Cote d'Ivoire: Opinion - Ivory Coast Needs New Men - or a Woman

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara casting his vote in Abidjan.
3 November 2020
opinion

If the old guard of politicians were to finally step down, Ivory Coast might have a real chance for peace at long last, writes Dirke Köpp.

A 1980s German pop star, Ina Deter, once had a hit singing: "I'll spray it on every wall: the country needs new men." These lyrics can be easily applied to the election in Ivory Coast. But while Ina Deter was primarily concerned with providing Germany with more good looking men, Ivory Coast is searching for a capable leader. Unfortunately, he is nowhere in sight. Maybe the country should try a woman?

Three of the four men who took part in Saturday's election have one thing in common: they are far too old for a country where the average age is 19. And none of the four is an asset for a democratic society: they polarize, cultivate their old rivalries and keep the country in a permanent crisis. They don't care about the country and its citizens. What matters to them are their personal interests and those of their ethnic group.

The old president

President Alassane Ouattara is a case in point. During his two terms in office he failed to heal the wounds caused by the power struggle after the 2010 election, from which he himself emerged victorious.

Ten years ago, Ouattara competed against his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo in the runoff for the presidency. Shortly afterwards, the country had two presidents. Both refused to step back. In the end, the dispute cost the lives of 3,000 people. Gbagbo was put behind bars and Ouattara took over.

Ouattara will now be sworn in for a third term. And even though he argues that this is legal, many Ivorians believe that his candidacy is a breach of the constitution. Gbagbo, on the other hand, was not allowed to run, nor were other well-known politicians who were too much of a competition for President Ouattara. The country is far from being reconciled.

Unsuitable opposition candidates

The trauma caused by the violence 10 years ago still runs deep. So deep, in fact, that many Ivorians hoarded basic necessities before the election and did not dare leave their homes over the weekend. Two days after the election, the country's largest city, the economic metropolis of Abidjan, was still eerily quiet. Now that the election commission announced that Ouattara won the polls, things are slowly returning to normal.

Truth be told, Ouattara's rivals are hardly any better suited to the job. Powerless against the president's decision to run again, they whipped up resentment and called on their supporters to "actively boycott" the election. Naturally, they moderated their speech and asked their followers to remain within the bounds of the law.

But on election day, opposition candidate Affi N'Guessan publicly raved about how well "the young people" had obstructed the election by building barricades and burning election material. In the process, police stations and markets also went up in flames. A politician who glorifies violence cannot be trusted with a country.

A need for reconciliation

It is true that the opposition's possibilities are limited. They have almost no way of asserting themselves against an over-powerful government. But violence never helped Ivory Coast in the past.

The country now needs someone capable of calming down tempers; someone able to unite young people from different ethnic groups instead of stirring up conflict among them; someone who accepts his party's candidate as a good choice, even if he or she does not belong to his ethnicity. Ethnic conflicts have already cost Ivory Coast too many lives.

All of this will remain wishful thinking for now. If the candidates had been at least a little younger -- Ouattara is 78 years old, his oldest rival, ex-president Henri Konan Bedie, 86, Affi N'Guessan 67 -- and not decades-long political rivals, the chances of progress would have been much better.

The people might then have had a real election and a real new beginning. Instead, the old guard prevailed once again and managed to keep themselves from being replaced by a younger and fresher generation. Poor Ivory Coast.

Dirke Köpp is head of DW's French for Africa department

This article was adapted from German

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