With less than one month to go before the October 31, 2020 election in Côte d’Ivoire, there are several factors causing widespread concern within and outside the country. These factors are critical in determining whether the elections would have a peaceful or violent outcome for a country that went through two civil wars shortly over a decade ago. The foremost issue is the question of the legitimacy of presidential candidates – including actors in past conflicts1Côte d’Ivoire has experienced two armed conflicts: the first, from September 19, 2002 to March 4, 2007; and the second, from November 28th, 2010 to April 11th, 2011. – contesting the October election.

The sudden death on July 8, 2020 of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Prime Minister and presidential candidate of the ruling party Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), turned the whole political and electoral game upside down, when President Allasane Ouattara, aged 76, who had spent two five-year presidential terms in office, renounced his previous decision not to run for a third term.2Voir Adresse du Présent de la République sur l’état de la Nation, Yamoussoukro, 05 mars 2020. Accessible sur: http://www.gouv.ci/doc/1583420766adresse-du-president-alassane-ouattara-sur-l-etat-de-la-nation-yamoussoukro-le-jeudi-05-mars-2020.pdf. Consulté le 25 juillet 2020. The announcement on August 6, 2020 by President Ouattara accepting his party’s nomination to stand as its candidate for the presidential election, by evoking a “case of force majeure,”3Voir le discours du Président Ouattara à la Nation le 06 août 2020: https://news.abidjan.net/h/677747.html. Consulté le 07 août 2020. is likely to further complicate the tense political atmosphere in the country as evidenced by many protests across the country which have already claimed some lives.4AFP/VOA, “Quatre Ivoiriens morts lors des manifestations contre le 3e mandat de Ouattara”, voaafrique, 13 août 2020: https://www.voaafrique.com/a/des-morts-dans-les-violences-lors-des-manifestations-contre-le-troisi%C3%A8me-mandat-de-ouattara/5542372.html; consulté le 14 août 2020. The presidential electoral contest has entered a fragile phase and urgent actions are needed to lower the high level of political tension in the country before the vote. Added to this is the fact that former President Laurent Gbagbo (who lost to Ouatarra in the 2010 election and had to be forcibly removed after refusing to hand over to the winner, and currently living in exile in Belgium) has announced his candidacy for the presidential election. Even though he was acquitted of charges of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC),5Cf. Communiqué de presse du 15 Janvier 2019 de la Cour Pénale Internationale: https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/item.aspx?name=pr1427&ln=fr. Gbagbo remains under legal proceedings in Côte d’Ivoire where he was tried in absentia and sentenced to 20 years in prison.6André Silver Konan, “Côte d’Ivoire: Laurent Gbagbo condamné à 20 ans de prison pour le “braquage” de la BCEAO”, Jeune Afrique, 19 janvier 2018; accessible sur https://www.jeuneafrique.com/515829/societe/cote-divoire-laurent-gbagbo-condamne-a-20-ans-de-prison-pour-le-braquage-de-la-bceao/; consulté le 11 septembre 2020. The same is true of Guillaume Soro, former president of the National Assembly who was tried in absentia and also sentenced to 20 years in prison,7Guillaume Soro condamné à 20 ans de prison: https://www.bbc.com/afrique/region-52464985. who like Gbagbo has also announced his candidacy for the presidential election. The probable rejection of their candidacies by the Constitutional Court will lead to violent demonstrations by their supporters within the country. Given the roles each of these men played in the civil wars that plagued the country in the past, their reemergence as presidential candidates is capable of reviving old divisions and animosities, which are capable of threatening the peace and development that the country has enjoyed since the end of the war.

Apart from the question of the candidacy of old political enemies, the democratic nature of electoral competition is yet to be consolidated in Côte d’Ivoire. The somewhat heated political discourse shows that the political parties are busy positioning themselves for a decisive confrontation. Rivals almost tend to be seen more as enemies than adversaries, thus giving the impression that we are in a winner-take-all logic where electoral failure is not being considered by any of the sides: “We win, or we win!” While it is legitimate to contemplate victory when entering a political competition, it equally makes sense to consider its democratic character and the possibility of failure to win should be part of the equation. In this regard, the dignity as well as the rights of the political adversaries should be respected as part of the rules of the game: elections. The spirit of democratic participation and competition must be respected by the various political actors to exorcise the spirit of revenge which is perniciously reflected in certain political rhetoric and messages.

The consensus around the role of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the coming election is still yet to be built. It is fortunate that the debate among the parties contesting the presidential election has continued on the issue of reforming the IEC. This is evidenced by the use of legal channels to resolve the dispute. The new judgment of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights of July 15, 2020 on the reform of the IEC,8Voir le communiqué de la Cour Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples: https://news.abidjan.net/h/676400.html. Accédé le 30 juillet 2020. hardly seems to have settled the dispute definitively, by subtly calling on the various actors to continue the political dialogue on a less ideological bases. A quick compromise between electoral stakeholders should be found on the issue of composition of the members of local IECs.9Georges-Armand Ouégnin, « Réforme de la CEI, l’opposition exige la dissolution de toutes les commissions locales », publié le 24 juillet 2020 : https://www.7info.ci/reforme-de-la-cei-lopposition-exige-la-dissolution-de-toutes-les-commissions-locales/, accédé le 05 août 2020. The same is true of the other elements of the electoral normative framework on which viable compromises should be found before the votes.10Parmi les éléments du cadre normatif électoral en débat, il y a: la question du parrainage des candidats, le fichier électoral, les conditions de validation des candidatures et notamment celles de candidats déclarés mais qui sont sous des poursuites judiciaires, etc.

The October elections also have some implications for the country’s economic fortunes. According to the World Bank,11World Bank, “Côte d’Ivoire Economic Outlook: Why the Time Has Come to Produce Cocoa in a Fully Inclusive and Responsible Manner,” July 19, 2019, accessible on https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/cotedivoire/publication/cote-divoire-economic-outlook-why-the-time-has-come-to-produce-cocoa-in-a-responsible-manner; Accessed on September 10th, 2020. with a growth rate of 7.4% in 2018 and 7.2% in 2019, Côte d’Ivoire is ranked slightly behind Ethiopia and ahead of Rwanda and Senegal, which makes Côte d’Ivoire a leader in terms of its economic performance on the continent. This impressive economic growth rate is what is best known about Côte d’Ivoire in foreign media. However, the economic outlook sharply contrasts with the political situation, which is characterized by a low level of political dialogue between political parties, and the difficulty in building compromises around the electoral process. This feeds into a high level of tension between political actors, and the lack of a substantive reconciliation since the last civil war which ended in 2011 after claiming the lives of more than 3,000 people. In such a fragile sociopolitical context, any pressure or stress placed on the system raises the risk of both negative repercussions on the economy, as well as a possible regression into conflict, as could be the case, if unfortunately, the presidential election scheduled for October 31, 2020 is mismanaged.

In the coming weeks, the question will remain whether the originally scheduled date of October 31 for the presidential election will be kept. Even if the IEC does not seem to be worried about the logistical organization of the election in October,12Voir entretien réalisé le 29 juin 2020 avec Monsieur Alain Dogou, 2ème Vice-Président de la CEI en charge de la logistique, de l’informatique et de la sécurité. more voices are being raised among civil society groups and political parties to demand the postponement of the election to a later date. As noted by Mr. Gaudet, President of the Ivorian Foundation for Human Rights and Political Life (FIDHOP), “This postponement of the presidential election will allow all parties to agree beforehand on the role of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), its powers and its composition, to agree on the electoral code and above all to do a complete grooming of the electoral list in order to extract all non-Ivorians.”13Voir interview de M. Gaudet du 07/07/2020 accessible sur: https://aip.ci/cote-divoire-aip-la-fidhop-exhorte-a-un-report-de-lelection-presidentielle/; accédé le 02 août 2020. The Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) has also issued calls for a postponement of the election saying that “the political climate is tense in Côte d’Ivoire.14Voir interview de Jean-Louis Billon sur VOA Afrique du 23 juillet 2020: https://www.voaafrique.com/a/c%C3%B4te-d-ivoire-vers-un-report-de-la-pr%C3%A9sidentielle-du-31-octobre-/5515231.html. Consulté le 02 août 2020. In his speech to the Nation of August 6, 2020, President Ouattara maintained the date of October 31, 2020 would be kept. In any event, it is important that a consensus be found on whether or not to postpone the date of the election in order to relax the tense political climate and reassure the political actors on the need to a peaceful approach to elections.

Finally, although this is difficult to assess, there is no doubt that the current Covid-19 pandemic is negatively affecting the electoral process. For example, the pandemic has made the President of the Republic modify the Electoral Code by ordinance, as explained by the Secretary-General of the Presidency on March 19, 2020.15Voir communiqué du Secrétaire Général de la Présidence du 19 mars 2020: https://www.rti.ci/info/4-economie-info-economie-info/politique/26665/la-loi-portant-modification-de-la-constitution-ivoirienne-promulgee-par-le-president-ouattara. Consulté le 02 août 2020. The pandemic has limited the capacity of political parties and civil society organizations to embark on mobilization campaigns for political support and organizing meetings and programs aimed at sensitizing the electorate to their rights as well as the need for peace. Hopefully, however, the social distancing measures and fear of the contagion of Covid-19 will not affect the turnout of voters. There needs to be communication and awareness on this subject in order to find adequate and healthy ways to ensure better voter participation in the votes.

With the first round of the election taking place later this month, there is limited time for political stakeholders in the electoral contest to reach an amicable agreement on how to proceed. It is therefore necessary to find ways and means to renew or intensify the political dialogue between the different actors in order to consolidate peace around the electoral process. Pre-election, election-related, and post-election violence are not inevitable; it will all depend on the will of the various political actors who are free to choose peace or violence, to choose to settle their disputes either through legal and institutional channels, or through extra-institutional channels that lead to violence. The political class and the security agencies hold all the cards in hand to make this election a peaceful or non-peaceful process. Hopefully, the choice made will be in the interest of peace for the country.

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