A full-scale civil war could make parts of the country’s south-east regions, where opposition to Ouattara is strongest, ungovernable, leading to further deterioration of socioeconomic conditions in the country.
This month the president of Ivory Coast caused outrage which spilled into bloodshed on the streets of the capital, Abidjan, when he announced he would seek a third term in office after all.
Tensions are running high in the country after months of violence surrounding the disputed presidential election in 2010. Just five months ago, the 78-year-old Alassane Ouattara had announced his retirement, pledging to “transfer power to a new generation”.
So why is Ouattara now so afraid to relinquish power? Why did he not proudly allow Ivory Coast’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power to take place, which could have been his greatest legacy, nine years after a bloody civil war?
And if he becomes another life president – against the constitution – how many more people will be plunged into hardship and worsening crisis? These are the salient questions that many people in Ivory Coast are asking – and rightly so.
The resistance to giving up power in Africa is not unique to Ivory Coast. It is a growing trend across the continent, causing joblessness, conflict, corruption, economic decline, and human rights abuses. Even Paul Kagame, the west’s standard-bearer for “good African leadership”, changed the constitution to cling to power. In fact, according to the Economist’s 2019 Democracy Index, more than half of Africa’s 55 countries are ruled by a “life president” or – in the words of the report’s authors – “authoritarian regimes”.
Ouattara, who still enjoys the support of France, is defiant; becoming the latest in a long line of African leaders to push past a constitutionally imposed two term limit, a well-trodden path for life presidency. He believes he is indispensable to the welfare of his people and wellbeing of Ivory Coast, that there is no one among the 25 million Ivorians better suited for the job than him. It’s reminiscent of Cameroon’s ailing president, Paul Biya, who holds Africa’s record for the longest-serving “life president” at 42 years.
Compounding the security challenges is Ouattara’s refusal to reform the electoral commission – long considered biased in his favour – to even up the playing field and spare the people potentially horrific electoral violence.
But what is clear about Ouattara’s decision to run for an unconstitutional third term is that the future of Ivory Coast and the political future of the entire region are at risk. The seeds are being sown for crises that have been the hallmark of Ivory Coast since independence from France in 1960.