Côte d’Ivoire : Ouattara reelected in a “frighteningly quiet” atmosphere

Dictatorship consolidating while opposition ridicules itself. Time to “turn the page”!

Sunday 25 October 2015 was a long awaited date by the whole population of Côte d’Ivoire but also by the so-called “international community” and all its “foreign investors” who, it is said, were waiting for the end of the vote before showering us in “rains of billions”. The presidential elections are now behind us, after a campaign marked by many irregularities, an arrogant regime, a neutralised opposition and a mood of resignation from the people facing an election without any stakes. The process led to the re-election of president Alassane Dramane Ouattara (ADO), without causing any surprise to anyone.

Ouattara, winner without any glory, settles deeper on his chair at the head of his police State and his gang of looters. While the main bourgeois and petty-bourgeois opposition candidates, and chiefly among them, both rival FPI (Ivorian People Front) factions, have confirmed in the face of the whole world their own helplessness, disorganisation, lack of vision and strategy.

Now that a page has been turned, it is more time than ever to draw the needed lessons and reorganize a movement of working-class struggle, on a truly national scale, armed with a socialist programme, as the only tool of struggle for a radical transformation of the Ivorian society, for liberty, justice, development, shared wealth, national sovereignty and true political and economic independance.

Truly farcical elections

For the last two years, voices have been raised to denounce the many irregularities in the preparation of these elections. Firstly, the independent electoral commission could not get the trust of anyone, being made up of a majority of pro-regime people, headed by the same Youssouf Bakayoko who was one of the major actors in the 2010 electoral crisis and civil war which led to at least 3000 deaths. Then, the fact that no political debate was organized at all between the regime and the opposition. No dialogue, no meetings allowed, no access to the State media. More than 400 people are still in prison since 2011 without any judgement, on the simple suspicion of being pro-Gbagbo activists, and many more are still in hiding in Ghana and Europe, many being deprived of their property.

But the most successful blow struck by the regime at the opposition is the skillfully orchestrated division of every and all political parties in the country, through use of imprisonment of some people while bribing others, crowned by the hold-up of the PDCI (Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire, the ex-ruling party), whose membership was brutalized into accepting the fact that their party’s candidate for the elections was Alassane Ouattara and no party member, against the decisions taking at PDCI’s last congress, but in accordance to the will of the party chairman, ex-president Henri Konan Bédié.

The question of Ouattara’s eligibility was much discussed the whole year through and was the theme of several opposition marches. Indeed, according to a strict reading of the 1999 Constitution, Ouattara shouldn’t have the right to be a presidential candidate, given that not both his parents were born in Côte d’Ivoire. While Socialists always considered this issue as a false one and that article of the constitution a xenophobic law aimed at perpetuating sectarian division, the opposition seemed to find it very important, because it as usual allows them not to have to find any real political argument to counter Ouattara. Unsurprisingly, the Constitutional Court, headed by one of the president’s henchmen, one Mamadou Koné, declared several weeks before the elections, that ADO, even if he did not fulfill all the conditions to be a candidate, benefitted from a “derived eligibility”. But why to have let that debate develop so long, with the risk of creating new outbursts of ethnic hatred ?

Then we saw the failure of the registration of new voters. Whereas the regime was expecting “between 2.3 to 3.3 millions new voters” (they don’t even have any precise figures on demographics), only 108, 387 young Ivorians came to register. So, instead of the 8-9 millions voters that were expected, only 6 millions were on the list. The same comedy repeated itself with the voters cards which had to be taken up to one week before the vote according to electoral law. But since only a few people actually came out to take their voting cards, the regime decided to illegally postpone the end date until Friday 23rd of October before finally declaring that the cards would be available at the voting booth and so were not needed in order to be allowed to vote !

So, after having spent several years maneuvering in order to make sure that there would be not even an embryo of an opposition to Ouattara’s reelection, the regime suddenly became worried that no one would finally turn up to make sure he would get re-elected ! They even went as far as handing down 150, 000 € cash to every one of the 9 opposing candidates in order to “encourage” them to run a successful campaign ! Even more absurdly, this money was given unlawfully and without any form of conditions attached, so most of these phony candidates just cashed in and went away.

At the same time, fearing a new outburst of violence as is unfortunately tradition in Côte d’Ivoire, crowds were gathering in all the coach stations, so great was the number of people who were desperate to go and wait after election day outside of the cities. People hid in their family’s countryside or even went so far as Ghana or Burkina Faso, until the vote was over.

On the same day, it was noticed that the electronic slates, allegedly there to allow for a fast and infallible voter identification, did not work. Yet those slates were bought for €17 million. So finally, after asking the few voters to sit and wait for several hours until the slates would be made to work, voter registration was done by hand.

On Sunday evening, a turnout was given of 60%. This figure provoked much laughter in the embassies and amongst NGO’s headquarters, until the turnout was firstly revised as 55%, then “corrected” as 52%, while Ouattara got 83,66% of the vote. But let’s be clear that, if to consider these figures as close to truth (and they probably are), this 52% turnout means 3 129 472 voters who came to vote on a base of 6 301 189 registered voters. But that is without counting of course the 3 millions expected new voters, young people who didn’t care or were too afraid to come and register as voters ! So the real turnout is 3 129 742 voters on a total of 9 millions potential voters, which means a turnout of barely 35%, and not 52% as announced !

If to rely on the initially announced turnout of 60%, then the regime, with its 83,66% votes, would have got the magical threshold of 50,2% of the total potential vote, therefore an absolute majority of the whole population. But in reality, taking account that the real turnout is 35%, Ouattara got re-elected by only 29% of the Ivorian population.

Ouattara officially got 2 618 229 votes, which means he only raised by a fraction his 2 483 164 votes gotten during the second round of 2010 (a highly contested figure, by the way), especially considering that this year’s vote should have seen 3 millions more voters than 5 years ago (and without forgetting that in both cases, many of these votes were given by the PDCI’s party machine).

The official figures, as given by the regime, even if doubtful, are enough to allow us to state that Alassane Dramane Ouattara did not win a majority mandate. This fact will soon be confirmed in the mass movement that will inevitably develop in opposition to the regime’s neo-liberal and anti-poor policies.

It is thus revolting to see that such a vote, with all these irregularities, its amateurish and careless organization, its climate of fear and stoic resignation, is now being called by the Western media as “the first peaceful elections ever organized in Côte d’Ivoire “. Here is what was written in the French newspaper Le Monde :

“In Africa, a victory won on the first round is not always a sign of a healthy democracy. Especially with such a score of 83.6% as obtained by Alassane Ouattara. But nothing of that in Côte d’Ivoire. The president’s reelection on first round follows a peaceful campaign, acknowledged as such and endorsed by observers on the ground and the by the whole international diplomatic community. Even if the logistics were not without any reproach on “v-day”. But we can gladly close our eyes on many things for president Ouattara, and noone will insist on this ballot’s few lacks. Strengthened by his score and by an honourable turnout rate (almost 55%), the president is walking out of the polls with enhanced credibility”

The same article also reminds its readers that the 2010 elections concluded in a bloodbath, for which responsibility Gbagbo was put in prison as if Ouattara himself, on contrary, had nothing to do with all that violence ? (the article can be found here http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2015/10/28/cote-d-ivoire-les-deux-defis-d-alassane-ouattara_4798410_3232.html).

The opposition : powerless, disorganized, devoid of any vision

The opposition acted lamentably all through this electoral year. It needed much time to start agreeing on anything, and the many hesitations of its “leaders” did not draw any enthusiasm towards it. Our analysis, stated in an article written exactly a year ago (http://cio-ci.blogspot.com/2014/10/cielections2015.html), was that the situation has never been so ripe for the rise of an “independent” candidacy as part and parcel of a strategy to build a mass workers party as a political alternative to the current neo-liberal consensus. Indeed, Ivorians in their majority are fed up and tired of this unending soap opera between the three main political parties and their leaders. These three big parties are gradually losing their members and their grassroots influence. In 2013 the local elections showed for the first time in Ivorian history a majority of communes going to independent candidates. Also all the debate about the possibility of setting up a “transitional government” (possibly after a military coup) was inspired by this quest of “something new” in Ivorian politics, a desire to “turn the page” of 25 years of the same three-party system.

But at the same time, the CNC (National Coalition for Change) and its leaders have betrayed all the hopes that could have been placed into it by people who were looking for change.

The CNC was made up of various political leaders and candidates who wished to lobby the regime into allowing a real democratic debate leading up to the elections, make sure that the elections would be organized in agreement with the Ivorian law, in order to make sure that what would come out of it would be a real consensus, so as to get out of a situation of suspicion after a decade of civil war.

The issues raised by the CNC did not go out of the limits of bourgeois legality and actually echoed a preoccupation of the bourgeoisie and of imperialism, that these elections should be taken as an opportunity to restore political stability in Côte d’Ivoire by allowing a real political debate and possibly a more “neutral”, “consensual” candidate to come to the fore. Thus came forward two important characters, Charles Konan Banny and Essy Amara, both rather old members of the ruling elite, PDCI members who ran as candidates against the will of Bédié and hoped to convince the PDCI to choose them as their candidate against Ouattara. Essy, a diplomat, was a minister of Foreign Affairs under Houphouët-Boigny and a head of African Union ; his name never came up in any corruption scandal and he had remained clear of any political dispute since the last 25 years. Banny, one of the richest landowners in Côte d’Ivoire, was a chair of the West African Central Bank, a Prime Minister under Gbagbo and presided the (failed) Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation under Ouattara.

Thus, while calling for “free and fair elections”, the CNC never put forward from among its ranks any candidate who proposed an alternative programme to Ouattara’s. All of them considered the “need” to bring more foreign capital by lowering taxes in order to lead to an industrialisation of the country. Essy Amara even declared : “Côte d’Ivoire’s problems are well known, and the solutions to those problems are also well known. They are the solutions brought forward by the IMF, the World Bank. There is no need discussing the ideology or the programme, because even a computer, being fed with those data, would print out the same solutions. What is needed, is the right people to apply these solutions, and unfortunately, Mr Ouattara does not have the right people. But I have.” So, what for to call the people to fight alongside the CNC for free elections and thus a “free choice”, if it is clear that in the end, there is no choice, since everyone is proposing exactly the same thing ?

A second element which did not help the CNC was the confusion among its ranks. While some of its leaders were clearly posed to run as candidates in order to “remove Ouattara”, and wanted to benefit from the strong feeling for a “lesser evil” and “anyone except Ouattara” mood, the biggest component inside the CNC, the FPI radicals, were strong in their call to boycott the elections and call for no vote for any candidate, given that their candidate, Laurent Gbagbo, is still in prison in the Netherlands (awaiting trial since 4 years). So most of the time spent and speeches made by the CNC leaders were to try and convince not the Ivoirian masses, but the FPI radicals, to endorse their candidacy – to no avail. The CNC meetings were the first mass political meetings to be allowed under Ouattara’s reign, under the close protection of the UN forces stationed in the country. But these meetings took a very comical character of seeing each of these old and young bourgeois leaders coming in turn in front of the crowd to try and convince that crowd of selecting them as candidate (as if it was some kind of primary election), while the crowd itself did not listen to any of the speeches but just kept chanting “Libéreeeeez Gbaaaagbo!” (Free Gbagbo).

Because of this factor, the CNC leaders forgot making any speeches trying to convince most Ivorians of why Ouattara’s neoliberal policy was a wrong one and how they had better ideas (although actually, they did not have any), but instead fell deeper and deeper in a very demagogic, divisive rhetoric of “Ouattara is not the president of the Ivorian people, but of the foreigners, while the real president is abroad”, or “Ouattara cannot win this election, because he has never won any election in this country!”. All those attacks against Ouattara as an individual only had the effect of pushing away a majority of Northerners who were starting to doubt Ouattara’s policy, back into the arms of the regime, thus consolidating his own social base.

Finally, the CNC did not show any coherent strategy of struggle. If, during four years, no amount of protest has been able to develop in order to shake the regime, how is it to be expected that in several weeks, the regime will be forced to cede power in front of a few street demonstrations in poor urban districts ? The only effective weapon of mass struggle is the power of the industrial unions, and these have been called by the CNC only in the last week before the elections, then only to make a joint declaration about the fact that the unions “worry” for the security of their members and call for “peaceful elections”.

So finally, having hoped during one year that by their constant declarations in various newspapers, a few meetings with disaffected youth and Gbagbo nostalgics, they could gather some form of support in society or some “push” from their imperialist masters, the CNC leaders drew the “right conclusion” and one by one, withdrew from the electoral game as a sign of “protest”. Even doing this, they showed their glaring incoherence. While Essy withdrew right from the onset when it became clear that nothing could be done to prevent the elections from degenerating into a sad farce, Banny ran the whole campaign until the final day of Friday 23 October, when he unexpectedly declared that he too withdrew from the race.With all these elements, in it is not difficult to understand why the turnout was so low on elections day !

The FPI : the same old soup over and again

The FPI radicals, that is, the FPI wing who refuses any compromise with Ouattara and systematically calls to the boycott of any election as long as Gbagbo will not have been freed, is increasingly looking like a messianic sect, waiting for their Saviour to come back. They have become absolutely incoherent and don’t have anything to say but to repeat that Ouattara is “not the rightful president”. Having been unable to organize the slightest movement since 4 years, some of them seemed suddenly convinced that Ouattara could be removed by simply organizing marches in a few Southern towns two weeks before the elections. They were not followed by anyone among the general public. In order to “free Gbagbo”, they provided their militants to the CNC leaders, who in 2010 supported Ouattara. In their press, they solely concentrate on exagerating any rumour or any sign that the French rulers might be disenchanted by Ouattara and call for France to intervene. The same people celebrated when François Hollande became president instead of Sarkozy, wrongly believing that this could mean the automatic end of Ouattara’s regime.

These people are unable to draw any lessons from the past, in particular from their defeat in 2010. Whereas the radicals’ congress, which happened in April, could have been the place to discuss peacefully the reasons why the FPI lost power and to draw revolutionary socialist conclusions relating to the strategy and the programme to adopt, it just was a meeting to re-elect Laurent Gbagbo at the head of the party, as a maneuvre intended to definitely dismiss Affi N’Guessan, the official party chair.

Instead of using their militant force to go into the neighbourhoods and the industrial zones to organize the population around concrete issues such as the rising cost of life, the low wages, the lack of investment in the public services, etc, the FPI radicals instead relied on “prophecies” and supposed revelations from God or the Holy Virgin. They have no coherent vision of an alternative to capitalism, and seem unable to do anything until their leader is freed from prison.

Instead of using against them the statistics given by the regime, which show that Ouattara was only reelected by 29 % of the Ivorian people, the FPI radicals prefer to throw in their own made-up figures, according to which the turnout to the elections was only 11 %, and the 89 % who did not vote did so because they followed the FPI call to boycott. Thus according to them, 89 % of the Ivorian population is for Gbagbo. One can only wonder how come they have not seized power since then !

Of course, the call to boycott had an impact, but the main reasons why Ivorians did not go to vote were the fear of new violence, the lack of any alternative candidate, the obvious fact that Ouattara was going to be reelected anyway.

Affi N’Guessan : loneliness as a perspective

So the only real interest in these elections was to know who really controls the FPI : the “collaborationist” faction around Affi N’Guessan, the official party chair, condoned by the regime who helped him cancel the party congress and take control of the party structure by lending him the police and the courts, or the “radicals” ? Affi claimed to have a majority of the FPI following him. If he could have gotten an honourable share of the vote, this could have meant that the radicals’ call to boycott had not been followed, and that he had convinced the majority of his new line. Now, having received 9 % of the votes, with an actual turnout of 35 %, it is clear that Affi was barely able to convince 3 % of the population to come and vote for him. Whereas 1 756 504 people had voted for Gbagbo in the first round of 2010, Affi only got 290 780 voices (when the number of voters was expected to have risen by 3 millions).

Contrarily to his opponents inside his party, Affi tried to draw lessons from the defeat in 2010. The problem is that his conclusions are totally opposed to ours. For Affi and his friends, the FPI lost power in 2010 not because it was not bold enough in leading the “national revolution”, but because it was “too radical”, was “too idealistic”, “did not try enough to please the ‘international community’”. Affi’s group have thus developed a new “social-democratic” doctrine according to which the idea of “socialism” is a thing from the past, a utopia. They were also mistaken in thinking that they could earn the support of France, since sharing the same ideology as the now ruling Socialist Party (PS) – a party which serves the interests of capitalism and French imperialism.

This faction accepts capitalism and compromise. It is thus no wonder to find among its ranks most of the “FPI bourgeoisie”, rich individuals for whom business is more important than social struggle. For this bourgeoisie, the FPI’s struggle should be concentrated on a fairer distribution of society’s wealth between the national and the foreign bourgeoisie.

Moreover, the Affi faction lost any credit in the eyes of most militants because of their refusal to hold a congress and their use of the police and courts against their own comrades. Affi’s purpose is to turn the FPI into a “normal” party and write off Gbagbo as the party’s ideal. This explains his strident electoral defeat.

Where does Ouattara draw his support from ?

Despite the many irregularities which happened during the vote, it cannot be said that Ouattara was re-elected only by fraud, nor that he does not benefit from any support in society. Of course the election was anything but free and fair. Ouattara’s first base of support is passivity and resignation. In the absence of any credible alternative to his policies, he was able to deploy the full force of his repressive State machine in order to suppress the few opposition movements that tried to establish themselves. He went so far as to send the police to quell a march organized by mothers in Yopougon who wanted to protest against the many kidnappings for ritual sacrifice which happened at the beginning of the year (while at the same time attacking the people for “being irresponsible of not watching their children enough”).

For many Ivorians, even if everything does not go fine, even if Ouattara’s ministers are corrupt and many are ex-rebels responsible for much destruction during the 10 year long civil war, “at least, the country is moving forward, there is stability and we can see our own projects come to fruition”. Nobody is ready to take any risk of plunging again the country in chaos, in order to bring forward a new politician who will anyway apply the same programme as Ouattara.

Ouattara did manage to accomplish great infrastructural work, although at great cost to working people and poor, including several bridges but also an improvement of roads, water and electricity access both in the countryside and in the cities. Farmers’ income have increased in the North and the South, especially for those growing cocoa, cotton and cashew. Côte d’Ivoire has now become the world’s first producer of cashew nuts. Many foreign investors have come back. However this economic growth only really benefits the rich. Due to capitalism and neo-liberal economic policies, the profits of the exceptional almost-10% growth are not fully reflected in Ivorians’ pockets. However, even if Ouattara’s approach is one that favours the rich (with the destruction of poor neighbourhoods to build new wealthy residential areas, billions given to rebuild elite private schools in Abidjan while children in the public sit 60 per classroom, etc.), even if many, many of his promises were not held – in the opinion of many people, the country is better managed than before.

Where to now ?

It is clear than all the initial factors for unrest and unhappiness are still there in the country. But the working masses do not find any force or leader who could give a voice to this unhappiness, to put it on a path of struggle and give it clear objectives and slogans.

Ouattara will now try and consolidate his regime in order to secure his succession. The PDCI and the RDR will probably be merged, with Bédié’s blessing, to bring the country back to the single-party period. The constitution will be modified to create a post of vice-president, which could be used by Ouattara to put into power his designed successor. Then Ouattara could gradually retire, due to his increasing health problems, in 2-3 years, as he himself has stated.

How to ensure a victory for democracy, national sovereignty, development and a fair distribution of wealth ?

We have to be clear that Ouattara is but an element in the chain of imperialist domination on our continent. Following his neo-liberal mantra, he implements a politic of improving the “business environment” in order to promote the establishment of capitalist enterprises in our country. We should not be fooled : this will not lead us to a shared development and to welfare for all, since those companies’ presence on our territory will be conditioned by the fact that wages will remain low, that workers will not benefit for decent working conditions, that taxes will stay minimal, that the State will endeavour to subsidize their establishment (chiefly through the signing of so-called “private-public partnerships”), and that the police will always be present to brutalize strikers. All this, while keeping the division rhetoric going on in order to prevent a common struggle by the entire Ivorian people against the system and for a common good.

Our role is to patiently explain to the masses that the growth obtained under Ouattara is a trap that does not profit to the people of Côte d’Ivoire, but to a few foreign businessmen and to their Ivorian middlemen.

Our role is to identify the issues that will mobilize the working masses in a fight against their real problems : the rising cost of life, the bad quality of our education system, the chaotic transport system, the low wages, the degradation of our arable land’s fertility, the lack of access to credit and to land, the lack of sufficient public services, of decent and cheap housing, etc. In all this, we have to adopt a rhetoric that will allow the masses both in the South and in the North to open their eyes and understand the true nature of what is at stake and the real character of the various political forces.

Our role is to accompany the working masses and in particular the growing industrial working class in the creation of real organs of industrial struggle so as to develop our full potential, in the form of strikes, occupations, solidarity marches, all this as part of a real strategy for change.

Finally, we have always to explain that no development, no true independance can ever happen as long as we remain in the framework of capitalism and follow petty-bourgeois polticians whose only purpose is to trick the masses before signing a compromise with imperialism and sitting by the State “feeding trough”.

This means that we must patiently but stubbornly work on the setting up of a new political party, a workers’ party, self-financed and totally independent from bourgeois policies, armed with a socialist programme and forging strong bonds with revolutionary groups in the whole West Africa (particularly through the CWI). This will allow us to break once and for all with capitalism and all its features of misery, ignorance, division, lies, violence and opression.