National Reconciliation in Ivory Coast Slowly Making Progress in Run-Up to Presidential Elections
Reconciliation is ongoing in the Ivory Coast, a country where the memory of the destructive civil war following disputed elections is still recent. President Alassane Ouattara has since created the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR) to ensure that those responsible for the violence during the conflict are put to justice. However, the success of the program has come into question as political groups in the Ivory Coast still remain divided. This week, the government appointed Franciscan archbishop Paul Siméon Ahouana to lead the CDVR in the hope that he can ensure that the aggressors are brought to justice. With the next presidential elections coming up this fall, political stability will be essential to ensuring a peaceful voting process.
The roots of the current conflict can be traced back to the 1990s following the death of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who had ruled the country for three decades. The xenophobic and ethnocentric policies of his successor, Henri Konan Bédié, had largely alienated the country’s Muslim-majority and immigrant-laden north, sowing the seeds of discontent. He was subsequently overthrown by General Robert Guéï in a military coup. Ivory Coast’s unstable political climate erupted during the 2000 presidential elections, when Laurent Gbagbo unseated Guéï amid violent riots. Ouattara, a Muslim with popular support north, was barred from running on grounds that his parents were not Ivorian. Post-election protests staged by Ouattara’s supporters and the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party led to violent clashes with authorities. Unresolved issues led to the breakout of the first civil war in 2002 that pitted the north and south against each other. Although peace agreements were signed in 2005, tensions carried over into the 2010 elections.
During this round of elections, Ouattara ran and was declared the winner by both the electoral commission and the international community. However, incumbent president Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, sparking a four-month standoff. It only ended when forces loyal to Ouattara overrun Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, and arrested Gbagbo, who was sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to be put on trial. By the time Ouattara officially came to power in 2011, 3,000 Ivorians were dead and a million more were displaced.
Ouattara’s government launched the CDVR as a means of bringing the divided country together. However, many have criticized the program for being highly partisan; despite atrocities on both sides during the civil war, supporters of Gbagbo have been subjected to the greatest number of arrests. The most notable was the 20-year prison sentence for former first lady Simone Gbagbo earlier this month. Meanwhile, military officers who supported Ouatarra have taken up top positions in his government. Additionally, thousands of displaced persons are also unable to return to their homes due to ongoing violence in the countryside.
In this context, Ahouana’s appointment may provide hope to the largely unfruitful reconciliation efforts that have been undermined by a lack of trust. He opened dialogue with the rebels during the conflict while other Christian groups largely ignored them. The state hopes that new leadership can help mend rifts among the Ivory Coast’s multiple political and ethnic groups in a run-up to elections this fall.
Despite recent economic prosperity, unresolved political tensions will be on voters’ minds during the coming months. The fact that the CDVR has left certain groups out of the rebuilding process will have an impact in the elections. This next round of voting will further test the durability of the Ivory Coast’s fragile democracy.