Abidjan — As Côte d'Ivoire inches closer to its first elections since the violently disputed polls of 2010, efforts to deliver justice, promote reconciliation and disarm fighters are being criticized for failing to shield the country from renewed instability.
Since taking power, the government of President Alassane Ouattara has been dogged by accusations of carrying out only partial justice in response to the clashes, which killed at least 3,000 people following the November 2010 presidential run-off. The bulk of those detained for crimes related to the violence have been supporters of ousted rival and former president Laurent Gbagbo.
The next presidential elections are set to be held in October 2015.
More to be done
The Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CDVR), established in 2011, has handed Ouattara a report detailing alleged abuses, but observes criticized the commission for failing to foster reconciliation.
So far, only one out of the 86 cases relating to the conflict has been concluded. Meanwhile, several suspects have been granted temporary freedom in recent months, a move hoped to bolster reconciliation.
The Special Investigations Units, tasked with investigating crimes arising from the 2010-2011 crisis, has called for the trial of perpetrators of violence, regardless of their political status. It has also recommended judicial and land reforms, the provision of psychological support for victims, and other measures. But the release of suspects and the apparent tendency to spare some people targeted by arrest warrants from prosecution have caused concerns that political considerations are overriding justice.
The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Authority (ADDR) says it has managed to reintegrate 27,000 of the targeted 30,000 former fighters. However, armed traditional hunters known as "dozo", who fought for Ouattara, remain a security threat, as do armed attacks. A recent raid killed four people in western Côte d'Ivoire, where unresolved land, political and ethnic disputes have repeatedly ignited conflict.
Côte d'Ivoire is nonetheless making economic progress. GDP grew to 9.8 percent in 2012, from negative 4.7 percent in 2011, according to the World Bank, which attributed the progress to political stability and support by international lenders. The government is targeting 10 percent growth this year, up from 8.7 percent in 2013, betting on agricultural development to prop up the economy.
"The government believes that agricultural financing is a key component for rural economic and social transformation. We have appealed to partners to promote bolder and more ambitious agricultural finance schemes to spur the Ivoirian economy, which has been weakened by a series of political and military crises," Agricultural Minister Mamadou Coulibaly Sangafowa told a group of visiting French investors earlier this month.
The government has also set up a US$24 billion National Development Plan for 2012-2015. According to the Côte d'Ivoire Investment Promotion Centre (CEPCI), investment volume rose 131 percent between 2012 and 2013.
"We are aiming to be an emerging economy by 2020, and we are fully engaged," said CEPICI director Emmanuel Essis.
But while praising the economic strategy taken by Ouattara's administration, Abidjan-based economic analyst Mafoumgbé Bamba cautioned that fears over the next elections could slow the economic momentum.
"At the moment we can see a slowdown, and with the uncertainties over the next presidential election, a significant investment slowdown this year is not unlikely," he said.
"Major problems are beginning to emerge, and this is causing worries in the run-up to the elections," Abidjan lawyer and political analyst Geoffroy-Julien Kouao told IRIN, citing shortcomings in disarmament and an electoral commission that has yet to be reformed. "These are serious drawbacks for Ouattara's government. We can't be totally pessimistic, but one can't help worrying ahead of the 2015 polls."
The electoral commission was set up in 2007 after a peace deal between Gbagbo's government and New Forces rebels. It is made up of political party representatives and members of the New Forces. In January of this year, the government opened consultations on the composition of the electoral commission, but no agreement has been reached with the opposition.
"The process is slow and doesn't inspire any confidence," said Julien Gauze Fernand, spokesman of a civil society coalition for electoral reforms. "At this rate, we are wondering when the huge task of updating the voters roll will start in order to have a credible, undisputed election."
The civil society coalition had demanded the dissolution of the electoral commission after the 2011 legislative polls. Now the coalition is calling for a reduction in electoral commission members to seven from 31, and the inclusion of civil society members, political parties and experts.
"Côte d'Ivoire is not yet ready for the 2015 elections. We have lost a lot of time and we are not hopeful that the election date will be respected," said Pascal Affi N'guessan, head of Gbagbo's Ivoirian Patriotic Front party. N'guessan was freed in November 2013 after being arrested in April 2011 as Ouattara came to power.
But government spokesman Bruno Koné maintains that electoral commission reforms and the revision of the voters list will be undertaken.
Some observers say the delivery of justice and disarmament of ex-combatants and the dozo have been unsatisfactory.
"Yet it is the completion of all these that can guarantee the success of the next election. But if the wounds caused by the post-election crisis are still open, there is fear that the old demons may return," said Pierre Adjoumani, head of the Ivoirian Human Rights League.
"President Ouattara's credibility depends on this [post-poll recovery]. Now he is freeing pro-Gbagbo prisoners simply because he no longer wants to hear about trying his allies, but this is also a wrong approach. It condones impunity."
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on 27 January, Aichatou Mindaoudou, head of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire, said urgent security sector reforms and reconciliation were needed ahead of the elections.
The 2013 Ibrahim governance index ranked Côte d'Ivoire 44 out 52 African countries, and 15 out of 16 West African states. The assessment evaluates a range of issues such rule of law, national security and rights.
Corruption also remains a major problem in the West African country, with some observers saying it is partly fuelled by widespread poverty. "The low wages of many workers and unemployment is badly affecting the population living on less than a dollar a day. This can only accelerate corruption," said economic analyst Bamba.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]