Cote d’Ivoire elections: whats the worst that could happen?


On October 25th, President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire will face at least three main opponents – former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, Pascal Affi N’guessan, head of FPI (Ivorian Popular Front), the main opposition party, and Mamadou Koulibaly, former Head of the National Assembly – as he stands for reelection. These upcoming presidential elections which will be the first since a resolution of Cote d’Ivoire’s bloody civil war ended  four years ago have garnered the attention of everybody in the country and also the sub-region where Cote d’Ivoire represents at least one-third of the economy of the West African Economic Monetary Union.

Cote d’Ivoire’s is no stranger to election related violence. In 2002 a coup attempt followed by rebellion lead to a messy split between 2002 and 2010. During this period, the former president Laurent Gbagbo, founder of the FPI faced Alassane Ouattara the current president and head of RDR (Rally of Republicans),  and former President Henri Konan Bedie, head of PDCI (Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire), the political party which both led Cote d’Ivoire to independence and ruled for nearly 40 years after.

The 2010 presidential elections were supposed to end nearly 10 years of political crisis which drove away most of the country’s investors and expatriates leading to sluggish  GDP growth, decaying infrastructure and educational institutions.  Unfortunately, the 2010 elections were inconclusive eading to yet another civil war which paralyzed the country for four months until Laurent Gbagbo was ousted with the help of French intervention in April of 2011.

When Alassane Ouattara finally took office, he inherited a country in a very poor state further exacerbated by the destructive post electoral crisis. His efforts at increasing stability have lead to a complete economic transformation. Since 2011, the main economic, social and political indicators have turned positive. Cote d’Ivoire’s GDP has grown between 8 and 10 percent over the past four years, the United Nations Human Security Index decreased from 3.8 in 2012 to 1.3 at the end of 2014, and the Africa Development Bank relocated back to its headquarters in Abidjan.  Major infrastructure projects such as the 3rd Bridge in Abidjan and the highway from Abidjan to the capital city Yamoussoukro have been completed in addition to the construction or refurbishment of thousands of schools, hospitals and universities. However, despite these positive results, President Ouattara faces an opposition from within is own camp, and also from the opposition which has denounced the organization of the elections and also the President Ouattara’s elegibility to contest again.

With tensions riding high and international investors concerned about the country’s direction, here are three possible election scenarios Cote d’Ivoire faces:

President Ouattara achieves a clear election win

With a relatively strong majority and the control of state power and important financial resources, President Ouattara could win the elections in the first round, which is what him and his camp are expecting. This result is increasingly likely because Outarra’s main opponents,  Charles Konan Banny and Pascal Affi N’guessan have decided to contest separately instead of uniting behind one candidate that could face him from the first round.  A cleanly contested election with clear results would reassure investors and the rest of the world that Cote d’Ivoire is  back on the road to becoming an emerging economy by 2020. However there would still be the threat of protests from the opposition. These however would be muted and inconsequential.

Second round run-off with President Ouattara and opposition candidate

It is also possible that President Ouattara and one of his opponents head into a second round of voting leading to increasing tension and uncertainty. The conditions that could cause a second round runoff would be that there has been an underestimation of the disappointed within President Ouattara’s camp and the population or an underestimation of the political weight of one of its opponents, although, President Ouattara’s camp still expects a win, even with a second round of voting. If the opposition manages to push the elections into a second round, and especially if they unite behind one candidate, it is highly unlikely they will accept a Ouattara victory. This could lead to protests, civil unrest and in the worst case civil war. Already a group of  since unknown military commandos has declared that it will strike around this time.

This will most definitely send a wrong signal to every investor inside and outside the country. Declining economic fortunes could exacerbate a cycle of violence that will be extremely difficult to curtail. The spillover effects of unrest in Cote d’Ivoire could be devastating for the region as President Ouattara’s leadership has helped to ensure stability in  surrounding countries like Mali, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Second round runoff with two opposition candidates

Finally, the third and most unlikely scenario would be that two candidates from the opposition make it to the second round of voting. This  would send a very good signal to the international community that the democratic process in Cote d’Ivoire is maturing – especially  if there are no violent protests from Ouattara’s supporters.

No matter what the outcome is, Cote d’Ivoire must focus on educating the public, especially the youth, about productive behavior – including non-violent protesting – during the elections. Any negative and violent outcomes during the elections will most certainly affect the country and its economic development, possibly pulling it away from the current positive trajectory which will ultimately benefit the whole country, even if the concrete effects are presently hard to see.

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