Crisis-ridden Ivory Coast prepares for overdue presidential elections | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 28.10.2010
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Crisis-ridden Ivory Coast prepares for overdue presidential elections

Eight years after a military coup, Ivory Coast citizens are hoping to finally vote in a new president. But the elections have been postponed so many times in the past, that nobody is holding their breath.

A hand puts a voting slip in a ballot box

Past records make the October elections uncertain

Ivory Coast or Côte d'Ivoire is essentially a country of two halves. The north is controlled by rebels under Guillame Soro and the south by the official government under president, Laurent Gbagbo. The two men signed a ceasefire in 2007, Soro became prime minister, elections were called for the following year but cancelled before they happened. They have been cancelled again since and are now finally scheduled for this Sunday. Against that backdrop, the ballot is very much the talking point of the moment on both sides of what is still a north-south divide.

One place where that talking is particularly loud is in the southern city and political and economic center, Abidjan. There, on a busy market square is an open space known as the Sorbonne, where for three hours every day anyone who wants to deliver a speech in public, can. Many do and many more come along to listen.

President of the Sorbonne Jeremy Soukrou told Deutsche Welle how important the platform is as a means of getting information to the country's residents and that politics is particularly high on the agenda at the moment. Yet he says those who come are not search of political guidance.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo

"We all support President Gbagbo's program," he said. “And we are willing to support him, to protect the institutions of our country, defend his life and our civil society one way or another."

Soukrou's views are echoed by customers in a public bar not far from the Sorbonne. They say they want President Laurent Gbagbo to continue in office and want to see an end to the French influence in their country.

Not everybody's darling

But the president, who has been in office since 2000 is not everybody's favorite. One man in Abidjan told Deutsche Welle that Gbagbo is holding the country back.

"In terms of politics he does whatever he can to stay in power," the man said. "We have been supposed to have elections for the past five years, but it's never happened because the president blocks everything."

The current head of state will be up against 13 other candidates, the most important of which are Henri Konan Bedié and Alassane Dramane Ouattara. The three of them have been fighting one another for power since the 1990s, and are considered the old boys of Ivory Coast politics. Their parties are well-organized and between them they own several newspapers.


Ivorian press

Newspapers they use for aggressive tactics in campaigns which often concentrate more on making accusations about their respective opponents than on any real political program. And consequently some doubt the ballot will even happen. One such is Jean Louis Billon, head of the country's chamber of trade and industry.

"If you add it all up, we have had more peace agreements here than were necessary to end World War II," Billon told Deutsche Welle. "I truly doubt that there is enough political will to end this crisis, because if we really wanted to have elections, we'd have had them long ago!"

Simple wishes

What he and most of the population of the nation would like to see is the voting in of a president that can lead them back to the position of economic strength they enjoyed before the 2002 coup. At the top of the general wish list are education and employment.

"The first victims of the crisis are business owners, the population and our young people," Billon said. "We have eight million unemployed young people, that means eight million young people without a perspective and with nothing to do."

A man sits on a dusty street in Abidjan, wooden blue buildings behind him

A street in Abidjan

He describes it as an explosive situation. And he is not the only one to feel it.

"If things go on like this, there will be an uprising. Prices are so high, we can hardly afford to keep ourselves," mother of two, Yeli, told Deutsche Welle. "We've had enough, we're sick of it."

Like many others, she is furious with politicians for failing to tap into the country's resources and allow it to be the flourishing West African nation of old.

New generation

Some observers, however, believe the resources are part of the current political status quo. Rebels in the north have secured access to diamonds, gold, ore and politicians across the spectrum benefit from the sale of cocoa.

Against that backdrop, Patrick N'gouan, head of a collective of civil society groups, doesn't hold out much hope for any grand post-electoral change in Ivory Coast.

Guillaume Soro, prime minister of Ivory Coast

Guillaume Soro, prime minister of Ivory Coast

"If the country is run like it is now after the elections, the crisis won't go away," he told Deutsche Welle. "It will just mean that the government and opposition share the riches while the rest of the population gets poorer."

Precisely that is what the people of the Côte d'Ivoire, half of whom are under the age of 30, do not want to see happen. Twenty-five year-old Amadou Traoré told Deutsche Welle that his country needs a new generation of politicians, leaders who look to the future rather than back into the past. And if they are not forthcoming, he warned, there could well be more trouble on the horizon.

"I am certain that one day the young people will defend themselves against this elite," he said. "We have seen the events in Niger, and I could imagine the same kind of development here."

Author: Ute Schaeffer (tkw)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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