On March 5, Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara announced he would not seek a third presidential term in the national elections scheduled for October, easing the concerns of Ivorians and international observers who feared Ouattara’s participation would lead to a repeat of the 2010 election, which resulted in a bloody civil war. Yet, as Jessica Moody writes, this announcement belies other authoritarian actions taken by Ouattara that have been ignored by Western powers and international institutions otherwise pleased with his governance of the West African country, which has one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent.
Why It Matters
In spite of macroeconomic metrics showing a vibrant economy, nearly half of all Ivorians still live in poverty and are food-insecure. Checkpoints have continued to disappear between the north and south of the country, divided as such during the height of the civil war, and travel has resumed more or less without provocation. Yet, the underlying socioeconomic conditions that erupted into the post-electoral violence of 2010 have not disappeared. In 2016, Ouattara held a referendum on a proposed new constitution that went ahead despite only 42 percent participation by Ivorian voters. Among the changes, it gave the president the power to appoint one-third of the ninety-nine seats of the newly created senate, giving the executive greater power over the national legislature.
Then there’s Ouattara’s increasingly aggressive assaults on opposition parties. The most dramatic of which is the arrest warrant issued for Guillaume Soro for an alleged coup attempt. The former president of the national assembly led the Nouvelles Forces rebel group that helped install Ouattara at the end of the civil war. An audio tape was submitted as proof of Soro’s guilt, but the tape dates to 2017, leading skeptics to question why the government waited this long to release it. That Soro had announced plans to run for president suggests a political motive behind the timing of the tape’s release.
Ahead of the elections in October, Ouattara and his ruling Rally of the Republicans party will need to make a sincere commitment to open political dialogue, release political prisoners, and acknowledge opposition grievances regarding the composition of the electoral commission, which is accused of being biased in favor of the ruling party. Short of this, Ouattara’s plan to not run is likely to do little to assuage fears of a deteriorating political situation that could make this year’s election as contested as that fateful one in 2010.