16 August 2018

Liberia: Is Côte d'Ivoire's Amnesty Just Shrewd Politics?


On Côte d'Ivoire's independence day, President Alassane Ouattara announced an immediate amnesty for 800 prisoners that were held for their participation in the 2010/2011 post-electoral crisis. Among those set free were several ex-cabinet members, military officers and Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who remains in custody of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Officially the amnesty is meant as a gesture of reconciliation to heal the wounds of the 2010/2011 crisis, which saw Laurent Gbagbo refuse to accept an electoral defeat, resulting in the reignition of the country's civil war.

Human rights organisations like Amnesty International have condemned the amnesty (a little ironically), because it sets free many people accused and convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The amnesty will also likely end any efforts on part of the government, if there ever were any, to bring to justice human rights offenders among Ouattara's own supporters.

Another sinister interpretation of the amnesty puts it into the context of Ivory Coast's upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Ouattara will likely run again, claiming that a constitutional term limit introduced in 2016 can't be applied retroactively. In 2010 and 2015, his victory was dependent on a coalition of various political parties, organised in the RHDP coalition. This coalition has shown signs of increasing internal conflict since Ouattara's decision to run again.

Gbagbo's old party, the FPI has largely boycotted the elections since 2010 and splintered to some degree. In its weakened state, it wouldn't be a serious contender in 2020. That puts Ouattara, who has a comparatively small electoral base, at risk of losing out to one of his former allies.

Ouattara may hope that by releasing Simone Gbagbo and many of the party's old cadres, the FPI can become a serious political force again, though one that wouldn't actually threaten the incumbent's electoral fortunes given the opposition's lack of control over state resources and security forces. A strengthened FPI would limit the appeal of Ouattara's current allies to protest-voters and maybe force the members of the RHDP to once again back Ouattara to defeat acommon enemy.

If this is really Ouattara's thinking, and if it will work, is of course still up in the air. But with the amnesty he has certainly introduced a new variable into Côte d'Ivoire's politics that will be interesting to follow.


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