Thursday, August 20, 2020

Ivory Coast's Despot

According to the Economist’s 2019 Democracy Indexmore than half of Africa’s 55 countries are ruled by a “life president” or – in the words of the report’s authors – “authoritarian regimes”.

 Just five months ago,  Ivory Coast's 78-year-old Alassane Ouattara had announced his retirement, pledging to “transfer power to a new generation”.  Now he has announced he would seek a third term in office after all.

What makes Ouattara’s decision to run for a third unconstitutional term particularly troubling is that the political climate in Ivory Coast is ripe for electoral crises. 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 is especially worrying for a country ravaged by on-off civil unrest since the 2010 civil war that killed 3,000 and displaced approximately 300, 000 people. Last week at least five people were killed and more than 100 injured in three days of pre-election street clashes between opposition and security forces, heightening the tense atmosphere.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top producer of cocoa beans, should be one of the most economically prosperous countries in Africa. According to data from the International Cocoa Organisation, the country produces 45% of the cocoa in the $100bn (£76bn) global chocolate industry.
 Poverty levels remain high, with nearly half of the 25 million Ivorians living on $1.22 a day. Life expectancy stands at 54. Women make up more than 50% of those who are unemployed and at least 12% of the population is food insecure. Out of 189 countries, Ivory Coast is ranked 165 on the 2019 UN human development index, and 165 out of 189 on the gender inequality index.
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. 
Ouattara’s refuses 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.
Ouattara doesn’t want to relinquish power because he doesn’t trust those around him and he is worried about accusations of the funnelling of government funds, among other things. The businesses that he and his family have built up in Ivory Coast and abroad have brought them millions of dollars.

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