Sunday, December 19, 2010

L'Abidjanaise, Part 1

Some background...

A corrupt administration was removed in a 1999 coup, which was followed by October, 2000, elections which were peaceful, despite unrest running up to the election. Laurent Gbagbo was elected President of Côte d'Ivoire.


President Gbagbo was in Italy when, early on September 19, 2002, an armed uprising began. Government forces had secured most of the capital by mid-day, but the northern part of the country remained under control of the rebels.

In January, 2003, a unity government was declared, with both Gbagbo and rebel leaders signing an accord, curfews were lifted, and soon French and UN troops were patrolling in Côte d'Ivoire.

By late 2004, the peace agreement broke down due to the rebels' refusal to disarm. Due to difficulties in having an election with the government unable to control significant parts of the country's territory, elections were promised but postponed.

We pick up with excerpts from a relevant June, 2009, Wikileak cable which addressed myths surrounding the elections that were then planned for late 2009:

3. (S) The Reality: There will not be an election unless President Gbagbo is confident that he will win it -- and he is not yet confident of the outcome. This has been the assessment of some analysts since 2005 and the political landscape in Cote d'Ivoire helps to explain why. Gbagbo's political party, the FPI (Front Populaire Ivoirien), consistently comes in at third place is still associated with a minority ethnic group (the Bete). To win a presidential election, the FPI needs an alliance with one of the larger parties - either the PDCI (Parti Democratique de Cote d'Ivoire) or the RDR (Rassemblement des Republicains), but the latter have remained remarkably united in an alliance against the FPI, known as the RHDP (Rassemblement des Houphouetistes). Reliable sources indicate that Gbagbo has tried since at least 2007 to cut a deal with Alassane Ouattara, president of the RDR, but has not succeeded. Ambassador was told just last week that having failed yet again to co-opt Ouattara, Gbagbo is now focused on promoting a rift within the PDCI by helping to finance and support former-Prime Minister Charles Banny's efforts to replace aging former-President Henri Konan Bedie as the PDCI's candidate for president. Whether or not Banny succeeds is irrelevant from the FPI's perspective, as long as the internal struggle induces a certain percentage of PDCI voters to go elsewhere. Gbagbo recently told a well-placed source that he wants to face Alassane Ouattara in the second round (no one expects a winner to emerge from the first round) because he (Gbagbo) believes that the ethnic groups who traditionally support the PDCI will vote FPI, rather than support an RDR leader who has links to the rebellion.

Ultimately, President Gbagbo did indeed face Ouattara in the second round of elections in November, 2010, after former President Henri Konan Bédié (who was deposed in the 1999 coup), placed third in the first round in October.


Skipping down:

7. (S) The Reality: The progress that has been made is, unfortunately, only superficial, for it now appears that the Ouaga IV agreement (the fourth agreement to the Ouagadougou Political Agreement) is fundamentally an agreement between Blaise Compaore and Laurent Gbagbo to share control of the north until after the presidential election, despite the fact that the text calls for the Forces Nouvelles to return control of the north to the government and complete disarmament two months before the election. Ambassador Badini (Facilitator Blaise Compaore's representative in Abidjan) confirmed to Ambassador on June 26, the power-sharing nature (but not the details) of the accord. Badini acknowledged that the mixed brigades (joint FAFN-FDS units) slated to provide security for the elections are intended in part to give both sides a window onto what is happening in the north, and increase confidence that massive fraud will not take place. But the 5,000 Forces Nouvelles soldiers who are to be "disarmed" and regrouped into barracks in four key cities in the north and west until a new national army is created, represent a serious military capability that the FAFN intends to keep well-trained and in reserve until after the election. The hand-over of administrative power from the FAFN to civilian government authorities is a pre-requisite for elections but, as travelers to the north (including Embassy personnel) confirm: the FAFN retain de-facto control of the region, especially when it comes to finances. Disarmament and reunification are not separate processes. They are intertwined. As long as the confidence needed to effect disarmament is lacking, reunification will prove elusive.

Needless to say, with armed rebel forces controlling much of the north of the country - an area that supports Ouattara - and the government under Gbagbo controlling most of the rest, each side is going to dispute the results of the election, amid claims that the other side is trying to rig the election; and, with both government and rebel forces armed, the disputes will trigger violence.

And, this is exactly what happened.

From Last-minute drama as president's supporters tear up Ivory Coast election results, by Marco Chown Oved, December 2, 2010:

Waiting for election results can be thrilling. Watching the red and blue states creep across the map of the United States is a political junkie's idea of a great night. But here in Ivory Coast, the wait can be excruciating -- not to mention risky -- in the tense post civil-war atmosphere that regularly descends into street violence.

And so it was on Tuesday, two days after a historic run-off vote for president that would determine whether sitting President Laurent Gbagbo will be elected to a second five-year term (though his first term lasted ten years) or if his opponent Alassane Ouattara, the man who embodies the struggle of the disenfranchised, mainly Muslim northern population, will take over the country's highest office.

The electoral commission was supposed to only have 72 hours to declare a winner, and we were already approaching the end of the second day with only a tiny handful of results, all cast by Ivorians living abroad. Mr. Gbagbo's camp was contesting the results of the election in three Ouattara strongholds in the north – even before the vote counts were made public.

They claimed voter intimidation, violence, and fraud. An Interior Ministry official read a list of dozens of alleged irregularities on state television, running the gamut from angry crowds blocking Gbagbo supporters from voting to armed men making off with the ballot boxes.

As an official stepped outside, prepared to announce some initial results, which he claimed were approved by the electoral commission, representatives of the ruling FPI who identified themselves as members of the electoral commission ripped up the paper with the initial results.

The official and the journalists went back inside, only to have soldiers show up a little later and politely ask the journalists to leave.

Things went downhill from there.

More to follow.

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