Sunday, December 05, 2010

New times in the Ivory Coast

Last Sunday's Presidential election in the Ivory Coast has ended in farce. Both candidates have claimed victory and have sworn themselves into office. One, Laurent Gbagbo, has been the incumbent for the last ten years, the other Alassane Ouattara has been a leading opposition player associated with the New Forces, the armed rebel group in the north.

Gbagbo led in the first round of elections 38% to 34% resulting in Sunday's run off election between the two.

The Electoral Commision has claimed that Alassane won Sunday's election with 54.1% while the Constitutional Council claims Gbagbo won 51.45% of the vote.

The Council claims that there was widespread ballot stuffing and irregularities in the north where the New Forces are based. The international community does not seem to agree.

The US has strongly backed Alassane and Barack Obama warned Gbagbo: "The international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions." The IMF has also come out for Alassane and told Gbagbo in no uncertain terms that it will not work with him if he remains President.

It should, of course, be remembered that neither the US nor the IMF are neutral players in the country. Neither have been fans of Gbagbo's determination for the Ivory Coast to pursue an independent economic policy, whilst they have tight personal ties with his rival.

Alassane was a leading economist for the IMF based in Washington for much of his career. He became the governor the Central Bank of Western Africa and, through this position, managed to become the Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast in 1990 a post he held for a rocky three years until he was forced to resign when he returned to the IMF as Deputy Managing Director.

At the turn of the century Alassane returned to Ivorian politics resulting in a civil war breaking out in 2002. In 2004 Ivorian planes bombed a rebel 'New Forces' position - which killed nine French and one American 'observer' who 'happened' to be there. This resulted in French tanks parked round the Presidential palace, the counter bombing of the Ivorian air force and French forces taking over the airport, killing a number of civilians in the process.

It has long been thought that the 'New Forces' had international backing of institutions like the IMF, as well as the US and French who hope to see an economic policy that's more multi-national friendly.

Gbagbo's personal history is rather different from his rival's. A history teacher who was jailed during the years of French control (when Presidential 'elections' were usually uncontested). A leading member of a teachers' strike in 1982 he helped to form the FPI, a party which is now an affiliate of the Socialist International (that Labour is part of).

Under Gbagbo the Ivorian economy has done quite well. It is the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union with a relatively high income per capita. Compared to its neighbours the Ivory Coast has done reasonably well for itself despite being in the bad books of the IMF.

From a distance it is impossible to know whether there was widespread electoral fraud in the north, although it does seem sensible to regard it as a possibility. The eagerness of the US and IMF to declare their candidate the victor don't convince me that this was the will of the people, or the best thing for the Ivorian people.

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