the part of the Ouattara regime, for a peaceful and authentic reunion of all of Côte d’Ivoire’s diverse population.