Côte d’Ivoire Elections will be delayed again

Just as Ghana celebrated its second real transition of power to President John Atta Mills, its neighbor, the Côte d’Ivoire, continues to struggle with preparations for the long delayed election. The country has yet to settle the divisions that caused the 2002-03 civil war and despite the support of the United Nations, the preparations for country-wide elections have not made much progress.

The latest stumbling block is the lack of funds to register voters. The argument is over who will pay for the identification of and registration of eligible voters. There are an estimated 8-9 million voters but election workers have registered only about a third of that number. And now they are on strike because they haven’t been paid in a while. At the same time the government refuses to release the necessary funds. Foreign donors have agreed to pay for part of the cost of holding the election but not for the registration process.

The identification and registration is a crucial process. If that process is not transparent and credible, there is little chance for a successful election and a bridging of the conflict that has split the country into two regions. During the Houphouët-Boigny era, the government encouraged the immigration of farmers from Burkina Faso and Mali to expand cocoa production into more regions of the country. As long as the cocoa boom lasted, that policy caused few problems. When cocoa prices collapsed during the 1980s, that policy came back to haunt the country.

Houphouët-Boigny, serving as president from 1960 until 1993, had concentrated power in his hands and refused to step down. He died in office without proper plans for succession. His successor, Bédié, facing an economic crisis that increasingly divided the country, began to stress the notion of Ivorité, a crude nationalism, as a means to rally support. He used this concept to declare an opposition candidate, Ouattara, ineligible for the presidency since his parents were Burkinabe. The exclusion of people whose parents were born in Burkina Faso suddenly left millions of Ivorians without citizenship.

Two successive coups in 1999 and 2000 further strained relations between the Northerners and Southerners resulting in the terrible civil war of 2002-03 which divided the country into half.

Despite all this turmoil, cocoa production has continued and even increased in some years. The reason is not difficult to see. Both the rebels in the North and the government in the South need the revenue from cocoa production and access to that revenue may be the main reason why there has been so little progress. The status quo gives the rebels access to resources they would not have otherwise while the government continues in power and does not have to face defeat at the polls.

A 2007 report by the organization Global Witness has documented in detail how cocoa revenue fuelled the arms purchases during the civil war and there it little doubt that current revenues continue to support actions that are not conducive to democratic elections.

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