Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire: Promoting and Preserving Democracy in the African Context

Almost simultaneously, the people of Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire carried out their democratic duty of electing a new president. While for the very first time Guineans were exercising their democratic right to vote in free and fair elections, Ivorian citizens were trying to regain their right to inclusive democratic elections after many years of civil strife. Although the hope was that both countries would undergo a fair and peaceful transition in governance, only the Guinean people have been afforded that opportunity, with presidential contender Cellou Dalein Diallo’s recent decision to concede defeat. Cote D’Ivoire’s incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, has instead refused to concede the election, citing election fraud: a claim that certainly holds legitimacy. These two events in many ways define the state of democracy in Africa today. Whether democracy will prevail is entirely dependent upon the integrity of the election and perhaps more importantly, the perception by the population of the election’s fairness and of an individual’s willingness to accept defeat when lawfully required. While for now Guineans have been fortunate to escape the tribulations of further election challenges and violent confrontations between parties, Ivorians are under serious threat of civil conflict, as an internally disputed election threatens peaceful democratic transition.  

The Guinean people’s struggle to attain democracy culminated recently with a presidential election between Alpha Conde, long time opposition leader, and Cellou Dalien Diallo, former prime minister and member of the traditional political establishment. Guineans had suffered through 25 years of dictatorship, but after the death of long time despot Lansana Conté, it seemed Guineans finally had sufficient political space to potentially establish long-awaited democracy. However, the political ambitions of a low ranked military officer, Moussa Dadis Camara, threatened to once again plunge the country into the deep abyss of autocracy. Fortunately, military infighting resulted in a bullet to the head for Mr. Camara and a transfer of power to a civilian transitional regime led by General Sekouba Konaté. General Konaté, a former ally of Camara’s, has proven his commitment to establishing a functional democracy through the implementation of free and fair presidential elections. Although the initial presidential election provided no clear winner and thus prompted a run-off, whose run-up was marred with sporadic violence, the elections process has been widely lauded. The transitional leadership assured proper voter registration, fair access for all candidates and extensive security during campaigning and voting. The run-off pitted the two front runners against one another: Condé (who received a mere 18% of the original vote), and Diallo (who received 44%); interestingly, the reason for Condé’s low voter percentage was the high number of opposition candidates on the ballot. During the November run-off, Condé represented the whole of the opposition and as a result won the election with 53% of the vote.

After the run-off, Diallo and his supporters attempted to challenge the results through the courts, claiming election fraud in several of the northern districts, but his claim was ultimately rejected by Guinea’s Supreme Court and Condé was confirmed as president. Many were naturally concerned that Diallo would use his influence over his supporters to challenge the court’s decision, essentially holding democracy hostage to serve his own personal political ambitions—just like others before him. However, going against what is increasingly viewed as the norm in Africa, Diallo actually ceded defeat and urged his supporters to accept the court’s decision in favor of national reconciliation. The frequency of coups d’etat in Africa, either in the form of changes to term limits, military takeovers or unconstitutional compromises, is alarming. Many now come to expect these outcomes during times of major political change, which is why Diallo’s concession was ultimately so surprising and certainly merited praise. Diallo distinguished himself from others because he chose to navigate the country’s democratic institutions in contesting election results and upon failing to garner the desired result, accepted a democratically made decision.

When comparing the stark contrast in the post-election situation between Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire, one must consider the political and social conditions in each country. Clearly, circumstances in Guinea were far more favorable for peaceful democratic transition. After decades of dictatorship, the population, although divided somewhat amongst ethnic lines, had unified in their desire for democratic reform. Never was a population so ripe for democracy, particularly after having suffered major human rights violations under the Camara regime. Another advantage for Guineans was the presence of a strong multilateral transitional regime and the support of a mostly unified military (unlike Cote D’Ivoire which has a separate rebel force operating in the North). Guinea’s transitional President Sekouba Konaté provided much needed leadership, as well as sufficient muscle to ensure the cooperation of all parties, which was key to ensuring widespread fair elections.

Such was not the case in Cote D’Ivoire, which narrowly avoided civil war only years earlier and is clearly divided by regional and religious lines. Alassane Ouattara viewed by the international community as President-elect represents the opposition, which is essentially comprised of the Muslim-dominated North, an area that has faced increasing neglect by a Southern-dominated Ivorian government. Although Ouattara represents the ‘opposition’, which in the African context has in many ways come to be perceived as always representing the ‘oppressed’, Ouattara’s past history would suggest that his intentions may not be so noble. Ouattara is the former Prime Minister, who served under the now late dictator, Ivorian President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Ouattara’s quest for the presidency began nearly two decades ago, and his initial failure at obtaining the post is what many say prompted his aggravation of civil conflict in Cote D’Ivoire. Many accuse Ouattara of inciting ethnic tension between the North and South for his own political ends. Gbagbo’s record on the other hand is quite impressive. Gbagbo predominantly represents the Christian South and the country’s first real democratic regime. Gbagbo was a long-time opposition leader during the Houphouët-Boigny dictatorship, who campaigned for increased independence from its former colonial power, France—rather interestingly, France’s recent decision to support Ouattara is viewed as suspect by many, given Ouattara’s previous connection to Francophile Houphouët-Boigny regime. Ultimately, Gbagbo’s past history and action lends him more credibility as a reliable, democratic leader than his rival.

In addition to a clear division of the Ivorian population along geographical and religious lines, the presence of UN and the influence of the French government also change the political dynamic. The French government will naturally work to ensure its interests are protected—it operates a military base in the country and has intervened before. Many blame France’s military intervention in the conflict in 2003-2004 as the reason Ivory Coast remains divided today. The UN and its peacekeeping force, on the other hand, have the rather difficult task of acting impartially but also enforcing the principals of democracy, hence its backing of Ouattara, who was deemed winner by the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)—although the decision was not unanimous and was immediately disputed by the country’s Constitutional Council. Another serious impediment to ensuring an independent political process is the obvious partiality of several key governmental bodies, which includes the IEC and the Constitutional Council. The Independent Electoral Commission in Cote D’Ivoire, which is comprised of 461 members, is over 90% pro-Ouattara. Gbagbo’s support is limited to a mere 42 members. Gbagbo initially agreed to this composition in 2002, because by law, any decision made by the commission would have to be unanimous and all votes would have to be made both manually and electronically, ensuring a check upon the system. In addition, Gbagbo maintained the support of the Constitutional Council, whose leader is an ally of Gbagbo. The country’s military also continues to provide Gbagbo valuable support, and Gbagbo’s control extends to state television, which does pose a significant problem for any opposition and democracy in general.

The bias of these above mentioned institutions has certainly come into play throughout the election process in Cote D’Ivoire. Although UN presence within Cote D’Ivoire was extensive, rebels in the North prevented substantial UN involvement in election preparation and monitoring in the North. Without any protection, Gbagbo’s northern supporters faced serious pressure and violence from opposition and rebel forces. The IEC and the few international observers that had access in the North documented beatings, killings and other forms of intimidation committed against Gbagbo supporters. In addition, voting irregularities were reported in several districts. There were reports of rebel forces supervising, stuffing and carrying ballots, contrary to election rules. In an obvious case of fraud, Chadian NGO Chadian Action reported that in the rebel-controlled district of Bandama, Ouattara won 149,598 votes, but the local IEC reported 244,471 votes for Bandama. Where did the additional 95,000 votes come from?

Irregularities like these clearly bring merit to Gbagbo’s accusations of significant fraud; in addition, Gbagbo is correct in his assertion that under the law, responsibility of determining the election winner shifts to the Constitutional Council if the IEC fails to announce the provisional results of the election by the designated deadline date. Furthermore, as stated above, the law requires that the IEC come to its decision by consensus, which did not occur. The president of the IEC Yousouf Bakayoko  took the press by surprise on December 2, 2010 when he appeared at an hotel, which Ouattara had been using as his headquarters, to announce that Ouattara  had won the election in the second round with 54.1% of the vote, against 45.9% for Laurent Gbagbo. Results had been expected and then postponed for days, beyond the deadline.

The Constitutional Council immediately, by the voice of its President Paul Yao N’Dre, took to the airwaves to say that the IEC had no authority left to announce any results, because it had already missed its deadline to announce the results, and consequently the results were invalid.  After examining the reports and claims of irregularities, the Constitutional Council cancelled the results from the disputed northern regions, thereby swinging the outcome narrowly in favor of Gbagbo, who was credited with 51.45% of the vote, while Ouattara had 48.55%.

On the basis of the IEC's results, Ouattara maintained that he was the elected president and said that the Constitutional Council had abused its authority.  The country’s constitution gives the Council final determination of election results.   In reviewing election results and announcing Gbagbo victor, the Council exercised its rights and responsibility as outlined by the Ivorian constitution. No other structure according to the Ivory Coast constitution has the power to do so but the Constitutional Council.   In addition, France also has a Constitutional Council (CC) which decides the presidency, using the same procedure as in Ivory Coast.  In both France and Cote d’Ivoire, the Council’s two main areas of power are:

1). The first is the supervision of elections both presidential and parliamentary and ensuring the legitimacy of referendums. The Council issues the official election results; it ensures proper conduct and fairness of the electoral process. The Council is the supreme authority in these matters. It can declare an election to be invalid if improperly conducted, or if the elected candidate used illegal methods, or if he spent for his campaign over the legal limits.

2). The second area of Council power is the interpretation of the fundamental meanings of the constitution, procedure, legislation and treaties. The Council can declare dispositions of laws to be contrary to the constitution or to the principles of constitutional value. It also may declare laws to be in contravention of treaties signed. Its declaration that a law is contrary to constitutional or treaty dispositions renders that law invalid. The decisions of the Council are binding on all authorities.

In Coté d’Ivoire, just like in France, the President of the Constitutional Council is appointed by the President of the Republic; therefore, any attempt to criticize the Council in Coté D’Ivoire for being pro-Gbagbo is simply absurd. The law designs it so that the Council is supportive of the president, whoever that may be. The decision to deny the Council its rights under the Ivorian constitution is completely contrary to the principles of the rule of law required by democratic governance. The international community’s failure to acknowledge and accept, not only the legitimate concerns raised regarding election fraud, but the Council’s role as well is deeply suspicious and is clearly a decision marked by political exceptionalism, favoritism and expediency. It would be absurd if the international community opposed the 2000 US Supreme Court decision—which made George W. Bush the winner of the US presidential election—and instead supported Al Gore, threatening military action if Gore was not given the post. In addition, could the international community or any other entity invalidate or ignore France’s CC’s decision just because they decided they didn’t like that individual’s politics? The United Nations, in which France has strong influence, has lost significant credibility as a result of its unfettered support of Ouattara and its failure to recognize legitimate democratic procedures and to address serious concerns over disputed election results.

Although Gbagbo has legitimate concerns regarding election irregularities, his actions in handling the electoral dispute warrant criticism, particularly his use of security forces against the opposition and the ongoing manipulation of state media to launch a propaganda campaign in his favor. In addition, it is widely noted that the IEC’s failure to announce the winner by the deadline date was caused in part by the ruling party’s direct interference. It was reported that days before the deadline, the ruling party physically prevented the IEC’s spokesman from announcing the results on television—although results were determined without reaching the consensus needed for such action to occur.  And although the Constitutional Council exercised its constitutional responsibility and democratic duty in reviewing and ultimately nullifying disputed election results, its determination of Gbagbo being the rightful winner is still viewed by the international community and many Ivorians as questionable.  In the Ivorian case, the UN defended its decision to support the IEC’s decision by contending that even if irregular votes were nullified from several disputed districts, Ouattara still leads in votes over Gbagbo. However, since that statement was made by the UN representative in Cote d’Ivoire, President Laurent Gbagbo has requested and proposed a full recount of the votes to determine who really won: a request that has yet to be taken into consideration by Mr. Alassane Ouattara and his supporters, who seem to only be interested in the physical removal of Gbagbo.  The International Community has also remained quiet on this subject. A recount, similar to what just occurred in Alaska, is the position being supported by the former French foreign minister and President of France’s Constitutional Council, Mr. Roland Dumas, who has just completed a fact finding trip to Cote d’Ivoire along with the internationally reknown French lawyer Jacques Verges.

With unanimous international support of Ouattara and mounting pressure for Gbagbo to relinquish his position, Gbagbo’s obstinacy in maintaining the presidency and his continued desire to negotiate with Ouattara has led many to believe that he might be opened to a similar power-sharing deal as was implemented in Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2008, which is also a major concern and has great implications.

In February 2008, African leaders and other members of the international community set a dangerous precedent, when they negotiated a power-sharing deal between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who like Gbagbo refused to relinquish power, and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who had essentially won the presidential election but was denied the position. The precedent proved dangerous because it basically sent the message to all African leaders that if you make enough of a commotion after losing an election, you can remain in power. This apprehension over the deal was certainly warranted given the fact that the political formula which resulted in a power-sharing deal in Kenya was not unique to Kenya. In fact, obstinate leaders, ethnically divided populations and military interventionism were fairly characteristic of most African nations.

Fears were substantiated in September 2008 when Zimbabwe Dictator Robert Mugabe orchestrated a campaign of horror against the opposition and then refused to cede power after a fraudulent election. Instead of being forced from his position, Mugabe was offered a similarly conceived power-sharing deal, which once again permitted the obstinate president to remain in power, while simultaneously creating a prime minister position, void of any real independent power. Although many lauded this as a first step towards democracy in Zimbabwe, the deal ultimately made a mockery of it. Even worse, it offered a semblance of legitimacy to the dictator’s rule. The deal in Kenya, a politically progressive state, was particularly devastating because it destroyed democracy in Kenya. Kenya will not be a democracy again until its president is decided by election, not by negotiation. Even with an environment different from what we had in Kenya and Zimbabwe, the situation in Cote D’Ivoire is highly reflective of Kenya two years prior; thus it is imperative that the international community prevent any party from capitalizing from this precedent.  

The International Institute of Justice and Development (IIJD) has a firm position on democracy in Africa, but in this specific case of Cote D’Ivoire, we call upon all parties to exercise restraint in order to ensure the safety and security of all Ivorians. In regards to the political situation, the IIJD calls upon all parties, including the international community, to continue to seek peaceful resolution of the situation that first and foremost respects the rule of law and ensures that basic democratic principles are protected. The UN and the larger international community have the responsibility of creating an environment in Cote D’Ivoire that guarantees a free and fair presidential election and that protects democratic procedures and institutions. We therefore call upon the UN, AU, EU, ECOWAS, France and the US to help resolve the crisis in Ivory Coast through peaceful negotiation, not by inciting and supporting mercenaries, rebel forces and/or Ouattara, unilaterally.  We think it's necessary to remind the international community of Mr. Allasane D. Ouattara’s reported role as the main architect and financier of the Ivorian civil war, as well as his failure to demonstrate his capability and willingness to respect the principles of democracy when he had the opportunity to. We urge France to respect the institutions of the sovereign Cote d’Ivoire, especially the executive and judicial branches.  France’s involvement in Cote D’Ivoire’s internal affairs must end.  We also call Gbagbo supporters, Ivorian security forces and any opposition forces to halt attacks and/or violence against civilians and UN peacekeepers and other personnel. We ask that both camps refrain from using children and innocent civilians for political purposes.  

For the sake of democracy, peace and security, and since elections have become a source of conflicts in Africa,  the IIJD recommends the establishment of an organ at the UN with the specific mission of helping create within member countries the institutions and the environment that can guarantee peaceful transition to democracy and organize/supervise free and fair elections wherever they are planned.   By taking such proactive approach, the Ineternational comunity through the UN will begin playing an active role in promoting peaceful transition to democracy, in organizing and observing free and fair elections, and preserving peace and security throughout the world.   The international community will therefore have the means to effectively promote democracy, while sending a clear message to world leaders and dictators around the world that self-serving, autocratic behavior will no longer be tolerated.

The IIJD strongly recommends the implementation of one of the following options in resolving the current dispute over Cote D’Ivoire’s presidential election:

1). A formal review of the election results including recounting of all the votes to determine the winner presidential election, performed by a completely independent mission of experienced international NGOs and respected leaders and professionals.

2). The implementation of a second election in areas of disputed results, significant irregularities and reported acts of violence and intimidation. The election would be supervised and administered by the UN, the AU and observed by reputable internationals NGOs.

3). The implementation of a second election or ‘run-off’ throughout the entire country. The election would be supervised and administered by the UN, the AU and observed by reputable international NGOs.

The IIJD believes that only the implementation of one of the above-mentioned three options will ensure respect for the rule of law and due consideration for the circumstances surrounding the dispute. The IIJD calls upon the international community to act fairly in its resolution of this crisis and to fulfill its UN mandate of fostering democracy justly and impartially.