APPEAL FOR A PEACEFUL AND CONSTRUCTIVE END TO THE IVORIAN CRISIS
On November 28, 2010, the people of Côte d’Ivoire returned to the poll in a run-off election to choose their president for the next five years. After days of tallying the results, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission announced that challenger Alassane Dramane Ouattara obtained 54.1 percent of the vote while incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo secured only 45.9 percent. On December 2, 2010, Mr. Ouattara was officially declared the winner. Subsequently, the United Nations certified Mr. Ouattara as the winner.
In the context of the protracted political conflicts, the outgoing President, Mr. Laurent Gbagbo served a full term, from 2005 to 2010, without being elected. Therefore, the certification of the 2010 elections should normally have concluded the long awaited elections that should have been held back in October 2005. However, the Constitutional Council overturned the ruling of the Independent Electoral Commission. After invalidating about 15 percent of the votes that were favorable to Mr. Ouattara (roughly 500 000 votes), the Council declared Mr. Laurent Gbagbo the winner of the election. Since then, the country has plunged into a post-election crisis.
We understand that the factors that led to the current political deadlock have long-standing roots. Furthermore, other political actors, including the new president, Mr. Ouattara, may share direct or indirect responsibility for the current situation, given their roles or activities before and especially since the passing of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, in the 1999 Military Coup, the terrible rebellion that broke out in 2002, and many other violent events which have affected social order in Côte d’Ivoire. Despite the complexity of the socio-historical factors, in the interest of the people of Côte d’Ivoire and for the respect of their voices as well as the rule of law, the results of the 2010 presidential elections must be honored and accepted by all, including Mr. Gbagbo and those who support him be it by conviction or other reasons.
What is happening in Côte d’Ivoire calls for collective action not only by Ivorians but by all citizens of the world who believe in the spirit and rules of law, democratic participation, and the rights of people to determine their destiny through a free and fair electoral process. It impinges on us to remind the protagonists, especially Mr. Gbagbo, that losing an election does not mean the end of constructive contribution to the consolidation of a democratic culture and viable democratic institutions; it clearly means the opposite! Different and even contradictory perspectives constitute a key ingredient for building any democratic culture.
According to the April 2005 Pretoria Accords, considering the deep mistrust among the political groups and leaders involved (former President Henri Konan Bédié for the PDCI, President Laurent Gbagbo as head of State and for the FPI, and Mr. Alassane Ouattara for the RDR, and the group of the New Forces of the Rebellion headed by Mr. Guillaume Soro), all these groups agreed to allow the United Nations to play a critical role in the preparation and holding of elections initially scheduled for October 2005. These Pretoria Accords were co-signed by all parties involved, including Mr. Gbagbo as President of Côte d’Ivoire. Although these elections were held only in 2010, 5 years later, the role of the UN became all the more critical. Indeed, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1765 adopted in July 2007, following the 2007 Ouagadougou Accords, further clarified role of the United Nations including certification of the results of the elections upon the announcement of these results by the Ivorian Independent Electoral Commission. This is exactly what happened in the 2010 Presidential elections.
Therefore, the International community/United Nations did not violate any law or the integrity of Côte d’Ivoire. While there are legitimate concerns about the persistent neo-colonial system and there still exists justifiable resentment toward the French government meddling in Côte d’Ivoire’s affairs in the past, in this particular case of the 2010 elections, there is no foundation for any claim of external interference.
According to the Ivorian electoral law, demonstrated cases of frauds or irregularities could constitute a legitimate ground for rejecting the election results of any administrative locality. In such cases, however, new elections must be organized within 45 days. By ignoring this rule, the Constitutional Council summarily invalidated about 15 percent of the votes without any recourse for giving a chance to those whose votes were cancelled. This obviously violates both the constitutional right of a substantial number of citizens and the Ivorian electoral law itself. Given these breaches of the Ivorian electoral law, there is no legal ground for declaring Mr. Gbagbo as the winner of the election.
Mr. Gbagbo’s defeat reflects widespread sentiments about his 10 years of power, including a full term of 5 years as a non-elected president. In the past 10 years, the country has sunk deeper into poverty and extreme corruption as never before. Although people in Côte d’Ivoire are not starving as yet, their general welfare has declined significantly. Both the coffee and cocoa sectors which once sustained the Ivorian economy have been marred by mismanagement scandals involving Mr. Gbagbo’s closest associates.
The fiasco of the educational sector has been extreme in part as a student union acquired considerable power and has fostered a climate of insecurity among teachers and students in Ivorian schools, colleges, and universities. Given the miserable conditions of the education system, more and more young people have no educational opportunities. Most of them are unemployed with very little hope for the future. Given their vulnerability and hopelessness, they are desperate and can easily be enticed to contribute to the destructive policies that can ironically jeopardize the chances for a return to normalcy and functioning education systems. Manipulation of the youth will have prolonged negative consequences as hatred, lack of respect of human life, and absence of basic sense responsibility and commitment to play constructive roles to build the country become mainstream culture and jeopardize real possibilities for sustainable development in our beloved country.
The role of some intellectuals is also very worrisome insofar as a number of them, through their harmful actions, work in slowing down the process of consolidating democracy in Côte d'Ivoire. By returning to a normal political process with economic development plans, functioning educational system and social services, the recent and current trends can be reversed. The country needs to restart investing in the youth so as to ensure a brighter future for our society; especially through agents of development who have a noble sense of both their obligation and responsibility vis-à-vis history and the challenges of the present.
WE, the signatories of this appeal, affirm that the long agony of the Ivorians and people living in Côte d’Ivoire must come to an end. Our preference is for negotiations that guarantee a peaceful exit for Mr. Gbagbo. In this regard, we salute the efforts of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), and the larger international community. At the same, we agree with those who argue that force should be used if need be so as to honor the will of the people of Côte d’Ivoire. Therefore we, DAUGHTERS and SONS of Côte d’Ivoire, Africa and the African Diaspora as well as CITIZENS of the World, call on our brother Laurent Gbagbo to respect the will of the Ivorian people, vacate the presidential office and bow to the collective dictum of the majority as expressed in the poll. It is both a matter of principle and the respect of rights of the people to resume normal life toward social progress.
Dr. N’Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba, Professor, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA and Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science
Dr. Abou B. Bamba, Assistant Professor, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Dr. Kanaté Dahouda, Associate Professor, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York, USA
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