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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Cote d'Ivoire: Political Developments

Cote d'Ivoire: Political Developments
Date distributed (ymd): 000818
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
Cote d'Ivoire military leader General Robert Guei this week registered as an independent candidate for the presidential election scheduled for September 17. Both Ivoirian and international observers expect rising tension as the election approaches. This posting consists of excerpts from a recent report by a delegation to Cote d'Ivoire of the National Democratic Institute in Washington.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Statement on Political Developments in Cote d'Ivoire

Abidjan, August 11, 2000

National Democratic Institute, Washington, DC

[Excerpts only: for full statement see http://www.ndi.org For further information on NDI's programs in Cote d'Ivoire, contact Sef Ashiagbor at sefakor@ndi.org or Susan Perez at susanp@ndi.org.]

From August 6 to 11, an NDI delegation visited Cote d'Ivoire and met with leaders of the main political parties, members of the transition government, representatives of civic organizations involved in democracy support activities, leaders of labor unions, journalists and other Ivorians interested in the transition process. The delegation's mission was to assess the current political environment and preparations for national elections planned for September and October 2000. The delegation's visit followed extensive consultations and a post-referendum roundtable organized by NDI's in-country representatives.

NDI's delegation to Cote d'Ivoire included elected officials, election experts and political analysts: Audrey McLaughlin, former President of the New Democratic Party of Canada; Ousmane Ngom, Secretary General of the Senegalese Liberal Party; Mountaga Tall, President of the National Congress for Democratic Initiative of Mali; Guy Martin, Professor of Government at the University of Virginia; and Chris Fomunyoh, NDI Regional Director for West, Central and East Africa. The delegation was joined by NDI's Resident Director in Cote d'Ivoire, Derek Singer. The delegation was assisted by Sef Ashiagbor, NDI Program Officer.

I. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The delegation noted several problems involving fundamental democratic principles and political participation that cause grave concerns about the prospects for a credible and transparent transition to democratic rule. Among these problems, the delegation identified four critical issues that could undermine the integrity of the entire transition process.

Despite the Committee for the Salvation of the Republic (CNSP)'s promises and public assertions of commitment to a genuine transition in the days following December 24, 1999, prospects for a credible transition in Cote d'Ivoire have diminished because of partisan tensions and distrust among political actors, controversy over the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates, restrictions on political party activity and travel by party leaders, and ambiguity over whether General Guei will become a candidate for president. At the same time, Ivorians desire an expeditious end to the transition and a quick return of the country to democratic civilian rule.

General Guei's decision to file his candidacy for the presidency with the PDCI, his decision to remove members of some political parties from the transition government in May, the change in the language of the constitutional referendum on presidential eligibility after the text was published in the Government Gazette, and the steps taken to curtail political party activities all continue to raise concerns among Ivorians and within the international community that there is a lack of commitment on the part of the CNSP to an inclusive, transparent and representative transition whose outcome would be viewed as credible and legitimate.

The delegation heard continued debate concerning Alassane Ouattara's eligibility to run for president. The delegation also heard speculation about other party leaders and potential candidates that could be prevented from running under provisions of the newly voted constitution. However, the delegation observed that preventing the candidacy of Alassane Ouattara or other party leaders without just cause would be seen by many Ivorians and most of the international community as denying Ivorians the right to make a full choice at the ballot box. Such an outcome would adversely affect the integrity of the election and transition processes.

The independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of every democratic society. It takes on added importance when the individual and human rights of citizens are at stake. The delegation noted that the political crisis of the last twelve months has deeply shaken the integrity and independence of the Ivorian judiciary.

These issues should be resolved in a manner that inspires the confidence of Ivorians and the international community in the CNSP's commitment to a credible and transparent transition process. ...

Political Context In December 1999, an NDI delegation visited Cote d'Ivoire at a critical stage in the country's history. Rising political tensions had created an atmosphere that jeopardized chances for inclusive and transparent elections in 2000. At the same time, Ivorians were faced with pressing social and economic problems that required increased accountability and transparency in the management of resources.

The December 1999 delegation identified serious problems involving fundamental democratic principles and political participation that caused grave concerns about the prospects for democratic governance and meaningful elections. Opposition party leaders had been arrested and imprisoned under a law that restricted the rights to freedom of assembly. The delegation was also concerned about questions raised regarding the independence of the judiciary, as well as lingering doubts about the administration of and legal provisions for the electoral process. Given the precedent of election-related disputes and violence during the 1995 elections, the delegation strongly urged that additional decisive measures be taken immediately to create an appropriate environment and conditions for a democratic electoral process that would have the confidence of the Ivorian people.

On December 24, 1999, one week after the NDI delegation left the country, the military overthrew President Henri Konan Bedie and his government. Due to the lack of respect for democratic principles and practice, and the disinterest in genuine dialogue with opposition leaders on issues of importance to the country demonstrated by the Bedie government, many Ivorians initially welcomed its ouster; however, notwithstanding the non democratic character of the Bedie government, the manner in which it was replaced raised deep concerns about the future of democracy in Cote d'Ivoire. The emergence of military rule, previously unheard of in Cote d'Ivoire, cast a cloud of doubt over prospects for democratic governance in the country.

The Post-Coup Transition Immediately following the events of December 24, the military created the CNSP led by General Robert Guei, dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the constitution. The CNSP released all political prisoners who had been incarcerated by President Bedie including the nine Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR) leaders imprisoned since October 1999 and whose records were expunged. After consultations with political parties and civil society organizations, General Guei appointed an interim government that included representatives from across the political spectrum. He also established a broad-based Constitutional and Electoral Consultative Commission (CCCE) to draft a new constitution and electoral code. General Guei's decision to establish an inclusive transition cabinet comprised of members of the political parties and civil society organizations gave confidence to Ivorian citizens that the military would continue to play an apolitical and non-partisan role.

Shortly after the coup on December 24, 1999, Ivorians and democrats around the world urged the military leaders to establish a transition government, create institutions that would lay the foundation for inclusive elections and return the country to civilian rule. Initially, the military declared its intention to play a neutral role in the conduct of the transition elections. It seemed to recognize that the credibility of the entire transition would depend on constitutional and electoral reform processes that are fair and so perceived by Ivorians.

In February, the CNSP created the Commission for the Supervision of the Organization of the Referendum (COSUR) to oversee the administration of the constitutional referendum originally scheduled for April 30, but later postponed to July 23. It included representatives from the seven main political parties, civil society, and government ministries. In May, the CNSP announced a timetable for presidential, legislative and municipal elections.

II. FINDINGS AND OBSERVATIONS OF THE NDI DELEGATION

... As in December 1999, the delegation identified serious problems involving fundamental democratic principles and political participation that cause grave concerns about the prospects for democratic governance and meaningful elections during the current transition period.

Eligibility of Presidential Candidates The debate on the eligibility of presidential candidates has plagued Ivorians for the past year and is threatening to further divide the country along regional, ethnic, and religious lines. In March 2000, the CCCE, tasked with drafting a new constitution and electoral code, submitted to General Guei its final draft constitution and electoral code to be put to referendum. The draft recommended that in order to run as candidate for presidential office the candidate's mother or father had to be Ivorian. Six days before the referendum, and after the draft constitution had been published in the official gazette, the CNSP changed the eligibility requirement to read, 'both the mother and father' of presidential candidates must be Ivorians by birth. This substantive modification of language already agreed upon by the CCCE and made public resulted in widespread confusion about the significance of the referendum. It also suggested to many Ivorians that deliberate attempts were being made to block the candidacy of a specific political candidate whose parentage has been questioned by his opponents.

The Military's Interference in Political Processes As in 1999, when an Executive Order issued by President Bedie restricted public 'demonstrations in open sites', recent edicts by the CNSP have prevented certain political parties from holding political events. For example, on July 27, the RDR party was prevented from holding a public meeting to launch its platform. While the CNSP explained that 'political demonstrations and rallies' are prohibited until the official campaign period is opened, certain parties, including the new Rassemblement pour le Consensus National that was formed in support of Guei's candidacy, have been allowed to hold meetings to discuss their platforms. ......

The delegation heard disturbing reports of the violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration organized on July 31 to express support for French Minister Josselin's comments on the political situation in the country. Demonstrators were beaten, stripped naked, forced to crawl along the road and to perform other inhuman acts. The brutality of such acts perpetrated by the security forces, shocked Ivorians and the international community, particularly since similar demonstrations had taken place a few days before in support of the government's position without the intervention of security forces. This incident raised serious concerns about the CNSP's respect for human rights, especially in the immediate aftermath of the referendum that approved a constitution guaranteeing such rights.

Government Inconsistency and Violation of Decrees In May 2000, the CNSP reshuffled the broad-based interim government formed in December 1999 to exclude representatives of several political parties from the transition cabinet. More military officers were brought into the cabinet, and all but one of the CNSP officers were assigned ministerial portfolios. The CNSP also faced an army mutiny on July 4 and 5. Although the CNSP reached an agreement with the mutineers who were demanding payment for their role in the December coup d'etat, in the aftermath of the mutiny the CNSP accused political parties of encouraging the mutiny and arrested and detained four political party leaders for two days without charges. The president of the Parti pour le Progres et le Socialisme, was questioned over his alleged involvement in the events of July 4 and 5. The delegation also arrived in Abidjan in the middle of the trial of 45 of 51 military officers accused of involvement in the July mutiny.

The delegation noted that the CNSP breached many of its own decrees relating to the conduct of the transition and the constitutional review process. For example, the functioning of the full CCCE and its subcommittees in the constitutional review process was not respected. An amendment defining the eligibility for presidential candidates was unilaterally changed by the CNSP six days before the July 23
constitutional referendum and after the initial text had been published, leaving many Ivorians uninformed about the actual text they were voting on. Despite a decree signed by General Guei on July 25 authorizing political party leaders to travel outside the country without first seeking prior permission from the CNSP, on July 27 the president of RDR was prevented from leaving the country. In addition, the Minister for Communication has given approval for Radio Nostalgie to resume operations but security forces continue to prevent the radio station from broadcasting.

Independence of the Judiciary ... The delegation noted that the political crisis of the last twelve months has deeply shaken the integrity and independence of the Ivorian judiciary. For example, in the fall of 1999, numerous politically motivated charges were brought against Ouattara by the Bedie government. The delegation strongly believes that the rights of innocent citizens should not be trampled on; however, the manner in which the charges were brought and then dropped lends credence to the perception that the Ivorian judiciary is highly politicized. The group heard numerous concerns related to the recent appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, the body tasked with ruling on the eligibility of presidential candidates. ...

Administration of Transition Elections Although the various agencies and donors involved in the referendum process worked hard to deploy resources in a short time frame, a variety of logistical problems plagued the referendum. ... This led to an extension of the voting for an additional day. All major political parties called for a 'yes' vote on the referendum. Such unanimity cannot be expected in subsequent polling. The delegation noted the recent formation of a new national election commission whose independence is yet to be established.

Access to State-Controlled Media State-controlled radio and television are the only media that reach virtually all parts of Cote d'Ivoire. The delegation heard complaints of a lack of equitable access and coverage (including the right of response) of political party activities in the
state-controlled media. Under the newly adopted
constitutional provision, equitable access to state owned media for all candidates is to be guaranteed by the National Commission for Audiovisual Communication (CNCA). ...

Freedom of the Press The delegation was also concerned about questions raised regarding the exercise of freedom of the press, and the harassment and mistreatment of journalists in Cote d'Ivoire. Since the army mutiny of July 4 and 5, Radio Nostalgie, an independent radio station, has been shut down. In the days leading up to the delegation's visit, two journalists working for a local newspaper were arrested for defamation of the head of state and detained for two days. A reporter working for the BBC was also been beaten by security forces as he tried to observe and report on demonstrations in front of the French Embassy.

Ethical Standards for Reporting Print media play a highly visible role in political discourse, particularly in Abidjan. Freedom of the press is critical to a democratic system and journalists also have a responsibility to report on issues accurately and without bias. While the press coverage situation improved early this year, the delegation noted that the increasingly partisan nature of a number of media in Cote d'Ivoire exacerbates political differences and contributes to an environment in which it is more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction as covered by the Ivorian press. This situation hinders the public's ability to make informed assessments of political developments that affect the country.

Voter Registration The validity of electoral lists, and complaints about the lack of thoroughness of the voter census and registration process, were among shortcomings identified by opposition parties during the Bedie era. These problems continue to plague the electoral process in the country. Some of the major political parties complained that many of their supporters had been targeted when, just days before the referendum, COSUR announced that approximately 80,000 registered voters were placed on a list of ineligible voters pending proof of their citizenship. Registered voters were given one week to offer proof of their citizenship, but for many this process was unclear. Over 8,000 individuals filed petitions to be reinstated on the voter lists. However, once again, due to the short time available, not all of the requests were processed in time for the referendum. ...

Civic Education The delegation found a dearth of information and political discourse on democratic principles and practices. Ivorians are not being informed about the provisions of the newly adopted constitution. ...

Before the new constitution and electoral code, Cote d'Ivoire had traditionally used a multiple ballot system. Single ballots were used in the recent referendum and are the norm established in the new electoral code. Many Ivorians agree that the single ballot is less susceptible to manipulation and enhances voters' rights to a secret ballot; however, the delegation heard complaints that citizens had not been provided adequate information or other education about the use of a single ballot in the period leading up to the referendum. ...


This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC provides accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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