By Christopher Fomunyoh, Ph.D
"in looking at political leadership across our continent and its attitude to elections and other democratic practices, one cannot help but lament that, in still too many African countries, our political elites and leaders have no respect for us as citizens and our votes and voices."
Dear readers, with Ivorian emissaries coming to Cameroon and some of our fellow citizens taking public stances on the ongoing political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, I would like to chime in with a few facts to further enrich the discussion. I am truly inspired by the in depth analysis of many of our brothers and sisters, although astonished and disappointed by the misguided characterizations of a few others. I am also hoping that as we debate Cote d'Ivoire this 2010, we think of how we would approach the circumstances should a similar situation arise in our own country in the not-too-distant future.
A couple of years ago, another African leader, former President Ket Masire of Botswana told me that from his experience in office, many problems on our continent stem from our collective reluctance to call a spade a spade. We would rather use euphemisms and call a spade 'an agricultural tool', hoping some people would understand we are referring to a spade. In my professional life, I have seen people react to difficult problems in two ways: some people make the problems more complicated and intractable by piling on pre-existing grievances and other externalities; others break down the issues into easily solvable chunks or bits, and then aggregate the small solutions from each of the chunks into a comprehensive big solution. I belong to the second school of thought. Points about nationalism, sovereignty, the colonial heritage and neo-colonialism, the CFA franc and the stranglehold on our economies, the role of the French and the international community, are all legitimate, but should be debated on a separate track; because, in my view, these are externalities to the key question of who had the most legitimate votes and therefore won the second round of the Ivorian presidential election of November 28, 2010.
Let me state for the record, that I have known both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara for the past two decades, and have considered both of them friends. I have also worked on issues of Ivorian politics since 1993, and both of these gentlemen can attest to that. In fact, in 1995, I was one of a few people that served as a human shield at the press conference held by Laurent Gbagbo to announce that in solidarity with Alassane Ouattara, he (Gbagbo) would organize an 'active boycott' of the presidential election of that year. Gbagbo then was in an electoral alliance with Ouattara under the banner of the Republican Front, and had insisted that I and my colleagues attend the press conference so our presence and that of international journalists would dissuade then Head of State Henri Konan Bedie from sending troops to disrupt the press conference.
I was in Abidjan a week before the coup d'etat of December 1999, that overthrew Bedie from power and, before departing Abidjan on December 18, 1999, had warned Bedie that the military could step in if he didn't take measures to open up political space and denounce his ill-conceived theory of 'ivoirité.'
I was in Cote d'Ivoire on November 28, 2010, and stayed in-country for over two weeks thereafter to gather more facts on the political crisis. Prior to departing Cote d'Ivoire, I met with the chairman of Laurent Gbagbo's party, former Prime Minister Affi Nguessan (another friend) as well as Alassane Ouattara himself. Here are the points I would like to clarify for you, dear ladies and gentlemen and fellow compatriots:
- Cote d’Ivoire was not a normal functioning country prior to the elections: While it is important to appreciate the role and import of Ivorian institutions, including the Constitutional Council, we must recognize that Cote d’Ivoire was still recovering from armed conflict and a number of mechanisms had been agreed upon by all parties and instituted as a means of helping the country exit from the post-conflict phase into a united functioning and democratic nation-state. The whole armada of peace agreements – Pretoria, Marcousis, Ouagadougou – and various UN Security Council resolutions have to be integrated into an understanding of the legal framework that governed the elections.
- UN Forces: The UN forces were a lifesaver for the Gbagbo government when the armed rebellion first broke, because without the 10,000 man strong force that served as a buffer between rebel-held North and government-controlled South, the rebels (or Forces Nouvelles) would have matched on Abidjan between 2002 – 2005. At the very least, there would have been a blood bath in that country. These forces, the bulk of whom are from ECOWAS member states, are operating under a Chapter 7 mandate which permits them to shoot back in legitimate defense, if fired upon. Their presence and effectiveness is needed now more than ever before, as we must remember that Cote d’Ivoire had its share of mass graves and death squads or ‘escadrons de la mort’ this past decade with people being picked up at night because of their political and / or ethnic affiliation.
- UN Certification was a written precondition agreed to by all Ivorian parties: The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative (UNSGSR) is not an interloper in the Ivorian electoral process. His role was agreed upon by all Ivorian parties in the Pretoria Accord negotiated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki in 2005. Later, and at the behest of all Ivorian parties, the African Union asked the UN Security Council to ratify the certification process, which the UN Security Council did in Resolution 1765 of July 2007.
- The practical implementation of the Certification: To comprehend the apparent fastness with which the UNSGSR certified the results announced by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Cote d’Ivoire, it is important to note that concrete steps had been build into the electoral system to expedite such certification. Notably, at the end of the vote count at each one of the 22,000 polling sites in the country, a copy of the tally sheet was placed in a specific envelope the sealed and destined for the UNSGSR. The UNSGSR and his staff were therefore able to undertake an independent verification of all 22,000 tally sheets as well as a tabulation of the total results in the three days period during which the Independent Election commission was compiling the results. It was therefore easy for the UNSGSR to compare the national results from the IEC with his own count, and to go public once the IEC pronounced Ouattara the winner. The UNSGSR went through a similar exercise for the first round of the election; and that was one of the reasons why Henri Konan Bedie who came in third and had grievances about some irregularities during the first round decided to drop his petitions.
- Was the announcement of the IEC time barred?: Some have argued that not having declared the preliminary results by midnight of the Wednesday following the close of the polls, the IEC no longer had the right to declare results. However, the argument is weakened by two facts: a) they were allegations that the Gbagbo camp was deliberately playing for time or sabotaging concensus building at the IEC so as to oblige the body to miss its deadline, and some of you may have seen images over TV and youtube about Gbagbo representatives blocking the spokesman of the IEC from announcing preliminary results earlier in the process; and b) there was already a precedence in that the election results of the first round were announced on the early Thursday morning (and therefore past the Wednesday midnight deadline), and all parties including the Constitutional Council (which did not step in then) acquiesced to that delay.
- The neutrality of the Constitutional Council: I do not know each of the seven members of this body, and so cannot speak to their political inclinations or biases, or lack thereof. However, it is a matter of public record that at the installation of the council early this year, then-President Laurent Gbagbo openly bragged in his remarks that ‘he had come to install his friend’…”celui la que je vous amene est mon ami personnel”. This is a direct quote and it’s in the public domain. Also, many Ivorians and independent analysts were surprised that the Constitutional Council took just a few hours after receiving the documents from the IEC to review all 22,000 tally sheets (as the president of the Council had promised on national TV), analyze the petition from the Gbagbo campaign, hear witnesses, and deliberate, agree on, and write its judgement. The constitution and electoral code give the Council seven days to deliberate on the preliminary results declared by the IEC.
- ‘Ultra vires’ principle: Did the Constitutional Council exceed its powers? There is respectable legal opinion that the Constitutional Council acted beyond its powers. The Ivorian Electoral Code does not authorize the Council to undertake a partial annulment of election results. Rather, Article 64 of the Code merely stipulates that should the Council find irregularities that could affect the outcome of the election, the council shall annul the entire election and order a rerun to be conducted within 45 days of the date of the council’s ruling. How could the Council then be rendering justice by annulling elections in only seven divisions (all situated in the Center and Northern parts of the country), thereby eliminating over 600,000 votes from the total of one of the candidates, and reversing the preliminary outcome of the election as announced by the IEC? Moreover, the ruling was based on an ‘ex parte motion’ which did not allow the other party with interest in the matter time or notice to be heard or to respond to the charges.
There is a lot more to be said or written about the current crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. I hope the above points enrich the debate as we continue to hope for a solution that doesn’t imperil more innocent lives. One of the lessons we draw from this situation so far is that in looking at political leadership across our continent and its attitude to elections and other democratic practices, one cannot help but lament that, in still too many African countries, our political elites and leaders have no respect for us as citizens and our votes and voices. If only they did, then would the rest of the world treat our continent and us as Africans with the respect and dignity we deserve.